Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0027694, Sun, 18 Mar 2018 20:04:21 +0300

Cyraniana & innumerable planets with cottages and cows in Ada
Describing his novel Letters from Terra, Van Veen (the narrator and main
character in VN’s novel Ada, 1969) mentions “Cyraniana” and other
innumerable planets with cottages and cows that might be situated in outer
or inner space:

There were good reasons to disregard the technological details involved in
delineating intercommunication between Terra the Fair and our terrible
Antiterra. His knowledge of physics, mechanicalism and that sort of stuff
had remained limited to the scratch of a prep-school blackboard. He consoled
himself with the thought that no censor in America or Great Britain would
pass the slightest reference to ‘magnetic’ gewgaws. Quietly, he borrowed
what his greatest forerunners (Counterstone, for example) had imagined in
the way of a manned capsuleÂ’s propulsion, including the clever idea of an
initial speed of a few thousand miles per hour increasing, under the
influence of a Counterstonian type of intermediate environment between
sibling galaxies, to several trillions of light-years per second, before
dwindling harmlessly to a parachuteÂ’s indolent descent. Elaborating anew, in
irrational fabrications, all that Cyraniana and ‘physics fiction’ would have
been not only a bore but an absurdity, for nobody knew how far Terra, or
other innumerable planets with cottages and cows, might be situated in outer
or inner space: ‘inner,’ because why not assume their microcosmic presence
in the golden globules ascending quick-quick in this flute of Moët or in the
corpuscles of my, Van Veen’s —

(or my, Ada VeenÂ’s)

— bloodstream, or in the pus of a Mr Nekto’s ripe boil newly lanced in
Nektor or Neckton. (2.2)

Darkbloom (‘Notes to Ada’): Cyraniana: allusion to Cyrano de Bergerac’s
Histoire comique des Etats de la Lune.

In Cyrano de BergeracÂ’s LÂ’autre Monde ou les Histoire comique des Etats de
la Lune (1657) a philosopher whom the narrator meets in the Moon says:

“Il me reste à prouver qu’il y a des mondes infinis dans un monde infini.
Représentez-vous donc l’univers comme un grand animal, les étoiles qui sont
des mondes comme d’autres animaux dedans lui qui servent réciproquement de
mondes Ă  dÂ’autres peuples, tels quÂ’Ă  nous, quÂ’aux chevaux et quÂ’aux
éléphants et que nous, à notre tour, sommes aussi les mondes de certaines
gens encore plus petits, comme des chancres, des poux, des vers, des cirons;
ceux-ci sont la terre dÂ’autres imperceptibles; ainsi de mĂŞme que nous
paraissons un grand monde Ă  ce petit peuple, peut-ĂŞtre que notre chair,
notre sang et nos esprits ne sont autre chose quÂ’une tissure de petits
animaux qui sÂ’entretiennent, nous prĂŞtent mouvement par le leur, et, se
laissant aveuglément conduire à notre volonté qui leur sert de cocher, nous
conduisent nous-mĂŞmes, et produisent tout ensemble cette action que nous
appelons la vie.

Car, dites-moi, je vous prie : est-il malaisé à croire qu’un pou prenne
notre corps pour un monde, et que quand quelqu’un d’eux a voyagé depuis
lÂ’une de vos oreilles jusquÂ’Ă  lÂ’autre, ses compagnons disent de lui quÂ’il a
voyagé aux deux bouts du monde, ou qu’il a couru de l’un à l’autre pôle?
Oui, sans doute, ce petit peuple prend votre poil pour les forĂŞts de son
pays, les pores pleins de pituite pour des fontaines, les bubes et les
cirons pour des lacs et des Ă©tangs, les apostumes pour des mers, les
fluxions pour des déluges; et quand vous vous peignez en devant et en
arrière, ils prennent cette agitation pour le flux et reflux de l’océan.

La démangeaison ne prouve-t-elle pas mon dire? Ce ciron qui la produit,
est-ce autre chose qu’un de ces petits animaux qui s’est dépris de la
société civile pour s’établir tyran de son pays? Si vous me demandez d’où
vient quÂ’ils sont plus grands que ces

autres petits imperceptibles, je vous demande pourquoi les éléphants sont
plus grands que nous, et les Hibernois que les Espagnols?”

“It remains to be proved, that there are infinite Worlds, in an infinite
World: Fancy to your self then the Universe as a great Animal; and that the
Stars, which are Worlds, are in this great Animal, as other great Animals
that serve reciprocally for Worlds to other Peoples; such as we, our Horses,
etc. That we in our turns, are likewise Worlds to certain other Animals,
incomparably less than our selves, such as Nits, Lice, Hand-worms, etc. And
that these are an Earth to others, more imperceptible ones; in the same
manner as every one of us appears to be a great World to these little
People. Perhaps our Flesh, Blood, and Spirits, are nothing else but a
Contexture of little Animals that correspond, lend us Motion from theirs,
and blindly suffer themselves to be guided by our Will which is their
Coachman; or otherwise conduct us, and all Conspiring together, produce that
Action which we call Life, “For tell me, pray, is it a hard thing to be
believed, that a Louse takes your Body for a World; and that when any one of
them travels from one of your Ears to the other, his Companions say, that he
hath travelled the Earth from end to end, or that he hath run from one Pole
to the other? Yes, without doubt, those little People take your Hair for the
Forests of their Country; the Pores full of Liquor, for Fountains; Buboes
and Pimples, for Lakes and Ponds; Boils, for Seas; and Defluxions, for
Deluges: And when you Comb your self, forwards, and backwards, they take
that Agitation for the Flowing and Ebbing of the Ocean. Doth not Itching
make good what I say? What is the little Worm that causes it but one of
these little Animals, which hath broken off from civil Society, that it may
set up for a Tyrant in its Country? If you ask me, why are they bigger than
other imperceptible Creatures? I ask you, why are Elephants bigger than we?
And the Irishmen, than Spaniards?” (chapter XIII)

Les bubes et les cirons (Buboes and Pimples) bring to mind “bubas and
buboes” mentioned by Dr Krolik in a letter that Ada showed Van:

At a nice Christmas party for private librarians arranged under the auspices
of the Braille Club in Raduga a couple of years earlier, emphatic Miss
Vertograd had noticed that she and giggling Verger, with whom she was in the
act of sharing a quiet little cracker (tugged apart with no audible result —
nor did the gold paper frilled at both ends yield any bonbon or breloque or
other favor of fate), shared also a spectacular skin disease that had been
portrayed recently by a famous American novelist in his Chiron and described
in side-splitting style by a co-sufferer who wrote essays for a London
weekly. Very delicately, Miss Vertograd would transmit through Van library
slips to the rather unresponsive Frenchman with this or that concise
suggestion: ‘Mercury!’ or ‘Höhensonne works wonders.’ Mademoiselle, who was
in the know, too, looked up ‘Psoriasis’ in a one-volume medical
encyclopedia, which her late mother had left her and which had not only
helped her and her charges on various minor occasions but had suggested
suitable illnesses for the characters in the stories she contributed to the
Québec Quarterly. In the present case, the cure optimistically advised was
to ‘take a warm bath at least twice a month and avoid spices’; this she
typed out and passed on to her cousin in a Get-Well envelope. Finally, Ada
showed Van a letter from Dr Krolik on the same subject; it said (English
version): ‘Crimson-blotched, silver-scaled, yellow-crusted wretches, the
harmless psoriatics (who cannot communicate their skin trouble and are
otherwise the healthiest of people — actually, their bobo’s protect them
from bubas and buboes, as my teacher used to observe) were confused with
lepers — yes, lepers — in the Middle Ages, when thousands if not millions of
Vergers and Vertograds crackled and howled bound by enthusiasts to stakes
erected in the public squares of Spain and other fire-loving countries.Â’ But
this note they decided not to plant in the meek martyrÂ’s index under PS as
they had first intended: lepidopterists are over-eloquent on lepidosis.

Mlle Larivière (who has the same surname as the old doctor in Flaubert’s
Madame Bovary) sent her story “The Necklace” (La rivière de diamants) to the
Québec Quarterly. In Cyrano de Bergerac’s novel the narrator’s journey to
the moon begins in Quebec:

Je la cherchai longtemps, mais enfin je la trouvai au milieu de la place de
Québec, comme on y mettait le feu. La douleur de rencontrer l’ouvrage de mes
mains en un si grand péril me transporta tellement que je courus saisir le
bras du soldat qui allumait le feu. Je lui arrachai sa mèche, et me jetai
tout furieux dans ma machine pour briser lÂ’artifice dont elle Ă©tait
environnée; mais j’arrivai trop tard, car à peine y eus-je les deux pieds
que me voilà enlevé dans la nue.

In the mean time I was long in search of it, but found it at length in the
Market-place of Kebeck (Quebec), just as they were setting Fire to it. I was
so transported with Grief, to find the Work of my Hands in so great Peril,
that I ran to the Souldier that was giving Fire to it, caught hold of his
Arm, pluckt the Match out of his Hand, and in great rage threw my self into
my Machine, that I might undo the Fire–Works that they had stuck about it;
but I came too late, for hardly were both my Feet within, when whip, away
went I up in a Cloud. (chapter IV)

Bobo (little hurt), bubas and buboes bring to mind babochka (butterfly), a
word that Van translates as “lepidopteron:”

Well,’ said Van, when the mind took over again, ‘let’s go back to our
defaced childhood. I’m anxious’ — (picking up the album from the bedside
rug) — ‘to get rid of this burden. Ah, a new character, the inscription
says: Dr Krolik.Â’

‘Wait a sec. It may be the best Vanishing Van but it’s terribly messy all
the same. Okay. Yes, thatÂ’s my poor nature teacher.Â’

Knickerbockered, panama-hatted, lusting for his babochka (Russian for
‘lepidopteron’). A passion, a sickness. What could Diana know about that
chase? (2.7)

Diana is the Roman goddess of hunting and of the moon.

Alexey Sklyarenko

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