Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0025172, Mon, 10 Mar 2014 08:12:22 +0300

Mr Nekto from Neckton in Ada
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 Moet or in the corpuscles of my, Van Veen's -
(or my, Ada Veen's)
- bloodstream, or in the pus of a Mr Nekto's ripe boil newly lanced in Nektor or Neckton. Moreover, although reference works existed on library shelves in available, and redundant, profusion, no direct access could be obtained to the banned, or burned, books of the three cosmologists, Xertigny, Yates and Zotov (pen names), who had recklessly started the whole business half a century earlier, causing, and endorsing, panic, demency and execrable romanchiks. All three scientists had vanished now: X had committed suicide; Y had been kidnapped by a laundryman and transported to Tartary; and Z, a ruddy, white-whiskered old sport, was driving his Yakima jailers crazy by means of incomprehensible crepitations, ceaseless invention of invisible inks, chameleonizations, nerve signals, spirals of out-going lights and feats of ventriloquism that imitated pistol shots and sirens. (2.2)

"A Mr Nekto" brings to mind nekto (someone) mentioned in the opening line of VN's poem Slava ("Fame," 1942):

И вот как на колёсиках вкатывается ко мне мне некто -
восковой, поджарый, с копотью в красных ноздрях,
и сижу, и решить не могу: человек это
или просто так - разговорчивый прах.

And now there rolls in, as on casters, a character
waxlike, lean-loined, with red nostrils soot-stuffed
and I sit and cannot decide: is it human
or nothing special - just garrulous dust?

The hateful visitor compares the books written by his host to a branch that bazaar fakirs bring forth:

бедные книги твои,
без земли, без тропы, без канав, без порога,
опадут в пустоте, где ты вырастил ветвь,
как базарный факир, то есть не без подлога,
и недолго ей в дымчатом воздухе цвесть.

your unfortunate books
without soil, without path, without ditch, without threshold
will be shed in a void where you brought forth a branch,
as bazaar fakirs do (that is, not without faking)
and not long will it bloom in the smoke-colored air.

In his poem 9 January 1905 (the "bloody Sunday" in St. Petersburg) Maximilian Voloshin mentions the bronze giant (i. e. the tsar Peter I) who created the ghost of a city (i. e. St. Petersburg), as fakirs create from a seed the ghost of a tree:

О, бронзовый Гигант! Ты создал призрак-гогрод,
Как призрак-дерево из семени - факир.

In his poem Severovostok ("North-East," 1920) Voloshin speaks of the ambitious projects of furious surgeons and the grand scale of executioners:

Замыслы неистовых хирургов
И размах заплечных мастеров.

The phrase zaplechnyi master (executioner) suggests sword or axe as an instrument of execution (cf. "Neckton").

In his poem Europe (1918) Voloshin compares Peter I to "a furious surgeon" and St. Petersburg, to "the unripe fruit of the Slavonic peoples, a child born caesarenically:"

Но, роковым охвачен нетерпеньем,
Всё исказил неистовый Хирург,
Что кесаревым вылущил сеченьем
Незрелый плод Славянства - Петербург.

A few lines further into the poem Voloshin mentions slava (in the sense "glory"):

Пусть SCLAVUS - раб, но Славия есть СЛАВА:
Победный нимб над головой раба!

Although sclavus means "slave," Slavia means "glory:"
the triumphant halo above a slave's head!

Finally, in his poem Rossiya (1924) Voloshin compares St. Petersburg, the city built in Finnish marshes on the corpses and bones of "all Rus," to an abscess and mentions the Bronze Horseman:

Я нёс в себе -- багровый, как гнойник,
Горячечный и триумфальный город,
Построенный на трупах, на костях
"Всея Руси" -- во мраке финских топей,
Со шпилями церквей и кораблей,
С застенками подводных казематов,
С водой стоячей, вправленной в гранит,
С дворцами цвета пламени и мяса,
С белесоватым мороком ночей,
С алтарным камнем финских чернобогов,
Растоптанным копытами коня,
И с озарённым лаврами и гневом
Безумным ликом медного Петра.

As he composed his poem, Voloshin carried inside his body the delirious and triumphant St. Petersburg. But if it is possible, why not assume the microscopic presence of whole worlds in the corpuscles of our bloodstream (as suggested by Van and Ada)?

One of the three cosmologists mentioned by Van is a namesake of Nikita Zotov, dyad'ka (the tutor) of Peter I. The tsar's boon companion, the poor teacher died of alcoholism.

Herr Mispel, who liked to air his authors, discerned in Letters from Terra the influence of Osberg (Spanish writer of pretentious fairy tales and mystico-allegoric anecdotes, highly esteemed by short-shift thesialists) as well as that of an obscene ancient Arab, expounder of anagrammatic dreams, Ben Sirine, thus transliterated by Captain de Roux, according to Burton in his adaptation of Nefzawi’s treatise on the best method of mating with obese or hunchbacked females (The Perfumed Garden, Panther edition, p.187, a copy given to ninety-three-year-old Baron Van Veen by his ribald physician Professor Lagosse). (2.2)

Ben Sirine = bene + Sirin (bene - Lat., good; cf, ubi bene, ibi patria)

Sirin is a bird of Russian fairy tales ("a fabulous fowl of Slavic mythology"). On the other hand, Sirin was VN's Russian nom de plume. In Slava ("Fame") VN writes:

Я божком себя вижу, волшебником с птичьей
головой, в изумрудных перчатках, в чулках
из лазурных чешуй. Перечтите
и остановитесь на этих строках.

To myself I appear as an idol, a wizard
bird-headed, emerald gloved, dressed in tights
made of bright-blue scales. I pass by. Reread it
and pause for a moment to ponder these lines.

Incidentally, Nekto v serom (Someone in Grey) is a character in Leonid Andreev's play Zhizn' cheloveka ("A Man's Life," 1907) and the title of Voloshin's article on Andreev.

Alexey Sklyarenko

p. s. Sad to hear about Vadim Stark's death.

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