Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0025182, Wed, 12 Mar 2014 15:38:07 +0300

demons in Ada
Revelation can be more perilous than Revolution. Sick minds identified the notion of a Terra planet with that of another world and this 'Other World' got confused not only with the 'Next World' but with the Real World in us and beyond us. Our enchanters, our demons, are noble iridescent creatures with translucent talons and mightily beating wings; but in the eighteen-sixties the New Believers urged one to imagine a sphere where our splendid friends had been utterly degraded, had become nothing but vicious monsters, disgusting devils, with the black scrota of carnivora and the fangs of serpents, revilers and tormentors of female souls; while on the opposite side of the cosmic lane a rainbow mist of angelic spirits, inhabitants of sweet Terra, restored all the stalest but still potent myths of old creeds, with rearrangement for melodeon of all the cacophonies of all the divinities and divines ever spawned in the marshes of this our sufficient world. (1.3)

Ada is set on Demonia or Antiterra, Earth's (or/and Terra's) twin planet.
In Voloshin's poem Voina ("The War," 1923) included in the cycle Putyami Kaina ("The Paths of Cain") the voice from the abyss of inner space says:

Топтать точило ярости. За то,
Что люди демонам,
Им посланным служить,
Тела построили
И создали престолы,
За то, что гневу
Огня раскрыли волю
В разбеге жерл и в сжатости ядра,
За то, что безразличью
Текущих вод и жаркого тумана
Дали мускул
Бегущих ног и вихри колеса,
За то, что в своевольных
Теченьях воздуха
Сплели гнездо мятежным духам взрыва,
За то, что жадность руд
В рать пауков железных превратили,
Неумолимо ткущих
Сосущие и душащие нити,—
За то освобождаю
Пленённых демонов
От клятв покорности,
А хаос, сжатый в вихрях вещества,
От строя музыки!
Даю им власть над миром,
Покамест люди
Не победят их вновь,
В себе самих смирив и поборов
Гнев, жадность, своеволье, безразличье».

The demons were sent to serve people. But people made bodies for the (until then invisible) demons and built thrones for them. The voice (belonging to Apollyon, an angel of destruction also known as Abaddon) proclaims the captive demons free from the oaths of obedience and the Chaos compressed in the whirlwinds of matter free from the harmony of music. It gives the demons power over the world until people conquer them again by restraining and mastering in themselves wrath, greed, wilfulness and indifference. The first version of this poem, "Apollyon," appeared in Voloshin's book Anno Mundi Ardentis (1915).

Demon is the society nickname of poor mad Aqua's husband (btw., the water of the Flood is mentioned in Voloshin's poem). Van and Ada are children of Demon. In Blok's poem Vozmezdie ("Retribution," 1910-21), the hero's father is known as Demon. He received his nickname thanks to Dostoevski (who appears in Blok's poem as a character). According to Dostoevski, the hero's father resembled Byron. "He is Byron, ergo he is a demon," everybody thought. Byron is the author of Cain (1821). Byron's tragedy was translated to Russian by Bunin, the author of a memoir essay on Voloshin.

"The New Believers" mentioned by Van bring to mind starovery, the Old Believers. Voloshin is the author of Protopop Avvakum ("The Archpriest Avvakum," 1918). The leader of the Old Believers and one of the first Russian memoirists, author of Zhitie Protopopa Avvakuma ("The Life of Archpriest Avvakum," 1672), Avvakum Petrov (1621-82) was burnt in Pustosyorsk.

It almost awed one to see the pleasure with which she [Ada] and Demon distorted their shiny-lipped mouths in exactly the same way to introduce orally from some heavenly height the voluptuous ally of the prim lily of the valley, holding the shaft with an identical bunching of the fingers, not unlike the reformed ‘sign of the cross’ for protesting against which (a ridiculous little schism measuring an inch or so from thumb to index) so many Russians had been burnt by other Russians only two centuries earlier on the banks of the Great Lake of Slaves. (1.38)

Alexey Sklyarenko

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