Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0025436, Thu, 5 Jun 2014 13:24:06 -0300

[ IDLE THOUGHTS] Ada's staff and fluff in B.Boyd - corrections
While I was listening to a German folksong about sleepy flowers drooping their heads over their stalks, I noticed a similarity between the sound of the word Nabokov used in Pale Fire (Stang)* and the German for stalk or stem.** This association is more hypnotic than precise but, anyway, it carried me over to one of BBoyd’s books that I’ve been reading since the beginning of May (“Stalking Nabokov”) and, following another train of thought, to one of his articles about ADA, related in part to repetition and to mimetism:
<http://www.academia.edu/4065265/Ada_the_Bog_and_the_Garden_or_Straw_Fluff_and_Peat_Sources_and_Places_in_Ada> http://www.academia.edu/4065265/Ada_the_Bog_and_the_Garden_or_Straw_Fluff_and_Peat_Sources_and_Places_in_Ada

Brian’s research is fascinating, always. My difficulty with his articles lies in understanding some of his interpretations (such as Hazel’s ghost guiding Kinbote’s hand to create Zembla or Nabokov’s evolutionist theories with examples extracted from “Speak,Memory” and Haeckel’s “ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny”…) for they are as complex as the hidden allusions he uncovers in Nabokov’s writings. His excerpts from S,M are striking (“Nabokov Psychologist”): the paragraphs that left their imprint in my mind are completely different from those in his selection: it was a novel reading of VN’ memoirs, a VN who, until now, I knew nothing about #!

In the round of associations and coincidences, there’s another word besides “stang” that has also occupied my attention. It reappears in the title of B.Boyd’s essay mentioned above (it is inspired by a VN quote from S,M##). I suddenly realized, in a different context, that I had an incorrect image of what Shade’s “ashen fluff” indicates in PF. Since the poet actually specifies that it’s a “smudge,” readers are expected to know that he is just indicating the smear against the glass caused by the impact of the bird that crashed against it and, like a shadow, marks the instant of his death. This residue wouldn’t be very “fluffy” but I always included it in the scene, instead of registering the icy smudge in isolation. I’m led to surmise that “ashen fluff” refers to an independent figure related to a description in which Nabokov stands in a garden and nestles a dead bird in his hand. All these associative “invocations” and contrasting perspectives take part in the effect Nabokov has over me. And yet… why “ashen,” like grey cinders?

Ashes and death lying outside John Shade’s window, related to stang, stem, stalk, staff, and ashen fluffs and now… a quote about Blanche/Cinderella*** from BB’s article on “Ada” - to read with a degree of malice relative to the word “staff” in this context:

"Sexually active with multiple partners on the Ardis staff—the butler, Bouteillan; his bastard son, the footman Bout; the nightwatchman Sore;and the coachman Fartukov—she represents the idea of sexual multiplicity so dominant in the central panel of Bosch’s triptych and in the gardens of Ardis."

Indeed. Love (erotic) and death in two very different paradises: New Wye (according to Kinbote, his “Arcady” where Death and Dementia dwell, irrespective of “Flemish hells and things”), and Ardis.


* STANG English Etymology 1 From Old Norse stǫng (cognate with Old English steng).Noun stang (plural stangs) (archaic or obsolete) A long bar; a pole; a shaft; a stake./ (archaic or obsolete) In land measure, a pole, rod, or perch. [ other etymologies...]

John Shade (458-460): "I’ll get off here." "It’s only Lochanhead."

"Yes, that’s okay." Gripping the stang, she peered

At ghostly trees. Bus stopped. Bus disappeared.

** - "Die Blümelein, sie schlafen/Schon längst im Mondenschein,/Sie nicken mit den Köpfchen/Auf ihren Stengelein." Cf. STÄNGELS, STÄNGEL - stem; stalk (I omitted the “Sandman” evocation in this song on purpose).

*** - Freud mentions the story of Cinderella in various articles (specially in “The Theme of the Three Caskets”) but today I found a reference to a still Freudian, but very different interpretation of her story (and readers of “Pnin” will recognize the reference) and a surprising new link between PF and ADA:
“ <http://bibliofeminista.com/post/2962105220/on-cinderella-glass-slippers-fur-slippers-freud-and> On Cinderella, glass slippers, fur slippers, Freud, and virginity.” http://bibliofeminista.com/post/2962105220/on-cinderella-glass-slippers-fur-slippers-freud-and

“Perrault’s was the first Cinderella to wear glass slippers…but for a century and a half certain scholars—including Balzac and the essayists in the Encyclopedia Britannica—argued that this footwear was not an inspired fancy but a mistake. An oral storyteller must have described “une pantoufle de vair” meaning fur slipper, these critics claimed, and Perrault or some scribe wrote down “une pantoufle de verre,” a glass slipper, which would be impossible to dance in.

If a mistake was made, Perrault’s subconscious served him well. The lost slipper sparkles on the princes palm because it represents the owner herself, or, to be more exact, it represents her sexuality, roaming the countryside to find the only foot that slides into it. After all, what can a woman’s slipper, which is a smooth casing that fits snugly over a projecting part of her body, suggest except for a vagina, which is shaped by nature to fit around a penis? “The shoe or slipper is a…symbol of the female genitals,” Sigmund Freud wrote in a footnote to the first of his Three Contributions to the Theory of Sex…But fur? “Fur,” Freud says in the same essay, “is used as a fetich [sic] probably on account of its association with the hairiness of the mons veneris.” In other words, pubic hair. / A fur-covered foot may be a gross fantasy suitable chiefly for scholars, but it’s not to the taste of fairy godmothers and their authors. Fairies prefer a slipper made of glass, since glass is cool, incapable of stretching, fragile, and impossible to repair once shattered, which is why it’s the symbol of virginity in general and of the hymen in particular.[ ] Shoe and vagina. Shoe and sex. We know this without knowing we know it.”

# - B.Boyd:” I happen not to share Nabokov’s metaphysics, yet I find it a fascinating intellectual achievement [ ] like Homer’s or Dante’s, a comprehensive vision that, unlike theirs, can reflect and incorporate modern skepticism…” (p.63)

## - “At a very early stage of the novel’s development I get this urge to garner bits of straw and fluff, and eat pebbles.” (SO,31)

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