Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0025573, Thu, 31 Jul 2014 17:21:48 +0300

Kant's eye in Ada
Lucette to Van: I can't do that [tell the name of Ada's fiance] to your sweetheart and mine, because we know you could hit that keyhole with a pistol.' (2.8)

Lucette to Van: '- because at the other end, at the heel end of the Vaniada divan - remember? - there was only the closet in which you two locked me up at least ten times.'
'Nu uzh i desyat' (exaggeration). Once - and never more. It had a keyless hole as big as Kant's eye. Kant was famous for his cucumicolor iris.' (2.5)

Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) appears in Aldanov's Chyortov most (The Devil's Bridge, the second novel in Aldanov's tetralogy The Thinker about the French Revolution and Napoleonic wars; Saint Helena, Small Island is the tetralogy's last novel). According to Aldanov, Kant had golubye (blue) eyes:

Из глубоких впадин, покрытых седыми бровями, лили мягкий свет голубые глаза. (The Devil's Bridge, Part One, chapter XI)

"Cucumicolor" suggests that Kant's eyes were green, the same color as Lucette's eyes are:

The three of them cuddled and cosseted so frequently and so thoroughly that at last one afternoon on the long-suffering black divan he and Ada could no longer restrain their amorous excitement, and under the absurd pretext of a hide-and-seek game they locked up Lucette in a closet used for storing bound volumes of The Kaluga Waters and The Lugano Sun, and frantically made love, while the child knocked and called and kicked until the key fell out and the keyhole turned an angry green. (1.34)

Kant + iris = akt/kat/tak + Sirin = satirik + N

akt - Russ., act (cf. polovoy akt, coitus)
kat - obs., executioner
tak - Russ., so (sic); thus, etc.
Sirin - VN's Russian nom de plume
satirik - Russ., satirist

Kant is a namesake of the cartoonists Emmanuil de Saint Priest (whose karandashi, pencils, were blunted by Prolasov: Eugene Onegin, Eight: XXVI: 3-4) and Emmanuel Poire (Caran d'Ache). "The famous St Priest of Chose" is mentioned in the same chapter of Ada as Mr Plunkett (the reformed shuler who brings to mind Balunski, the former king of cardsharps in Kuprin's story Uchenik, "The Disciple"):

This was followed by a good bluff against a better one; and with Van's generously slipping the desperately flashing and twinkling young lord good but not good enough hands, the latter's martyrdom came to a sudden end (London tailors wringing their hands in the fog, and a moneylender, the famous St Priest of Chose, asking for an appointment with Dick's father). (1.28)

In Pushkin's EO (Two: VI: 8) Lenski is poklonnik Kanta i poet (Kant's votary and a poet). In his EO Commentary, note to Eight: XXVIa: 5-11, VN quotes Pushkin's poem Eyo glaza ("Her Eyes," 1828) beginning with line 7 ("the eyes of my Olenin!") and translates to English Pushkin's poem To Dawe, Esqr.:

Why draw with your pencil sublime
My Negro profile? Though transmitted
By you it be to future time,
It will be by Mephisto twitted.

Draw fair Olenin's features, in the glow
Of heart-engendered inspiration:
Only on youth and beauty should bestow
A genius its adoration.

"Esqr." in the title of Pushkin's poem brings to mind Walter C. Keyway, Esq., an English tourist whom Baron Klim Avidov catapulted with an uppercut into the porter's lodge for jokingly remarking how clever it was to drop the first letter of one's name in order to use it as a particule, at the Gritz, in Venezia Rossa (1.36). "Gritz" brings to mind Mme Gritsatsuev, "a passionate woman, a poet's dream," in Ilf and Petrov's The Twelve Chairs (1928). Mme Gritsatsuev lives in Stargorod ("Oldton," possibly an allusion to Novgorod, "Newton"). In Sorbonne (a cheap hotel in Stargorod) Father Fyodor attempts to sting Bender with karandash (a pencil) pushed through a keyhole, but Bender snatches it, with a pocket-knife carves a rude word on its edge and pushes it back through the keyhole of the priest's door:

Ostap bent down to the keyhole, cupped his hand to his mouth, and said clearly:
"How much is opium for the people?"
There was silence behind the door:
"Dad, you're a nasty old man," said Ostap loudly.
That very moment the point of Father Fyodor's pencil shot out of the keyhole and wiggled in the air in an attempt to sting his enemy. The concessionaire jumped back in time and grasped hold of it. Separated by the door, the adversaries began a tug-of-war. Youth was victorious, and the pencil, clinging like a splinter, slowly crept out of the keyhole. Ostap returned with the trophy to his room, where the partners were still more elated.
"And the enemy's in flight, flight, flight," he crooned.
He carved a rude word on the edge of the pencil with a pocket-knife, ran into the corridor, pushed the pencil through the priest's keyhole, and hurried back. (Chapter XII "A Passionate Woman, a Poet's Dream")

Baron Klim Avidov = Vladimir Nabokov
Olenin + barn = Lenin + Baron

In the Night of the Burnung Barn (when Van and Ada make love for the first time) the Baronial Barn is set on fire by Kim Beauharnais, the kitchen boy and photographer at Ardis (1.19). Years later Van blinds Kim for spying on him and Ada and attempting to blackmail Ada:

'But, you know, there's one thing I regret,' she [Ada] added: 'Your use of an alpenstock to release a brute's fury - not yours, not my Van's. I should never have told you about the Ladore policeman. You should never have taken him into your confidence, never connived with him to burn those files - and most of Kalugano's pine forest. Eto unizitel'no (it is humiliating).'
'Amends have been made,' replied fat Van with a fat man's chuckle. 'I'm keeping Kim safe and snug in a nice Home for Disabled Professional People, where he gets from me loads of nicely brailled books on new processes in chromophotography.' (2.11)

In Ilf and Petrov's The Golden Calf (1932) Bender successfully blackmails Koreyko, a secret Soviet millionaire. One of the novel's chapters is entitled "Homer, Milton and Panikovski" (Homer and Milton were blind, Panikovski simulates blindness).

Kant famously said that genuine Revolution is the one that happens in man's consciousness. According to Kant, it is he (not his contemporaries Robespierre and Danton) who is a true revolutionary:

-- Кто же настоящие революционеры? -- спросил озадаченный Штааль.
-- Я, -- сказал старик серьёзно и равнодушно, как самую обыкновенную и само собой разумеющуюся вещь. (The Devil's Bridge, ibid.)

Samo soboy razumeyushchayasya veshch' (das selbstverstaendige Ding, the thing that goes without saying) brings to mind Chose (Fr., thing), Van's English alma mater. Pushkin's Lenski studied in Goettingen:

He out of misty Germany
had brought the fruits of learning:
liberty-loving dreams,
a spirit impetuous and rather strange,
an always enthusiastic speech
and shoulder-length black curls. (EO, Two: VI: 9-14)

Kant's home city where he spent all his life, Koenigsberg (renamed Kaliningrad* after the World War II), brings to mind Kingston (Koenig is German for "king"), Van's American University where he teaches philosophy and where Lucette visits him (2.5). Btw., "Koenigsberg bridge problem" (a mathematical problem in graph theory) was solved by Leonhard Euler, the mathematician who is mentioned in Ada:

The year 1880 (Aqua was still alive - somehow, somewhere!) was to prove to be the most retentive and talented one in his long, too long, never too long life. He was ten. His father had lingered in the West where the many-colored mountains acted upon Van as they had on all young Russians of genius. He could solve an Euler-type problem or learn by heart Pushkin's 'Headless Horseman' poem in less than twenty minutes. (1.28)

and in Kuprin's scifi novella Zhidkoe solntse ("Liquid Sun," 1912):

- Знaчит, Гук, и Эйлер, и Юнг?..
- Дa, - прервaл меня лорд Чaльсбери, - и они, и Френель, и Коши, и Мaлюс, и Гюйгенс, и дaже великий Арaго - все они ошибaлись, рaссмaтривaя явление светa кaк одно из состояний мирового эфирa.

Henry Dibble (the hero and narrator in "Liquid Sun") brings to Lord Chalsbury, the owner of a laboratory on the extinct volcano Cayambe in Ecuador, the priceless eye-like diamonds from the two Amsterdam jewelers (both of whom are Jewish). According to Marina (Van's, Ada's and Lucette's mother, poor mad Aqua's twin sister), "the installation and upkeep of the 'drums' (cylinders) of a magnetic telephone cost a Jew's eye:"

Marina's contribution was more modest, but it too had its charm. She showed Van and Lucette (the others knew all about it) the exact pine and the exact spot on its rugged red trunk where in old, very old days a magnetic telephone nested, communicating with Ardis Hall. After the banning of 'currents and circuits,' she said (rapidly but freely, with an actress's desinvolture pronouncing those not quite proper words - while puzzled Lucette tugged at the sleeve of Van, of Vanichka, who could explain everything), her husband's grandmother, an engineer of great genius, 'tubed' the Redmount rill (running just below the glade from a hill above Ardis). She made it carry vibrational vibgyors (prismatic pulsations) through a system of platinum segments. These produced, of course, only one-way messages, and the installation and upkeep of the 'drums' (cylinders) cost, she said, a Jew's eye, so that the idea was dropped, however tempting the possibility of informing a picnicking Veen that his house was on fire. (1.13)

In Kuprin's story Poslednee slovo ("The Last Word," 1908) fotofon (the photophone, telecommunications device which allowed for the transmission of speech on a beam of light) is mentioned among other modern (and not so modern, as, for instance, the newspaper) inventions:

Да! Это он, не кто, как он, изобрёл шарманку, граммофон, биоскоп, фотофон, биограф, фонограф, ауксетофон, патефон, музыкальный ящик монопан, механического тапёра, автомобиль, бумажные воротники, олеографию и газету.

*Lenin's home city on the Volga, Simbirsk, was renamed Ulyanovsk (after Lenin's real name).

Alexey Sklyarenko (who hopes that his discoveries are worth Nabokov's eye!)

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