Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0025579, Sat, 2 Aug 2014 23:04:33 -0300

RES: [NABOKV-L] filling in some missing quotes in a wider puzzle
ADA, part 4: "In "real" life we are creatures of chance in an absolute void
- unless we be artists ourselves, naturally; but in a good play I feel
authored, I feel passed by the board of censors, I feel secure, with only a
breathing blackness before me (instead of our Fourth-Wall Time)."

Jansy Mello: In the previous posting I avoided the complications related to
V.Nabokov's reference to a "Fourth-Wall Time" while he was describing an
"absolute void" and, also, his experience as a playwright watching another
artist's plays.*

I suppose that, for him, past and present pertain to "real" life and they
are kept in suspension during a theatrical performance. Apparently the
breathing future is also excluded from this space that is guaranteed by
"someone in the know," who, by eliminating chance and chaos, offers the
audience (or, at least, Van Veen) a sense of security. However, depending
from the perspective from which we examine Van Veen's exposition, his place
in the audience or on stage, the sentence may be read in a totally different
way. For example, when one decides not to avoid the element that he has
mentioned in a "negative" way: what about the "Fourth-Wall Time" and the
events that take place in one panel (the stage) and the other (the

I discovered a book that seemed to indicate a safe way to proceed with this
matter. Namely "Nabokov's Theatrical Imagination" by Sigrun Frank. Cambridge
University Press, 2012.

S. Frank writes: " The Fourth Wall becomes in Nabokov's thinking more than
just a theatrical convention, providing an analogy to the relationship
beween the individual and the world: "The first [the spectator in the
auditorium] is aware of the second [theatrical reality on state] but has no
power over it; the second is unaware of the first, but has the power of
moving it. Broadly speaking, this is very near to what happens in the mutual
relations between myself and the world I see, and this too is not merely a
formyla of existence, but also a necessary convention whithout which neither
I nor the world could exist." ('Playwriting',321)

This idea recurs in a more extreme form in Pnin where the removal of the
borders is explicitly equated with death: "Man exists only insofar as he is
separated from his surroundings. The cranium is a space-traveller's helmet.
Stay inside or you presih. Death is divestment, death is communion. It may
be wonderful to mix with the landscape, but to do so is the end of the
tender ego.'. Nabokov distinguishes here between a stable and objective
external world (elsewhere called 'non-ego') and a subjectively perceived
inner world (which he call 'ego'). Applying this notion to the dualistic
world of theatre, Nabokov equates the world of the auditorium with the
subjective, and the theatrical reality with the objective world. This
juxtaposition of the world with theatre takes up the topos, famously
expressed by Shakespeare's Jacques, of 'all the world's a stage' - a notion
which Nabokov also expressed elsewhere: " How many times, in a city street,
I have suddenly been dazzled by this miniature theatre that unpredictably
materializes and then vanishes. I have watched comedies staged by some
invisible genius, such as the day when, at a very early hour, I saw a
massive Berlin postman dozing o a bench, and two other postmen tiptoeing
with grotesque roguishness from behind a thicket of jasmine to stick some
tobacco up his nose. I have seen dramas: a dresmaker's dummy with its torso
still intact but with a lacerated shoulder, sprawling sadly in the mud amid
dead leaves. Not a day goes by that this force, this intinerant inspiration,
does not create here or there some instanteaneous performance."(1937).

By establishing the Fourth Wall convention as the fundamental feature of
theatre, Nabokov stipulates an uninterrupted, perfect illusion - the closing
of the theatrical gap - as the ideal stage reality, positing his theatrical
ideal once more close to fiction. Through these clear-cut separation of the
stage and the auditorium, Nabokov creates two isolated spaces in which no
alternative, no 'Other' can facilitate the intrinsically twofold reality of
theatrical performance. Nabokov thus puts the stage and the auditorium into
a relationship which is governed by a diachronic 'either-or" opposition
rather than a synchronical 'as-well-as' relation, facilitating a
chronological rather than a simultaneous perception of theatrical reality."

The author's last paragraph, however, discredits my former links between
Marina's movements on and off the stage, Demon's intrusion and his later
metaphysical experience of a "missed heart beat" and an abyss arising from a
cleft beween two "bogus realities" (related to the Bergsonian "Real Time"as
I see it), and Van Veen's sentence about a playwright's role and a "Fourth
Wall Time."

Thoughts, anyone?


*- Archimedes once exclaimed: "Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on
which to place it, and I shall move the world" and the need of a "fulcrum"
(also translated as "a place to stand") is as important in Art as in
Science. However, at times I cannot find a fulcrum, in Nabokov's work, onto
which I may insert a mental periscope to explore the meaning of some of his
lines (perhaps this non-space is a part of his Moebius-like qualities?)
Fancy words to avoid admitting straight away that I'm frequently at a loss
when trying to understand his patterning.

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