Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0024981, Mon, 6 Jan 2014 19:38:36 -0200

Brian Boyd on Aqua's pipes and her pipe dreams (a devious follow
up on quotes)
Brian Boyd: ..."But let me give the last word to a novel about which I could write - have written - much, much more: Ada, a kind of twinned Iris or hypertrophied reverse of Speak, Memory's rainbow. In a world where electricity is banned as improper (and electricity is, after all, shocking, isn't it?), and hydraulic surrogates have to be found, Ada's great-grandmother pipes a stream on her estate to make it "carry vibrational vibgyors (prismatic pulsations) through a system of platinum segments" # [http://www.gingkopress.com/07-art/vladimir-nabokov-foreword.html]

Jansy Mello: Brian weaves his points into the fabric of his commentaries very subtly. In the first place, why not directly name "Ada's great-grandmother"?
"Marina [...] 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 [...] 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..."
What Brian's reader cannot know at this point is if Nabokov is refering to Ada's great-grandmother on her father's side (Olga Veen, née Zemski), or on her mother's (Mary O'Reilly Zemski). Only after we check in the novel do we realize that Marina is pointing to Ada's father's grandmother, who married Erasmus Veen and was a grandmother of both Dan (Marina's official husband and Ada's official father)and Demon (Ada's unofficial father). Brian opted to avoid this detour - indirectly emphasizing an aspect of Marina's estranged relationship with Van and his cousin, Lucette (she is, after all, expounding about her three children's great-grandmother) and illustrating how she is equally distancing herself from the Veens - and I hope I got that maze straight, for "family trees" (whether oaks or elms) distract me.

And my objective isn't really to stop at this point, but at another. When Brian Boyd wrote "that Ada's great-grandmother pipes a stream," the watery sound immediately led me to Aqua's delirious problems with waterpipes* and to her "pipe dreams." The "tubed" Ardis is served by all sorts of other pipes and the still operative dorophones invite Marina to greet "A l'eau' " into the receiver (and now we're back to water once again), but are we always intended to imagine gurgling all sorts of house-pipes, or is there something else they're hiding, related to Aqua's hallucinations and delusions?**

"Ada did not spare him the basement where a big-bellied robot throbbed, manfully heating the pipes that meandered to the huge kitchen and to the two drab bathrooms, and did their poor best to keep the castle habitable on festive visits in winter."
"All the toilets and waterpipes in the house had been suddenly seized with borborygmic convulsions. This always signified, and introduced a long-distance call... [ Marina ] had been on the point of running to the dorophone in the hall at the first bubbling spasm, when young Bout hurried in dragging the long green cord (visibly palpitating in a series of swells and contractions rather like a serpent ingesting a field mouse) of the ornate, brass-and-nacre receiver, which Marina with a wild 'A l'eau!' pressed to her ear. It was, however, only fussy old Dan ringing her up ..."
[ ] " 'Angels, too, have brooms - to sweep one's soul clear of horrible images. My black nurse was Swiss-laced with white whimsies.'[ ] Sudden ice hurtling down the rain pipe: brokenhearted stalactite."

Also check: "Ada saw herself there as a wonder-eyed waif with a bedraggled nosegay; Van saw himself as a nasty young satyr with clumsy hooves and an ambiguous flue pipe."

# - B.Boyd Ada Online 83.34: vibrational vibgyors (prismatic pulsations): Darkbloom: "violet-indigo-blue-green-yellow-orange-red." Cf. also Ulysses: "Roygbiv Vance taught us: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet" (13.1075; see also 15.1604). Alexander Graham Bell (see 3.10-11n. and 83.24-84.03n.) invented not only the telephone but also "the photophone, an instrument for transmitting sound by vibrations in a beam of light" (Encyclopedia Britannica, 1962 ed., 3:370).

* - "The unmentionable magnetic power denounced by evil lawmakers in this our shabby country [ ] - and very soon throughout both our Americas, and all over the other stunned continents - was used on Terra as freely as water and air, as bibles and brooms. Two or three centuries earlier she might have been just another consumable witch.[ ] She developed a morbid sensitivity to the language of tap water - which echoes sometimes (much as the bloodstream does predormitarily) a fragment of human speech lingering in one's ears [ ] she felt tickled at the thought that she, poor Aqua, had accidentally hit upon such a simple method of recording and transmitting speech, while technologists (the so-called Eggheads) all over the world were trying to make publicly utile and commercially rewarding the extremely elaborate and still very expensive, hydrodynamic telephones and other miserable gadgets that were to replace those that had gone k chertyam sobach'im (Russian 'to the devil') with the banning of an unmentionable 'lammer.' Soon, however, the rhythmically perfect, but verbally rather blurred volubility of faucets began to acquire too much pertinent sense. The purity of the running water's enunciation grew in proportion to the nuisance it made of itself [ ]... stop that record, or the guide will go on demonstrating as he did this very morning in Florence a silly pillar commemorating, he said, the 'elmo' that broke into leaf when they carried stone-heavy-dead St Zeus by it through the gradual, gradual shade...[ ]. Bathwater (or shower) was too much of a Caliban to speak distinctly [ ] but the burbly flowlets grew more and more ambitious and odious, and when at her first 'home' she heard one of the most hateful of the visiting doctors (the Cavalcanti quoter) garrulously pour hateful instructions in Russian-lapped German into her hateful bidet, she decided to stop turning on tap water altogether./ But that phase elapsed too. Other excruciations replaced her namesake's loquacious quells so completely that when, during a lucid interval, she happened to open with her weak little hand a lavabo cock for a drink of water, the tepid lymph replied in its own lingo, without a trace of trickery or mimicry: Finito! ... "

B.Boyd's Ada Online: 22.32-24.15: She developed a morbid sensitivity to the language of tap water . . . Finito!: Cf. 414.25-28: "Ada . . . was running her bath; to its gush a guitar rhythm recently heard, kept adapting itself aquatically (the rare moments when he remembered her and her quite rational speech at her last sanatorium . . . )." Cf. Nabokov's recollection: "Aunt Pasha's last words were: 'That's interesting. Now I understand. Everything is water, vsyo--voda' " (SM 68).
22.33-23.01: echoes sometimes (much as the bloodstream does predormitarily) a fragment of human speech lingering in one's ears: Cf. 570.11-15: "To an echo of that creak, transmitted vascularly to the brain before the system of sleep took over, he put down the eerie detonation. . . . "; SM 33: "As far back as I remember . . . I have been subject to mild hallucinations. Some are aural, others are optical. . . . Just before falling asleep, I often become aware of a kind of one-sided conversation going on in an adjacent section of my mind, quite independently from the actual trend of my thoughts. It is a neutral, detached, anonymous voice. . . . the auditory counterpart of certain praedormitary visions."

B.Boyd, Ada Online 110.24-25: an ambiguous flue pipe: W2: "flue pipe. Music. A pipe, esp. an organ pipe, whose tone is produced by the impinging of a current of air upon an edge, or lip, causing a wave motion on the air within; a labial pipe; --distinguished from reed pipe. Flue pipes are either open or closed (stopped at the distant end)." A satyr in Renaissance iconographic tradition is often accompanied by a panpipe (said by the Greeks to have been invented by Pan); Van's flue pipe is "ambiguous," presumably, in that its being single (rather than one of several conjoined, as in a panpipe) makes it potentially more phallic.
See 23.09n and Charles Nicol, "Buzzwords and Dorophonemes: How Words Proliferate and Things Decay in Ada," in Gavriel Shapiro, ed., Nabokov at Cornell, Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 91-100, p. 98: "Both electricity and water have currents; indeed [Alexander Graham] Bell [see 3.10n.] consistently explained that his telephone worked on 'undulating current.'" http://www.ada.auckland.ac.nz/

** - The Origin of the Phrase "Pipe Dream" - Daven Hiskey (July 8,2011) http://www.todayifoundout.com/index.php/2011/07/the-origin-of-the-phrase-pipe-dream/
"Today I found out the origin of the phrase 'pipe dream', meaning 'a fantastic hope or plan that is generally regarded as being nearly impossible to achieve.'
This phrase first popped up in the 19th century, with the earliest known documented case coming from Chicago, Illinois; specifically, coming from the December of 1890 issue of the Chicago Daily Tribune, in this case referring to aerial navigation: 'It has been regarded as a pipe-dream for a good many years.'
Yet another reference in Chicago, in September of 1895, demonstrates the true origin of phrase in terms of meaning, namely, as a reference to the dreams experienced when smoking opium. This September of 1895 reference is from the Fort Wayne Gazette: 'There are things taking place every day in Chicago which are devoid of rational explanation as the mysterious coinings of the novelist's brain. Newspaper men hear of them, but in the rush for cold, hard facts, the 'pipe stories', as queer and unexplainable stories are called, are at a discount. Were it not for this the following incident, which can be verified by the word of several reputable men, would have long ago received the space and attention it merits instead of being consigned to the wastebasket as the 'pipe dream' of an opium devotee'."

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