Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0024993, Sat, 11 Jan 2014 22:15:35 +0300

Demon & Demonia in Ada
Ada or Ardor: A Family Chronicle is set on Antiterra, Earth's twin planet also known as Demonia. Demon is the society nickname of Dementiy Dedalovich Veen, Van's and Ada's father who is linked to the eponymous hero of Lermontov's poem:

With white-bloused, enthusiastically sweating Andrey Andreevich, he [Van] lolled for hours in the violet shade of pink cliffs, studying major and minor Russian writers - and puzzling out the exaggerated but, on the whole, complimentary allusions to his father's volitations and loves in another life in Lermontov's diamond-faceted tetrameters. (1.28)

His father saw him off. Demon had dyed his hair a blacker black. He wore a diamond ring blazing like a Caucasian ridge. His long, black, blue-ocellated wings trailed and quivered in the ocean breeze. Lyudi oglyadivalis' (people turned to look). A temporary Tamara, all kohl, kasbek rouge, and flamingo-boa, could not decide what would please her daemon lover more - just moaning and ignoring his handsome son or acknowledging bluebeard's virility as reflected in morose Van, who could not stand her Caucasian perfume, Granial Maza, seven dollars a bottle. (1.29)

Ada to Demon: 'How lovely to see you! Clawing your way through the clowds! Swooping down on Tamara's castle!'
(Lermontov paraphrased by Lowden). (1.38)

Somehow, after the interchange occasioned by Lucette's death such nonclandestine correspondence had been established with the tacit sanction of Demon:

And o'er the summits of the Tacit
He, banned from Paradise, flew on:
Beneath him, like a brilliant's facet,
Mount Peck with snows eternal shone. (3.7)

According to Van (who, according to Cordula de Prey's mother, is himself a young demon),

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)

In his poem Nochnoe nebo tak ugryumo... ("The nocturnal sky is so gloomy..." 1865) Tyutchev compares sheetlightnings to deaf-mute demons talking to each other. Maximilian Voloshin is the author of Demony glukhonemye ("The Deaf-mute Demons," 1917) and Rus' glukhonemaya ("Deaf-mute Rus," 1918). Sending the former poem to A. M. Petrova, Voloshin wrote her in a letter:

Ведь Демон не непременно бес — это среднее между Богом и человеком: в этом смысле ангелы - демоны и олимпийские боги - тоже демоны. В земной манифестации демон может быть как человеком, так и явлением. И в той и в другой форме глухонемота является неизбежным признаком посланничества, как Вы видите по эпиграфу из Исайи. Они ведь только уста, через которые вещает Св. Дух. Они только знак, который сам себя прочесть не может, хотя иногда сознаёт, что он только знак. (According to Voloshin, Demon is not necessarily a fiend, he is half-God, half-man. In this sense angels and the Olympians are demons, too. In earthly manifestation demon can be a human being, as well as a phenomenon.... Demons are only the mouth by which the Holy Spirit speaks. They are only a sign that can not read itself, even if sometimes it is aware that it is only a sign.)

It is unlikely that VN would see this letter but, I suspect, he was familiar with this anthroposophic wisdom. Let me also quote from Bunin's memoir essay on Voloshin:

Он антропософ, уверяет, будто “люди суть ангелы десятого круга”, которые приняли на себя облик людей вместе со всеми их грехами, так что всегда надо помнить, что в каждом самом худшем человеке сокрыт ангел...

According to the commentators, Voloshin borrowed this idea ("human beings are angels of the tenth circle") from the French writer Leon Bloy (1846-1917).

Btw., in his garland of sonnets Corona astralis (1909) Voloshin mentions Icarus (the son of Daedalus, the legendary architect who built the labyrinth for Minos and made wings for himself and Icarus):

Мы правим путь свой к солнцу, как Икар,
Плащом ветров и пламенем одеты.
Like Icarus, we move toward the sun,
clothed in a cloak of winds and in fire.

For the flight from Man (as Manhattan is shortened on Antiterra) to France Demon Veen wears a scarlet-silk-lined black cape (2.1). Icarus flew so high that his wings of wax melted from the heat of the sun, and he plunged to his death in the sea. Van's father perishes in a mysterious airplane disaster above the Pacific (3.7).

Ada's husband Andrey Vinelander calls Demon "Dementiy Labirintovich:" 'And then, one day, Demon warned me that he would not come any more if he heard again poor Andrey's poor joke (Nu i balagur-zhe vi, Dementiy Labirintovich) or what Dorothy, l'impayable ("priceless for impudence and absurdity") Dorothy, thought of my camping out in the mountains with only Mayo, a cowhand, to protect me from lions.' (3.8)

According to Voloshin (Cosmos in "The Paths of Cain"):

Нет выхода из лабиринта знанья,
И человек не станет никогда
Иным, чем то, во что он страстно верит.
There is no exit from the labyrinth of knowledge,
and man will never become anything else
than that in what he passionately believes.

Alexey Sklyarenko

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