Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0023728, Sat, 2 Mar 2013 07:57:10 -0800

Re: THOUGHTS: Double Consciousness in Wordsworth & Shade
Dear Jansy,

Your quotes recall to me how marvelous a poet, even in his borrowed English
language, Nabokov was. Outstare the stars. I have to agree with Bunny Wilson,
what a pity it was that he chose such an awkward, non poetic, way to translate
Eugene Onegin.

The most successful attempt of which I am aware, to translate EO into English
remains Vikram Seth's novel in EO verse, The Golden Gate. Any other suggestions?

From: Jansy <jansy@AETERN.US>
Sent: Sat, March 2, 2013 7:35:33 AM
Subject: Re: [NABOKV-L] THOUGHTS: Double Consciousness in Wordsworth & Shade

Jansy Mello: ...Nabokov's world was rich with "superimposed pictures" and
signs (polissemy in action through intertextuality) which, at one level, impede
the reader to get "a single sharply defined landscape." ... Marina Grishakova's
"On Some Allusions in V. Nabokov's Works" (TN, 43,1999) may provide us with an
additional interpretation...she notes that "Nabokov resorts to the Pascalean
metaphor again and again: 'infinity', 'dark eternity,' an 'abyss' or a 'pit'
juxtaposed to human perceptual time." MG's perspective ...relates to what John
Shade poetically refers to as "A thousand years ago five minutes were/ Equal to
forty ounces of fine sand./ Outstare the stars. Infinite foretime and/ Infinite
aftertime: above your head/They close like giant wings, and you are dead."
(lines 120-124), but I'm willing to take the risk that John Shade's "quirk in
space" may also be applied to time and eternity...

Part Two, to follow:"I'm willing to take the risk that John Shade's 'quirk in
space' may also be applied to time and eternity"

...because, when I quoted other verses by Shade: "A thousand years ago five
minutes were/ Equal to forty ounces of fine sand./, I didn't take into account
that he was suggesting an hourglass right there and then! Here is what Marina
Grishakova notes in the first paragraph of her Nabokovian note: "Let us turn to
Adam Krug's hampered attempt to cross the bridge..." - when she quotes VN:
"...Not a bridge but an hourglass which somebody keeps reversing, with me, the
fluent fine sand, inside." before she adds: "An hourglass is an image of
measurable infinity (as well as a verse line, a unit of poetry, another
metaphor for the bridge). It visually resembles the mathematical sign of
infinity and belongs to the leitmotival "signs and symbols associated with the
point of contact between the novel's two worlds." (D.B.Johnson Worlds in

In the former posting, related to "a quirk in space" that dislodged two
conscious recollections from their shared source, I compared this effect to
some of Marina Grishakova's arguments. I had simply wanted to make a reduction
from "two infinite abysses" (help!) to John Shade's description of how he is
unable to see his home when he is looking in that direction in the
present, with the one that had included his home in the past.

Matt Roth has asked: "Is the idea of “two consciousnesses” at the root of this
passage?" [relating Wordsworth's lines to Shade's "quirk in space"*]. Sigmund
Freud and Wilhelm Wundt referred to "conscious awareness" by linking perception
and consciousness, as you seem to imply it to be the case in Wordsworth's
conclusions, and even Nabokov's.
Freud's innovations led him towards the acceptance of distorted recollections
that could be either conscious or unconscious, the effects of which altered or
influenced present perceptions. He also observed that when a person is
remembering something, the perception of what surrounds him(her) is
closed-off (and vice-versa).

For a writer to be able to indicate "two consciousnesses" ("aligning memory
with immediate perception"), he must be relying on yet some kind of third
consciousness - and on their mnemonic registers, however faulty.

Would Nabokov have advocated the reality or the objective truth of everything
he could remember from his childhood years?

* - The complete quote, by M.Roth is: “But with ‘somewhat of a sad perplexity’
he [the poem’s speaker] registers a difference between the memory he has
carried of the place and what he now sees. When he superimposes the picture
held in memory over the actual scene, he finds they are mismatched. Wordsworth
referred to this device of aligning memory with immediate perception as the
‘two consciousnesses.’ Imagine looking through a View-Master, that childhood
toy that layers two images over each other to create a 3-D scene. You expect to
see a single sharply defined landscape but instead see two pictures, one
hovering over the other, their differences disconcertingly apparent.”
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