Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0023744, Sat, 9 Mar 2013 15:44:22 -0800

PF crystals & Stendhal
Dear Jansy and the List,

Somehow I can't see VN taking much if anything of importance from Stendhal.
Stendhal wears his heart so openly on his sleeve, and it seems to be bleeding
all the time, that he strikes me as almost masochistic. This approach works in
the non-representative arts when done with discretion, but in literature it
leads to Stendhalism and in paintings the worst of Catholic iconography - hearts
dripping blood. Can't quite see it as being Nabokov's cup of tea.

Now - on the other hand - crystals as scrying tools (I am reminded of Elizabeth
I's Dr Dee and his dark mirror) and as objects of beauty and wonder, as
reflective objects and sparkling jewels - all these strike me as Nabokovian. If
I were to search for a 'sentimental' crytaline reference in Pale Fire, it would
be to H C Andersen's fairy tale, the Snow Queen, in whose heart the shard of a
mirror resides preventing her from being able to love. She lives eternally in a
land of snow and ice, beautiful and cold, much like Zembla.

By the way, Stendhal was so neurotic, there is a syndrome named after him
(fainting and hallucinating at the sight of too much beautiful art in one
place). Nabokov seems to me to steer clear of garden variety neurotics, he
prefers out and out psychotics if it comes to it, and it frequently does.

The two original mirrors to whichPale Fire makes reference are 1) Through the
Looking Glass and what Alice Found There and 2) the cheval glass from the
Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.


p.s. For those inclined to doubt me, I found this quote from Wilson's critique
of VN's translation of Onegin:

Nabokov’s compulsion to give unnecessary information: he cannot mention a book,
however obscure, which has influenced or been mentioned by Pushkin or which
contains something similar to something in Onegin without inserting his opinion
of it; and partly the result of his instinct to take digs at great reputations.
In one paragraph, we are told, for example, that a novel by Mme. de Staël is
“insipid,” one by Nodier “lurid but not quite negligible,” and that Balzac’s La
Femme de Trente ans is a “much overrated vulgar novelette.” Dostoevsky is
identified as “a much overrated, sentimental, and Gothic novelist of the time”
(what is Gothic about Dostoevsky?); Balzac and Sainte-Beuve as “popular but
essentially mediocre writers.” Le Rouge et le Noir, also, is “much overrated,”
and Stendhal has a “paltry style” (Stendhal’s unadorned style is as much “a part
of his act” as Nabokov’s Fabergé fanciness).

From: Jansy <jansy@AETERN.US>
Sent: Fri, March 8, 2013 6:35:44 PM
Subject: [NABOKV-L] {TRIVIA] Colateral gains related to Kinbote's "crystals" and
amorous infatuation

John Shade's winterscapes were engendered at a time when trees were loaded with
leaves and the waxwings berrypicked. As C.Kinbote notes: "How persistently our
poet evokes images of winter in the beginning of a poem which he started
composing on a balmy summer night! The mechanism of the associations is easy to
make out (glass leading to crystal and crystal to ice) but the prompter behind
it retains his incognito. One is too modest to suppose that the fact that the
poet and his future commentator first met on a winter day somehow impinges here
on the actual season." (note to lines 34-35, on "Stilettos of a frozen
stillicide." )
Shadeonce mentioned "a crystal land"(line 12) that Kinbote immediately
associated to Zembla before the coup, when those "who knew too much,
scientists, writers, mathematicians, crystalographers* and so forth, were no
better than kings or priests..."

His inclusion of "crystalographers" is intriguing. Before that, Kinbote had
made two other alusions to crystal in his foreword: "Knowing Shade’s
combinational turn of mind and subtle sense of harmonic balance, I cannot
imagine that he intended to deform the faces of his crystal by meddling with its
predictable growth." and his witnessing of Shade's observation about a
snowflake that fell on his wrist watch:. "Crystal to crystal." In his note to
line 426, Kinbote comments on Shade's verse making a reference to Robert Frost:
"The line displays one of those combinations of pun and metaphor at which our
poet excels. In the temperature charts of poetry high is low, and low high, so
that the degree at which perfect crystallization occurs is above that of tepid
facility" and he closes the note with a dismissive: "With all his excellent
gifts, John Shade could never make his snowflakes settle that way".
Everything in "Pale Fire" (a title that is also suggestive of a
diamond's reflectiveness) that relates to the process of crystallization is
associated to water, not to stone nor salts. Therefore, it's only through a
wild leap of imagination that I can include, among the hypothetical allusions,
a reference to Stendhal's theories about "crystallization." (related to salts).
The idea is not as far-fetched as it may seem at first. Nabokov would have read
the great French stylist. Besides, I remember that either in "Lectures on
English Literature," or in "Strog Opinions," Nabokov observes how ordinary
looking women, such as Proust's Emma, even HH's Lolita, are seen through the
special lenses of amorous infatuation - and this Stendhal's famous theme (btw:
Shade's neurotic symptoms are reminiscent of Stendhal's own while he
was visiting Florence)**.

Cf. Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia: "Crystallization is a concept, developed
in 1822 by the French writer Stendhal, which describes the process, or mental
metamorphosis, in which unattractive characteristics of a new love are
transformed into perceptual diamonds of shimmering beauty; according to a
quotation by Stendhal: What I call 'crystallization' is the operation of the
mind that draws from all that presents itself the discovery that the loved
object has some new perfections.
In the summer of 1818 Stendhal took a recreational trip to the salt mines of
Hallein near Salzburg with his friend and associate Madame Gherardi. Here they
discovered the phenomenon of salt “crystallization” and used it as a metaphor
for human relationships. [ ]Thus, according to Stendhal, the moment one
begins to take interest in a person, one no longer sees him or her as they
really are, but as it suits one to see them. According to this metaphor, one
sees flattering illusions created by a nascent interest; illusions analogous to
pretty diamonds hiding a leafless branch of hornbeam, perceived only by the
eyes of the one falling in love.***

* - "crystallographers", I suppose (it is spelled with one "l" on p.546 in the
edition of The Library of America (Nabokov Novels 1955-1962) If with one "l"
then, perhaps, "crystallization" should obey to the same criterion?

** - wikipedia: Stendhal syndrome: In 1817 Stendhal reportedly was overcome by
the cultural richness of Florence he encountered when he first visited the
Tuscan city. As he described in his book Naples and Florence: A Journey from
Milan to Reggio: "As I emerged from the porch of Santa Croce, I was seized with
a fierce palpitation of the heart (that same symptom which, in Berlin, is
referred to as an attack of the nerves); the well-spring of life was dried up
within me, and I walked in constant fear of falling to the ground." The
condition was diagnosed and named in 1979 by Italian psychiatrist Dr. Graziella
Magherini, who had noticed similar psychosomatic conditions (racing heart beat,
nausea anddizziness) amongst first-time visitors to the city.
In homage to Stendhal, Trenitalia named their overnight train service from
Paris to Venice the Stendhal Express.

***- Applications: Psychologist Dorothy Tennov describes the process as a
transformation in which the loved one’s characteristics are crystallized via
mental events and neurological reconfigurations such that attractive
characteristics are exaggerated and unattractive characteristics are given
little or no attention. She uses this basis for her description of a "limerent
object", related to the concept of limerence
References: De l'amour, Paris, 1822 ; Stendhal (1822). On Love. New York:
Penguin Books. ISBN 0-14-044307-X. ; Tennov, Dorothy (1979). Love and
Limerence. Maryland: Scarborough House. ISBN 0-8128-2328-. .
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