Russian-born American Novelist, Poet, Critic
Vladimir Nabokov, fully Vladimir Vladimirovich Nabokov
Russian-born American Novelist, Poet, Critic
To be quite candid — and what I am going to say now is something I have never said before, and I hope that it provokes a salutary chill — I know more than I can express in words, and the little I can express would not have been expressed, had I not known more.
V.V. sought to express something, which until expressed had only a twilight being (or even none at all--nothing but the illusion of the backward shadow of its imminent expression). It was Ada's castle of cards. It was the standing of a metaphor on its head not for the sake of the trick's difficulty, but in order to perceive an ascending waterful or a sunrise in reverse: a triumph, in a sense, over the ardis of time.
We loved each other with a premature love, marked by a fierceness that so often destroys adult lives.
Whenever in my dreams I see the dead, they always appear silent, bothered, strangely depressed, quite unlike their dear, bright selves. I am aware of them, without any astonishment, in surroundings they never visited during their earthly existence, in the house of some friend of mine they never knew. They sit apart, frowning at the floor, as if death we're a dark taint, a shameful family secret. It is certainly not then not in dreams but when one is wide awake, at moments of robust joy and achievement, on the highest terrace of consciousness, that mortality has a chance to peer beyond its own limits, from the mast, from the past and it's castle tower. And although nothing much can be seen through the mist, there is somehow the blissful feeling that one is looking in the right direction.
You couldn't get more original than Laura. Laura. Yes, she was an original, all right. One of a kind. Did they break her mold or what, pal? Or...or did it self-destruct? Still, Laura. The one and the only. Such a plain name for a unique cutie. But perhaps my acuity is not without its problems. I ruin everything: a stupid story to be tapped out on my tomb's stone. I ruined even Laura. And an original ruin is rare. Just ask the archaeologist, Egypt, again? Just ask me, Laura, again? and we'll both respond: Yes, again and again. And again.
The general impression is that fifteen year-old Dolly remains morbidly uninterested in sexual matters, or to be exact, represses her curiosity in order to save her ignorance and self-dignity.
The power of resistance is to set an example: not necessarily to change the person with whom you disagree, but to empower the one who is watching and whose growth is not yet completed, whose path is not at all clear, whose direction is still very much up in the proverbial air.
The thought, when written down, becomes less oppressive, but some thoughts are like a cancerous tumor: you express is, you excise it, and it grows back worse than before.
There can be no emblem or parable in a village idiot's hallucinations or in last night's dream of any of us in this hall. In those random visions nothing – underline nothing (grating sound of horizontal stroke can be construed as allowing itself to be deciphered y a witch doctor that can then cure a madman or give comfort to a killer by laying the blame on a too fond, too fiendish or too indifferent parent – secret festerings that the foster quack feigns to heal by expensive confession feasts (laughter and applause).
There, in front of us, where a broken row of houses stood between us and the harbour, and where the eye encountered all sorts of stratagems, such as pale-blue and pink underwear cakewalking on a clothesline ... it was most satisfying to make out among the jumbled angles of roofs and walls, a splendid ship’s funnel, showing from behind the clothesline as something in a scrambled picture – Find What the Sailor Has Hidden – that the finder cannot unsee once it has been seen. A brilliant, and moving, mixture of perception and reality.
To begin with, let us take the following motto (not especially for this chapter, but generally): Literature is Love. Now we can continue.
Van sealed the letter, found his Thunderbolt pistol in the place he had visualized, introduced one cartridge into the magazine, and translated it into its chamber. Then, standing before a closet mirror, he put the automatic to his head, at the point of the pterion, and pressed the comfortably concaved trigger. Nothing happened - or perhaps everything happened, and his destiny simply forked at that instant, as it probably does sometimes at night, especially in a strange bed, at stages of great happiness or great desolation, when we happen to die in our sleep, but continue our normal existence, with no perceptible break in the fakes serialization, on the following, neatly prepared morning, with a spurious past discreetly but firmly attached behind.
We sat and drank, each with a separate past locked up in him, and fate's alarm clocks set at unrelated futures -- when, at last, a wrist was cocked, and eyes of consorts met.
Which arrow flies forever? The arrow that has hit its mark.
You have to be an artist and a madman, a creature of infinite melancholy, with a bubble of hot poison in your loins and a super-voluptuous flame permanently aglow in your subtle spine oh, how you have to cringe and hide, in order to discern at once, by ineffable signs the slightly feline outline of a cheekbone, the slenderness of a downy limbs, and other indices which despair and shame and tears of tenderness forbid me to tabulate the little deadly demon among the wholesome children; she stands unrecognized by them and unconscious herself of her fantastic power.
The gentle and vague regions in which I moved assets were poets, not the land of crime
The problem lies not with the characters within the novel, but with the reader itself.
The time, the place, the torture. Her fan, her gloves, her mask. I spent that night and many others getting it out of her bit by bit, but not getting it all. I was under the strange delusion that first I must find out every detail, reconstruct every minute, and only then decide whether I could bear it. But the limit of desired knowledge was unattainable, nor could I ever foretell the approximate point after which I might imagine myself satiated, because of course the denominator of every fraction of knowledge was potentially as infinite as the number of intervals between the fractions themselves.
There exist few things more tedious than a discussion of general ideas inflicted by author or reader upon a work of fiction. The purpose of this foreword is not to show that Bend Sinister belongs or does not belong to serious literature (which is a euphemism for the hollow profundity and the ever-welcome commonplace). I have never been interested in what is called the literature of social comment (in journalistic and commercial parlance: great books). I am not sincere, I am not provocative, I am not satirical. I am neither a didacticist nor an allegorizer. Politics and economics, atomic bombs, primitive and abstract art forms, the entire Orient, symptoms of thaw in Soviet Russia, the Future of Mankind, and so on, leave me supremely indifferent. As in the case of my Invitation to a Beheading - with which this book has obvious affinities - automatic comparisons between Bend Sinister and Kafka's creations or Orwell's cliches would go merely to prove that the automaton could not have read either the great German writer or the mediocre English one.
There, on the soft sand, a few feet away from our elders, we would sprawl all morning, in a petrified paroxysm of desire, and take advantage of every blessed quirk in space and time to touch each other: her hand, half-hidden in the sand, would creep toward me, its slender brown fingers sleepwalking nearer and nearer; then, her opalescent knee would start on a long cautious journey; sometimes a chance rampart built by younger children granted us sufficient concealment to graze each other's salty lips; these incomplete contacts drove our healthy and inexperienced young bodies to such a state of exasperation that not even the cold blue water, under which we still clawed at each other, could bring relief.
To each, or about each, of his colleagues he had said at one time or other, something... something impossible to recall in this or that case and difficult to define in general terms -- some careless bright and harsh trifle that had grazed a stretch of raw flesh.
Vivian Bloodmark, a philosophical friend of mine, in later years, used to say that while the scientist sees everything that happens in one point in space, the poet sees everything that happens in one point in time. Lost in thought, he taps his knee with his wandlike pencil, and at the same instant a car (New York license plate) passes along the road, a child bangs the screen door of a neighbouring porch, an old man yawns in a misty Turkestan orchard, a granule of cinder-grey sand is rolled by the wind on Venus, a Docteur Jacques Hirsch in Grenoble puts on his reading glasses, and trillions of other such trifles occur - all forming an instantaneous and transparent organism of events, of which the poet (sitting in a lawn chair in Ithaca, N.Y.) is the nucleus.
We shall connect the points, draw the line, and you and I shall form that unique design for which I yearn. If they do this kind of thing to me every morning, they will get me trained and I shall become quite wooden.
While a few pertinent points have to be marked, the general impression I desire to convey is of a side door crashing open in life’s full flight, and a rush of roaring black time drowning with its whipping wind the cry of lone disaster.
You know, I still feel in my wrists certain echoes of the pram-pusher’s knack, such as, for example, the glib downward pressure one applied to the handle in order to have the carriage tip up and climb the curb. First came an elaborate mouse-gray vehicle of Belgian make, with fat autoid tires and luxurious springs, so large that it could not enter our puny elevator. It rolled on sidewalks in a slow stately mystery, with the trapped baby inside lying supine, well covered with down, silk and fur; only his eyes moved, warily, and sometimes they turned upward with one swift sweep of their showy lashes to follow the receding of branch-patterned blueness that flowed away from the edge of the half-cocked hood of the carriage, and presently he would dart a suspicious glance at my face to see if the teasing trees and sky did not belong, perhaps to the same order of things as did rattles and parental humor. There followed a lighter carriage, and in this, as he spun along, he would tend to rise, straining at his straps; clutching at the edges; standing there less like the groggy passenger of a pleasure boat than like an entranced scientist in a spaceship; surveying the speckled skeins of a live, warm world; eyeing with philosophic interest the pillow he had managed to throw overboard; falling out himself when a strap burst one day. Still later he rode in one of those small contraptions called strollers; from initial springy and secure heights the child came lower and lower, until, when he was about one and a half, he touched ground in front of the moving stroller by slipping forward out of his seat and beating the sidewalk with his heels in anticipation of being set loose in some public garden. A new wave of evolution started to swell, gradually lifting him again from the ground, when, for his second birthday, he received a four-foot-long, silver-painted Mercedes racing car operated by inside pedals, like an organ, and in this he used to drive with a pumping, clanking noise up and down the sidewalk of the Kurfurstendamm while from open windows came the multiplied roar of a dictator still pounding his chest in the Neander valley we had left far behind.