Autodidact: self-taught



by V. L. Craven

Ada or Ardor: A Family Chronicle
001. 22: Her disintegration went down a shaft of phases, every one more racking than the last; for the human brain can become the best torture house of all those it has invented, established and used in millions of years, in millions of lands, on millions of howling creatures.
002. 27: (who cares—one forgets little things very fast, when afloat in infinite non-thingness)
003. 28: …a Dr. Sig Heiler whom everybody venerated as a great guy and near-genius in the usual sense of near-beer…
004. 41-2: …he found nothing so depressing as the collected works of unrecollected authors, although he did not mind an occasional visitor’s admiring the place’s tall bookcases and short cabinets, its dark pictures and pale busts, its ten chairs of carved walnut, and two noble tables inlaid with ebony. In a slant of scholarly sunlight a botanical atlas upon a reading desk lay open on a coloured plate of orchids. A kind of divan or daybed covered in black velvet, with two yellow cushions, was placed in a recess, below a plate-glass window which offered a generous view of the banal park and the man-made lake. A pair of candlesticks, mere phantoms of metal and tallow, stood, or seemed to stand, on the broad window ledge.
A corridor leading off the library would have taken our silent explorers to Mr and Mrs Veen’s apartments in the west wing, had they pursued their investigations in that direction. Instead, a semi-secret little staircase spiraled them from behind a rotatory bookcase to the upper floor,…
005. 91: “Who cares,” cried Van, “who cares about all those stale myths, what does it matter—Jove or Jehovah, spire or cupola, mosques in Moscow, or bronzes and bonzes, and clerics, and relics, and deserts with bleached camel ribs? They are merely the dust and mirages of the communal mind.”
006. 98: Such contacts evolve their own texture; a tactile sensation is a blind spot; we touch in silhouette. Henceforth, at certain moments of their otherwise indolent days, in certain recurrent circumstances of their controlled madness, a secret sign was erected, a veil drawn between him and her–
(Ada: They are now practically extinct at Ardis. Van: Who? Oh, I see.)
–not to be removed until he got rid of what the necessity of dissimulation kept degrading to the level of a wretched itch.
007. 99: …she was aware that those silent, exotic approximations must have started long ago in some indefinite and infinite past, and could no longer be stopped by her, without her acknowledging a tacit acceptance of their routine repetition in the past.
008. 99-100: Her flimsy, loose frock happened to be so deeply cut out behind that whenever she concaved her back while moving her prominent scapulae to and fro and tilting her head—as with air-poised brush she surveryed her damp achievement, or with the outside of her left wrist wiped a strand of hair off her temple—Van, who had drawn up to her seat as close as he dared, could see down her sleek ensellure as far as her coccyx and inhale the warmth of her entire body. His heart thumping, one miserable hand deep in her trouser pocket—where he kept a purse with half a dozen ten-dollar gold pieces to disguise his state—he bent over her, as she bent over her work. Very lightly he let his parched lips travel down her warm hair and hot nape. It was the sweetest, the strongest, the most mysterious sensation that the boy had ever experienced; nothing in the sordid venery of the past winter could duplicate that downy tenderness, that despair of desire. He would have lingered forever on that little middle knob of rounded delight on the back of her neck, had she kept it inclined forever—and had the unfortunate fellow been able to endure much longer the ecstasy of its touch under his was-still mouth without rubbing against her with mad abandon.
009. 107: Five minutes after the attack in the crepuscule, between porch step and cricket-crazed garden, a fiery irritation would set in, which the strong and the cold ignored (confident it would last a mere hour) but which the weak, the adorable, the voluptuous took advantage of to scratch and scratch and scratch scrumptiously (canteen cant). … During the week following her birthday, Ada’s unfortunate fingernails used to stay garnet-stained and after a particularly ecstatic, lost-to-the-world session of scratching, blood literally streamed down her shins—a pity to see, mused her distressed admirer, but at the same time disgracefully fascinating—for we are visitors and investigators in a strange universe, indeed, indeed.
The girl’s pale skin, so excitedly delicate to Van’s eye, so vulnerable to the beast’s needle, was, nevertheless, as strong as a stretch of Samarkin satin and withstood all self-flaying attempts whenever Ada, her dark eyes veiled as in the erotic trances Van had already begun to witness during their immoderate kissing, her lips parted, her large teeth lacquered with saliva, scraped with her five fingers the pink mounds caused by the rare insect’s bite…and rare and rapturous was the sight of my beloved trying to quench the lust of her precious skin, leaving at first pearly, then ruby, striped along her enchanting leg and briefly attaining a drugged beatitude into which, as into a vacuum, the ferocity of the itch would rush with renewed strength.
010. 133: Both sought excitement in books as the best readers always do; both found in many renowned works pretentiousness, tedium and facile misinformation.
011. 137: The collection of Uncle Dan’s Oriental Erotica prints turned out to be artistically second-rate and inept calisthenically. In the most hilarious, an expensive, picture, a Mongolian woman with an inane oval face surmounted by a hideous hair-do was shown communicating sexually with six rather plump, blank-faced gymnasts in what looked like a display window jammed with screens, potted plants, silks, paper fans and crockery. Three of the males, contorted in attitudes of intricate discomfort, were using simultaneously three of the harlot’s main orifices; two older clients were treated by her manually; and the sixth, a dwarf, had to be contented with her deformed foot. Six other voluptuaries were sodomizing her immediate partners, and one more had got stuck in her armpit. Uncle Dan, having patiently disentangled all those limbs and belly folds directly or indirectly connected with the absolutely calm lady (still retaining somehow parts of her robes), had penciled a note that gave the price of the picture and identified it as: “Geisha with 13 lovers.” Van located, however, a fifteenth navel thrown in by the generous artist but impossible to account for anatomically.
012. 142: …knew by experience that nothing kept up the itch of inspiration so well as la chaleur du lit.
013. 150: It was, Van suggested, a “tower in the mist” (as she called any good recollection), …
014. 153: But as Van casually directed the searchlight of backthought into that maze of the past where the mirror-lined narrow paths not only took different turns, but used different levels (as a mule-drawn cart passes under the arch of a viaduct along which a motor skims by), he found himself tackling, in still vague and idle fashion, the science that was to obsess his mature years—problems of space and time, space versus time, time-twisted space, space as time, time as space—and space breaking away from time, in the final tragic triumph of human cogitation: I am because I die.
015. 154: … we have all seen the person who after gaily greeting a friend crosses the street with that smile still fresh on his face—to be eclipsed by the stare of the stranger who might have missed the cause and mistaken the effect for the bright leer of madness.
016. 164: He looked her over more closely than he had done before. He had read somewhere (we might recall the precise title if we tried, not Tiltil, that’s in Blue Beard…) that a man can recognize a Lesbian, young and alone (because a tailored old pair can fool no one), by a combination of three characteristics: slightly trembling hands, a cold-in-the-head voice, and that skidding-in-panic of the eyes if you happen to scan with obvious appraisal such charms as the occasion might force her to show (lovely shoulders, for instance).
017. 168-9: “I would like your opinion, Ada, and yours, Cordula, on the following literary problem. Our professor of French literature maintains that there is a grave philosophical, and hence artistic, flaw in the entire treatment of the Marcel and Albertine affair. It makes sense if the reader knows that the narrator is a pansy, and that the good fat cheeks of Albertine are the good fat buttocks of Albert. It makes none if the reader cannot be supposed, and should not be required, to know anything about this or another other author’s sexual habits in order to enjoy to the last drop a work of art. My teacher contends that if the reader knows nothing about Proust’s perversion, the detailed description of a heterosexual male jealously watchful of a homosexual female is preposterous because a normal man would only be amused, tickled pink in fact, by his girl’s frolics with a female partner. The professor concludes that a novel which ca be appreciated only by quelque petit blanchisseuse who has examined the author’s dirty linen is, artistically, a failure.”
018. 208: She was not really reading, but nervously, angrily, absently flipping through the pages of what happened to be that old anthology—she who at any time, if she picked up a book, would at once get engrossed in whatever text she happened to slip into “from the book’s brink” with the natural movement of a water creature put back into its brook.
019. 244: …for ineptitude is always synonymous with multitude, and nothing is fuller than an empty mind.
020. 308-9: [Letter written in the case of the protagonist losing a duel] Dear Dad, in consequence of a trivial altercation with a Captain Tapper, of Wild Violet Lodge, whom I happened to step upon in the corridor of a train, I had a pistol duel this morning in the woods near Kalugano and am now no more. Though the manner of my end can be regarded as a kind of easy suicide, the encounter and the ineffable Captain are in no way connected with the Sorrows of Young Veen. In 1884, during my first summer at Ardis, I seduced your daughter, who was then twelve. Our torrid affair lasted till my return to Riverlane; it was resumed last June, four years later. That happiness has been te greatest event in my life, and I have no regrets. Yesterday, though, I discovered she had been unfaithful to me, so we parted. Tapper, I think, may be the chap who was thrown out of your gaming clubs for attempting oral intercourse with the washroom attendant, a toothless old cripple, veteran of the first Crimean War. Lots of flowers, please! Your loving son, Van.
He carefully reread his letter—and carefully tore it up. The note he finally placed in his coat pocket was much briefer.
Dad, i had a trivial quarrel with a stranger whose face I slapped and who killed me in a duel near Kalugano. Sorry! Van
021. 359: What are dreams? A random sequence of scenes, trivial or tragic, viatic or static, fantastic or familiar, featuring more or less plausible events patched up with grotesque details, and recasting dead people in new settings.
022. 435: According to Bess (which is “fiend” in Russian)…
023. 475: Empty formulas befitting the solemn novelists of former days who thought they could explain everything.
024. 512: Van had murdered good Andrey Andreevich Vinelander so often, so thoroughly, at all the dark crossroads of the mind, that now the poor chap, dressed in a hideous, funereal, double-breasted suit, with those dough-soft features slapped together anyhow, and those sad-hound baggy eyes, and the dotted lines of sweat on his brow, presented all the depressing features of an unnecessary resurrection.
025. 529: ‘On her there was no face,’ as Russians say to describe an expression of utter dejection.
026. 539-40: Of course, I shave longer when my thought ‘tries on’ words; of course, I am not aware of the lag until I look at my watch; of course, at fifty years of age, one years seems to pass faster because it is a smaller fraction of my increased stock of existence and also because I am less often bored than I was in childhood between dull game and duller books. But that ‘quickening’ depends precisely upon one’s not being attentive to Time.
027. 549-50: This act of attention is what i called last year the “Deliberate Present’ to distinguish it from its more general form termed (by Clay in 1882) the “Specious Present.” The conscious construction of one, and the familiar current of the other give us three or four seconds of what can be felt as nowness. This nowness is the only reality we know; it follows the coloured nothingness of the no-longer and preceded the absolute nothingness of the future. Thus, in a quite literal sense, we may say that conscious human life lasts always only one moment, for at any moment of deliberate attention to our own flow of consciousness we cannot know if that moment will be followed by another.
028. 550: Our modest Present is, then, the time span that one is directly and actually aware of, with the lingering freshness of the Past still perceived as part of the nowness.
029. 550:… it does not matter that we can never enjoy the true Present, which is an instant of zero duration, represented by a rich smudge…
030. 557: At their earlier reunions the constraint, subsisting as a dull ache after the keen agonies of Fate’s surgery, used to be soon drowned in sexual desire, leaving life to pick up by and by. Now they were on their own.
031. 559: Philosophically, on the other hand, Time is but memory in the making. In every individual life there goes on from cradle to deathbed the gradual shaping and strengthening of that backbone of consciousness, which is the Time of the strong. “To be” means to know one “has been.” “Not to be” implies the only “new” kind of (sham) time: the future. I dismiss it. Life, love, libraries, have no future.
032. 560: What we do at best (at worst we perform trivial tricks) when postulating the future, is to expand the specious present causing it to permeate any amount of time with all manner of information, anticipation and precognition. At best, the “future” is the idea of a hypothetical present based on our experience of succession, on our faith in logic and habit. Actually, of course, our hopes can no more bring it into existence than our regrets change the Past. The latter has at least the taste, the tinge, the tang, of our individual being. But the future remains aloof from our fancies and feelings.
033. 574: In vain he told himself that those vile hankerings did not differ, in their intrinsic significance, from the anal pruritis which one tries to relieve by a sudden fit of scratching.
034. 575: He discovered that a touch of subtle sport could be derived from constantly fighting temptation while constantly dreaming of somehow, sometime, somewhere, yielding to it.

Bend Sinister
001. xii-xiii: 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 Sinster 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.
Similarly, the influence of my epoch on the present book is as negligible as the influence of my books, or at least of this book, on my epoch. There can be distinguished, no doubt, certain reflections in the glass directly caused by the idiotic and despicable regimes that we all know and that have brushed against me in the course of my life: worlds of tyranny and torture, of Fascists and Bolshevists, of Philistine thinkers and jack-booted baboons. No doubt, too, without those infamous models before me I could not have interlarded this fantasy with bits of Lenin’s speeches, and a chunk of te Soviet constitution, and gobs of Nazist pseudo-efficiency.
While the system of holding people in hostage is as old as the oldest war, a fresher note is introduced when a tyrannic state is at war with its own subjects and may hold any citizen in hostage with no law to restrain it. An even more recent improvement is the subtle use of what I shall term ‘the lever of love’–the diabolical method (applied so successfully by the Soviets of tying a rebel to his wretched country by his own twisted heartstrings.
002. xiii: The story in Bend Sinister is not really about life and death in a grotesque police state. My characters are not ‘types,’ not carriers of this or that ‘idea.’
003. xiv: The main theme of Bend Sinister, then, is the beating of Krug’s loving heart, the torture an intense tenderness is subjected to—and it is for the sake of the pages about David and his father that the book was written and should be read. Two other themes accompany the main one: the theme of dim-brained brutality which thwarts it own purpose by destroying the right child and keeping the wrong one; and the theme of Krug’s blessed madness when he suddenly perceives the simple reality of things and knows but cannot express in the words of his world that he and his son and his wife and everybody else are merely my whims and megrims.
004. xvii-xviii: It may be asked if it is really worth an author’s while to devise and distribute these delicate markers whose very nature requires that they be not too conspicuous. Who will bother to that [list of notes about the plot] Most people will not even mind having missed all this; well-wishers will bring their own symbols and mobiles, and portable radios, to my little party; ironists will point out the fatal fatuity of my explications in this foreword and advise me to have footnotes next time (footnotes always seem comic to a certain type of mind). In the long run, however, it is only the author’s private satisfaction that counts. I reread my books rarely, and then only for the utilitarian purpose of controlling a translation or checking a new edition; but when i do go through them again, what pleases me most is the wayside murmur of this or that hidden theme.
005. xviii-xix: The intruder is not the Viennese Quack (all my books should be stamped Freudians, Keep Out), but an anthropomorphic deity impersonated by me. In the last chapter of the book this deity experiences a pang of pity for his creature and hastens to take over. Krug, in a sudden moonburst of madness, understands that he is in good hands: nothing on earth really matters, there is nothing to fear, and death is but a question of style, a mere literary device, a musical resolution.
006. 1: …like a spatulate hole through which you can see the nether sky.
007. 5: The movement (pulsation, radiation) of its features (crumpled ripples) was due to her speaking, and he realized that this movement had been going on for some time. … The continuation of her voice came into being as if a needle had found its groove. Its groove in the disc of his mind. Of his mind that had started to revolve as he halted in the doorway and looked down at her upturned face. The movement of its features was now audible.
008. 6-7: He was sorry now he had yielded to that temptation for he could not stop yielding and the throbbing man in him was soaked. As usual he discriminated between the throbbing one and the one that looked on: looked on with concern, with sympathy, with a sigh, or with bland surprise. This was the stronghold of the dualism he abhorred. The square root of I is I. Footnotes, forget-me-nots. The stranger quietly watching the torrents of local grief from an abstract bank. A familiar figure, albeit anonymous and aloof. He saw me crying when I was ten and led me to a looking glass in an unused room (with an empty parrot cage in the corner) so that I might study my dissolving face. He has listened to me with raised eyebrows when I said things which I had no business to say. In every mask I tried on, there were slits for his eyes. Even at the very moment when I was rocked by the convulsion men value most. My saviour. My witness.
009. 8: While he was fumbling for the pass they bade him hurry and mentioned a brief love affair they had had, or would have, or invited him to have with his mother.
010. 8: “What’s this?” asked the fatter of the two, marking a word with the nail of the thumb he was pressing against the paper. Krug, holding his reading spectacles to his eyes, peered over the man’s hand. ‘University,’ he said. ‘Place where things are taught—nothing very important.’
‘No, this,’ said the soldier.
‘Oh, “philosophy.” You know. When you try to imagine a mirok [small pink potato] without the least reference to any you have eaten or will eat.’
011. 10: Anyone can create the future but only a wise man can create the past.
012. 11: He remembered other imbeciles he and she had studied, a study conducted with a kind of gloating enthusiastic disgust. Men who got drunk on beer in sloppy bars, the process of thought satisfactorily replaced by swine-toned radio music. Murderers. The respect a business magnate evokes in his home town. Literary critics praising the books of their friends or partisans. Flaubertian farceurs. Fraternities, mystic orders. People who are amused by trained animals. The members of reading clubs. All those who are because they do not think, thus refuting Cartesianism. The thrifty peasant. The booming politician.
013. 12-13: This moment of conscious contact holds a drop of solace. The emergency brake of time. Whatever the present moment is, I have stopped it. Too late. In the course of our, let me see, twelve, twelve and three months, years of life together, I ought to have immobilized by this simple method millions of moments; paying perhaps terrific fines, but stopping the train. Say, why did you do it? the popeyed conductor might ask. Because I liked the view. Because I wanted to stop those speeding trees and the path twisting between them. By stepping on its receding tail. What happened to her would perhaps not have happened, had I been in the habit of stopping this or that bit of our common life, prophylactically, letting this or that moment rest and breathe in peace. Taming time.
014. 14: ‘Aren’t you lowering to a considerable extent the standards by which the function, if any, of the human brain is judged?’
015. 16: I am going to put it as simply as possible. they of the solar side saw heliocentrically what you tellurians saw geocentrically, and unless these two aspects are somehow combined, I, the visualized object, must keep shuttling in the universal night.
016. 23: …the inscrutable stare of a thing that does not work and knows it will not.
017. 43: When young people cling to tradition they do so with as much passion as the riper man shows when demolishing it.
018. 45: To try to map our tomorrows with the help of data supplied by our yesterdays means ignoring the basic element of the future which is its complete non-existence. The giddy rush of the present into this vacuum is mistaken by us for a rational movement.
019. 46: …the very fact of our discussing these matters implies curiosity, and curiosity in its turn is insubordination in its purest form.
020. 47: The strong compact dusky forehead had that peculiar hermetic aspect (a bank safe? a prison wall?) which the brows of thinkers possess. The brain consisted of water, various chemical compounds and a group of highly specialized fats.
021. 48: He knew that except for two people in the assembly, Hedron and, perhaps, Orlik, nobody really liked him. 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.
022. 49: Whatever political opinions we hold—and during my long life I have shared most of them—it cannot be denied that a government is a government and as such cannot be expected to suffer a tactless demonstration of unprovoked dissension or indifference. What seemed to us a mere trifle, the mere snowball of a transient political creed gathering no moss, has assumed enormous proportions, has become a flaming banner while we were blissfully slumbering in the security of our vast libraries and expensive laboratories. Now we are awake.
023. 52-3: ‘You seem to confuse the olive branch with the fig leaf.’
024. 57: ‘I signed it—and my gods did not stir.’
025. 58: ‘I esteem my colleagues as I do my own self, I esteem them for two things: because they are able to find perfect felicity in specialized knowledge and because they are not apt to commit physical murder.’
026. 59: ‘I have a curious feeling, Professor, that somehow or other the numerous sheep are prized less than the one lone wolf. I wonder what is going to happen next. I wonder, for instance, what would be your attitude if our whimsical government with apparent inconsistency ignored the sheep but offered the wolf the most munificent position imaginable.
027. 63: It bristled with farcical anachronisms; it was suffused with a sense of gross maturity (as in Hamlet) the churchyard scene); its somewhat meager settling was patched up with odds and ends from other (later) plays; but still the recurrent dream we all know (finding ourselves in the old classroom, with our homework not done because of our having unwittingly missed ten thousand days of school) was in Krug’s case a fair rendering of the atmosphere of the original version. Naturally, the script of daytime memory is far more subtle in regard to factual details, sine a good deal of cutting and trimming and conventional recombination has to be done by the dream producers (of whom there are usually several, mostly illiterate and middle-class and pressed by time); but a show is always a show, and the embarrassing return to one’s former existence (with the off-stage passing of years translated in terms of forgetfulness, truancy, inefficiency) is somehow better enacted by a popular dream than by the scholarly precision of memory.
028. 69: …devices which in some curious new way imitate nature are attractive to simple minds.
029. 70: Quality is merely the distribution aspect of Quantity.
030. 73: All he asked for was that they follow their social and economic instincts, while the only thing he condemned was the complete absence of such instinct in an individual.
031. 83: Theoretically there is no absolute proof that one’s awakening in the morning (the finding oneself again in the saddle of one’s personality) is not really quite unprecedented event, a perfectly original birth.
032. 99: My intelligence does not accept the transformation of physical discontinuity into the permanent continuity of a nonphysical element escaping the obvious law, nor can it accept the inanity of accumulating incalculable treasures of thought and sensation, and thought-behind-thought and sensation-behind-sensation, to lose them all at once and forever in a fit of black nausea followed by infinite nothingness.
033. 103: I must not lose my head, thought Adam the Ninth—for by now there were quite a number of these serial Krugs: turning this way and that like the baffled buffeted seeker in a game of blindman’s buff: battering with imaginary fists a cardboard police station to pulp; running through nightmare tunnels; half-hiding together with Olga behind a tree to watch David warily tiptoe around another, his whole body ready for a little shiver of glee; searching an intricate dungeon where, somewhere, a shrieking child was being tortured by experienced hands; hugging the boots of a uniformed brute; strangling the brute amid a chaos of overturned furniture; finding a small skeleton in a dark cellar. [PN: People are more than just the outside. Common theme in Nabokov.]
034. 108: “’As with all decadent democracies, everybody in the Denmark of the play suffers from a plethora of words.’”
035. 156: We can easily imagine people in 1000 A.D. Sneering at our naïve nonsense and replacing it by some nonsense of their own.
036. 169: The whole business was extremely confusd and it did not matter in the least who won, who lost, but nevertheless the newspapers worked themselves into a state of mad agitation, giving every day, and then every hour, by means of special editions, the results of the struggle in this or that district.
037. 172: The trouble with Krug, thought Krug, was that for long summer years and with enormous success he had delicately taken apart the systems of others and had acquired thereby a reputation for an impish sense of humour and delightful common sense whereas in fact he was a big sad hog of a man and the ‘common sense’ affair had turned out to be the gradual digging of a pit to accommodate pure smiling madness.
038. 173: It was much the same thing as is liable to happen in novels when the author and his yes-characters assert that the hero is a ‘great artist’ or a ‘great poet’ without, however, bringing any proofs (reproductions of his painting, samples of his poetry); indeed, taking care not to bring such proofs since any sample would be sure to fall short of the reader’s expectations and fancy.
039. 173-4: Now let us have this quite clear. What is more important to solve: the ‘outer’ problem (space, time, matter, the unknown without) or the ‘inner’ one (life, thought, love, the unknown within) or again their point of contact (death)? For we agree, do we not, that problems as problems do exist even if the world be something made of nothing within nothing made of something. Or is ‘outer’ and ‘inner’ an illusion too, so that a great mountain may be said to stand a thousand dreams birth high and hope and terror can be as easily charted as the capes and bays they helped to name?
040. 174: We speak of one thing being like some other thing when what we are really craving to do is to describe something that is like nothing on earth. … We are not really able to measure time because no gold second is kept in a case in Paris but, quite frankly, do you not imagine a length of several hours more exactly than a length of several miles?
041. 178-9: Do all people have that? A face, a phrase, a landscape, an air bubble from the past suddenly floating up as if released by the head warden’s child from a cell in the brain while the mind is at work on some totally different matter? Something of the sort also occurs just before falling asleep when what you think you are thinking is not at all what you think. Or two parallel passenger trains of thought, one overtaking the other.
042. 187: “Not now. It is really time to–”
To be going to bed, to be going to school, –bedtime, dinnertime, tubtime, never just ‘time’; time to get up, time to go out, time to go home, time to put out all the lights, time to die.
043. 193: Incidentally in one compact sentence he had referred to several religions (not forgetting ‘that wonderful Jewish sect whose dream of the gentle young rabbi dying on the Roman crux had spreadovar all Northern lands’), and had dismissed them together with ghosts and kobolds.
044. 200: Mac suddenly dealt Krug a cutting backhand blow with the edge of this pig-iron paw: the blow caught krug neatly on the inside of the right arm and instantly paralysed it.
045. 210: [headache] the dull throbs were saying: one, one, one, never reaching two, never.
046. 220: Now we take all this, press it into a small ball, and fit it into the centre of Krug’s brain where it gently expands.
047. p??? shchekotiki (as we used to say in our childhood) half-tingle, half-tickle, when you are trying to remember something or understand something or find something, but probably your bladder is full, and your nerves are on edge, but the combination is on the whole not unpleasant (if not protracted) and produces a minor orgasm or ‘petit eternuement interieur’ when at last you find the picture-puzzle piece which exactly fits the gap.

The Defence
001. 36: The secret for which he strove was simplicity, harmonious simplicity, which can amaze one far more than the most intricate magic.
002. 82: …he had still to find a definite design, a sharp line. For the first time the writer Luzhin had involuntarily began with the colors.
And the brighter these colors became in his mind the harder it was to sit down at the typewriter.
003. 87: ‘Don’t mention it, don’t mention it,’ she replied and added many similar words—the poor relations of real words—and how many there are of them, these little throw-away words that are spoken hurriedly and temporarily fill the void.
004. 93:…finding fresh amusement in the movie business, that mysterious astrological business where they read scripts and look for stars.
005. 95:…in his way of dressing and in the manner of his everyday life, he was prompted by extremely dim motives, stopping to think about nothing, rarely changing his linen, automatically winding his watch at night, shaving with the same safety blade until it ceased to cut altogether, and feeding haphazardly and plainly. … Only rarely did he notice his own existence, when for example lack of breath—the revenge of a heavy body—forced him to halt with open mouth on a staircase,…
006. 99: This was his first impression when he saw her, hen he noticed with surprise that he was actually talking to her. It irked him a little that she was not quite as good-looking as she might have been, judging by odd dreamy signs strewn about in his past. He reconciled himself to this and gradually began to forget her vague prototypes, and then he felt reassured and proud that here talking to him, spending her time with him and smiling at him, was a real live person.
007. 100: How ill-bred he is, she reflected and caught herself shaking her head, and then accused herself of introducing a slightly false note—his manners had nothing at all to do with ill-breeding.
008. 176-7:…with his soul rolled up in a ball he accepted the caressive life that enveloped him from all sides. The future appeared to him vaguely as a long, silent embrace in a blissful penumbra, through which the diverse playthings of this world of ours would pass by, entering a ray of light and then disappearing again, laughing and swaying as they went.
009. 178: …holding a candle whose flame darted about in his hands, maddened at being carried out of the warm church into the unknown darkness, and finally died of a heart attack at the corner of the street where a gust of wind bore down… …and the chairs moved with the sound of throats being cleared…
010. 226: …this diversity of opinion particularly stunned her, used as she was to suppose apathetically that everyone who did not think like her parents thought like that amusing lame fellow ho had spoken of sociology to a crowd of giggly girls. There turned out to be the most subtle shades of opinion and the most viperous hostility—and it all this was too complex for the mind, then the heart began to grasp one thing quite distinctly: both here and in Russia people tortured, or desired to torture, other people, but there the torture and desire to torture were a hundred times greater than here and therefore here was better.

And the winner for Most Disturbing Book Cover Ever goes to…

xii: The ecstatic love of a young writer for the old writer he will be some day is ambition in its most laudable form. This love is not reciprocated by the older man in his larger library, for even if he does recall with regret a naked palate and a rheumless eye, he has nothing but an impatient shrug for the bungling apprentice of his youth.
Despair, in kinship with the rest of my books, has no social comment to make, no message to bring in its teeth. It does not uplift the spiritual organ of man, nor does it show humanity the right exit.
xii-xiii: Let me add, just in case, that experts on literary “schools” should wisely refrain this time from casually dragging in “the influence of German Impressionist”: I do not know German and have never read the Impressionists—whoever they are. On the other hand, I do know French and shall be interested to see if anyone calls my Hermann ‘the father of existentialism.’
xiii: I am unable to foresee and to fend inevitable attempts to find in the alembics of Despair something of the rhetorical venom that I injected into the narrator’s tone in a much later novel. Hermann and Humbert are alike only in the sense that two dragons painted by the same artist at different periods of his life resemble each other. Both are neurotic scoundrels, yet there is a green lane in Paradise where Humbert is permitted to wander at dusk once a year; but Hell shall never parole Hermann.
xiv: Pushkin poem translated by Nabokov: ‘Tis time, my dear, ’tis time. The heart demands respose.
Day after day flits by, and with each hour there goes
A little bit of life; but meanwhile you and I
Together plan to dwell…yet lo! ’tis then we die.
There is no bliss on earth: there’s peace and freedom, though.
An enviable lot I long have yearned to know:
Long have I, weary slave, been contemplating flight
To a remote abode of work and pure delight.
3: The gift of penetrating life’s devices, an innate disposition toward the constant exercise of the creative faculty could alone have enabled me…
3: …philosophic speculation is the invention of the rich. Down with it.
5-6: …a cloud every now and then palmed the sun, which reappeared like a conjurer’s coin.
6: One could not leave the steps of the path, for it dug very deep into the incline; and on either side tree roots and scrags of rotting moss stuck out of its earthen walls like the broken springs of decrepit furniture in a house where a madmen had dreadfully died.
8: What was going on in my mind? Nothing at all, oddly enough. I was absolutely empty and thus comparable to some translucid vessel doomed to receive contents as yet unknown. Whiffs of thoughts relating to the business in hand, to the car I had recently acquired, to this or that feature of the surrounding country, played, as it were, on the outside of my mind, and if anything did echo in my vast inward wilderness it was merely the dim sensation of some force driving me along.
22: Let me brace up the buckle of my story one hole tighter.
24: Tum-tee-tum. And once more—TUM! No, I have not gone mad. I am merely producing gleeful little sounds.
29: No, I am not getting in the least excited; my self-control is perfect. If every now and again my face pops out, as from behind a hedge, perhaps to the prim reader’s annoyance, it is really for the latter’s good: let him get used to my countenance;…
43: How shall we begin this chapter ? [The third chapter] I offer several variations to choose from. Number one (readily adopted in novels where the narrative is conducted in the first person by the real or substitute author):
It is fine today, but cold, with the wind’s violence unabated;…
The distinctive features of this variation are rather obvious: it is clear, for one thing, that while a man is writing, he is situated in some definite place; he is not simply a kind of spirit, hovering over the page. While he muses and writes, there is something or other going on around him; there is, for instance, this wind, this whirl of dust on the road which I see from my window…A nice refreshing variation, this number one; thus lending life to the story—especially when the first person is as fictitious as all the rest. Well, that is just the point: a trick of the trade, a poor thing worn to shreds by literary fiction-mongers, does not suit me, for I have become strictly truthful. So we may turn to the second variation which consists of at once letting loose a new character…
62: …there on a foot bridge we stopped, with our elbows upon the railing. Below, on the still surface of the water, we admired the exact replica (ignoring the model, of course) of the park’s autumn tapestry of many-hued foliage, the glassy blue of the sky, the dark outlines of the parapet and of our inclined faces. When a slow leaf fell, there would flutter up to meet it, out of the water’s shadowy depths, its unavoidable double. Their meeting was soundless. The leaf came twirling down, and twirling up there would rise towards it, eagerly, its exact, beautiful, lethal reflection. I could not tear my gaze away from those inevitable meetings.
90: I remember how deeply I inhaled the divine ozone of monstrous storms and disasters. But although I have never been an actor in the strict sense of the word, I have nevertheless, in real life, always carried about with me a small folding theatre and have appeared in more than one part, and my acting has always been superfine…
101-2: The nonexistence of God is simple to prove. Impossible to concede, for example, that a serious Jah, all wise and almighty, could employ his time in such inane fashion as playing with manikins, and—what is still more incongruous—should restrict is game to the dreadfully trite laws of mechanics, chemistry, mathematics, and never—mind you, never!–show his face, but allow himself surreptitious peeps and circumlocutions, ad the sneaky whispering (revelations, indeed!) of contentious truths from behind the back of some gentle hysteric.
All this divine business is, I presume, a huge hoax for which priests are certainly not to blame; priests themselves are its victims. The idea of God was invented in the small hours of history by a scamp who had genius; it somehow reeks too much of humanity, that idea, to make its azure origin plausible; by which I do not mean that it is the fruit of crass ignorance; that scamp of mine was skilled in celestial lore—and really I wonder which variation of Heaven is best: that dazzle of argus-eyed angels fanning their wings, or that curved mirror in which a self-complacent professor of physics recedes, getting ever smaller and smaller. There is yet another reason why I cannot, nor wish to, believe in God: the fairy tale about him is not really mine, it belongs to strangers, to all men; it is soaked through by the evil-smelling effluvia of millions of other souls that have spun about a little under the sun and then burst; it swarms with primordial fears; there echoes in it a confused choir of numberless voices striving to drown one another; I hear in it the boom and pant of the organ, the roar of the orthodox deacon, the croon of the cantor, Negroes wailing, the flowing eloquency of the Protestant preacher, gongs, thunderclaps, spasms of epileptic women; I see shining through it the pallid pages of all philosophies like the foam of long-spent waves; it is foreign to me, and odious and absolutely useless.
103: That is the reason why I am ready to accept all, come what may; the burly executioner in his top hat, and then the hollow hum of blank eternity; but I refuse to undergo the tortures of everlasting life, … Let me go, I will not stand the least token of tenderness, I warn you, fr all is deceit, a low conjuring trick. I do not trust anything or anyone…
104: I was in sore need of some sort—any sort of intercourse with the world, my own company being intolerable, since it excited me too much and to no purpose.
110: …every time she started speaking, I again bellowed, just as it happens that two people, both side-stepping, cannot steer clear of each other on a wide and perfectly free pavement.
122: The mistake of my innumerable forerunners consisted of their laying principle stress upon the act itself and in their attaching more importance to a subsequent removal of all traces, than to the most natural way of leading up to that same act which is really but a link in the chain, one detail, one line in the book, and must be logically derived from all previous matter; such being the nature of every art. If the deed is planned and performed correctly, then the force of creative art is such, that were the criminal to give himself up on the very next morning, none would believe him, the invention of art containing far more intrinsical truth than life’s reality.

Leave a Reply

Powered by WordPress