Laughter in the Dark
001. 7-8: In any case, he made [the idea] his own by liking it, playing with it, letting it grow upon him, and that goes to make lawful property in the free city of the mind.
002. 13: No, you can’t take a pistol and plug a girl you don’t even know, simply because she attracts you.
003. 15: …surely the Cupid serving him was lefthanded, with a weak chin and no imagination.
001. [Foreword] This commentator may be excused for repeating what he has stressed in his own books and lectures, namely that ‘offensive’ is frequently but a synonym for ‘unusual'; and a great work of art is of course always original, and thus by its very nature should come as a more or less shocking surprise.
002. When I try to analyze my own cravings, motives, actions and so forth, I surrender to a sort of retrospective imagination which feeds the analytic faculty with boundless alternatives and which causes each visualized route to fork and refork without end in the maddeningly complex prospect of my past.
003. I remember the thing so exactly because I wrote it really twice. First, I jotted down each entry in pencil (with many erasures and corrections) on the leaves of what is commercially known as a ‘typewriter tablet'; then I copied it out with obvious abbreviations in my smallest, most satanic, hand in the little black book just mentioned.
004. 42: I felt that my perception of her, if properly concentrated upon, might be sufficient to have me attain a beggar’s bliss immediately; but, like some predator that prefers a moving prey to a motionless one, I planned to have this pitiful attainment coincide with one of the various girlish movements she made now and then as she read.
005. p191 …he was to bore me to near murder…
006. 195: Miss Cormorant cannot decide whether Dolly has exceptional emotional control or none at all.
007. p265 I have often noticed that we are inclined to endow our friends with the stability of type that literary characters acquire in the reader’s mind. No matter how many times we reopen “King Lear,” never shall we find the good king banging his tankard in high revelry, all woes forgotten, at a jolly reunion with all three daughters and their lapdogs. Never will Emma rally, revived by the sympathetic salts in Flaubert’s father’s timely tear. Whatever evolution this or that popular character has gone through between the book covers, his fate is fixed in our minds, and, similarly, we expect our friends to follow this or that logical and conventional pattern we have fixed for them. Thus X will never compose the immortal music that would clash with the second-rate symphonies he has accustomed us to. Y will never commit murder. Under no circumstances can Z ever betray us. We have it all arranged in our minds, and the less often we see a particular person the more satisfying it is to check how obediently he conforms to our notion of him every time we hear of him. Any deviation in the fates we have ordained would strike us as not only anomalous but unethical. We would prefer not to have known at all our neighbour, the retired hot-dog stand operator, if it turns out he has just produced the greatest book of poetry his age has seen.
008. p280. I will create a brand new God and thank him with piercing cries, if you give me that microscopic hope.
009. p293 I could not help realising, as my feet touched the springy and insecure ground, that I had overdone the alcoholic stimulation business.
010. 313: While it is true that in ancient Europe, and well into the eighteenth century (obvious examples come from France), deliberate lewdness was not inconsistent with flashes of comedy, or vigorous satire, or even the verve of a fine poet in a wanton mood, it is also true that in modern times the term “pornography” connotes mediocrity, commercialism, and certain strict rules of narration. Obscenity must be mated with banality because every kind of aesthetic enjoyment has to be entirely replaced by simple sexual stimulation which demands the traditional word for direct action upon the patient. … Thus, in pornographic novels, action has to be limited to the copulation of cliches. Style, structure, imagery should never distract the reader from his tepid lust. The novel must consist of an alternation of sexual scenes. The passages in between must be reduced to sutures of sense, logical bridges of the simplest design, brief expositions and explanations, which the reader will probably skip but must know they exist in order not to feel cheated (a mentality stemming from the routine of “true” fairy tales in childhood). Moreover, the sexual scenes in the book must follow a crescendo line, with new variations, new combinations, new sexes, and a steady increase in the number of participants (in a Sade play they call the gardener in), and therefore the end of the book must be more replete with lewd lore than the first chapters.
011. 314: Their refusal to buy the book was based not on my treatment of the theme but on the theme itself, for there are at least three themes which are utterly taboo as far as most American publishers are concerned. The two others are: a Negro-White marriage which is complete and glorious success resulting in lots of children and grandchildren; and the total atheist who lives a happy and useful life, and dies in his sleep at the age of 106.
012. 315: There are gentle souls who would pronounce Lolita meaningless because it does not teach them anything. I am neither a reader nor a writer of didactic fiction, and despite John Ray’s assertion, Lolita has no moral in tow. For me a work of fiction exists only insofar as it affords me what I shall bluntly call aesthetic bliss, that is a sense of being somehow, somewhere connected with other states of being where art (curiosity, tenderness, kindness, ecstasy) is the norm. There are not many such books. All the rest is either topical trash or what some call Literature of Ideas, which very often is topical trash coming in huge blocks of plaster that are carefully transmitted from age to age until somebody comes along with a hammer and takes a good crack at Balzac, at Gorki, at Mann.
013. 316: That my novel does contain various allusions to the physiological urges of a pervert is quite true. But after all we are not children, not illiterate delinquents, not English public school boys who after a night of homosexual romps have to endure the paradox of reading the Ancients in expurgated versions.
Look at the Harlequins
001. Attempts to telephone from the station proved futile: the line remained busy, and I am not one to persevere in a struggle with faulty abstractions of space.
002. The main reason I had agreed to come was <4> the hope of treating in the “brillant brine” (Bennett? Barbellion?) a nervous complaint that skirted insanity.
003. Such lavishness in the registration of trivialities is due, I suppose, to their being accidentally caught <5> in the advance light of a great event.
004. As a child of seven or eight, already harboring the secrets of a confirmed madman, I seemed even to her (who also was far from normal) unduly sulky and indolent; actually, of course, I kept daydreaming in a most outrageous fashion.
005. “Stop moping!” she would cry: “Look at the harlequins! “What harlequins? Where?” <8> “Oh, everywhere. All around you. Trees are harlequins, words are harlequins. So are situations and sums. Put two things together–jokes, images–and you get a triple harlequin. Come on! Play! Invent the world! Invent reality!”
006. on the Turkish table beside him what looked like a silver snuffbox but contained, in fact, a small supply of bead-like cough drops or rather droplets, colored lilac, green, and, I believe, coral.
007. Sometimes when I work too late and the spies of thought cease to relay messages,
008. the dentist entered, ruddy-faced, bow-tied, in an ill-fitting suit of festive gray with a rather jaunty black armband.
009. I know I have been called a solemn owl but I do detest practical jokes
010. The forefeel of fame was as heady as the old wines of nostalgia. It was remembrance in reverse, a great lakeside oak reflected so picturesquely in such clear waters that its mirrored branches looked like glorified roots. I felt this future fame in my toes, in the tips of my fingers, in the hair of my head, as one feels the shiver caused by an electric storm, by the dying beauty of a singer’s dark voice just before the thunder, or by one line in King Lear. Why do tears blur my glasses when I invoke that phantasm of fame as it tempted and tortured me then, five decades ago? Its image was innocent, its image was genuine, its difference from what actually was to be breaks my heart like the pangs of separation.
011. major ideas in minor minds,
012. being in love (vlyublyonnost’)
013. maybe, the hereafter stands slightly ajar in the dark. Voilю.”
014. Beneath my shut eyelids pressed to my forearm swam purple photomatic shapes:
015. oh, there it comes, the crested wave line, trotting again like white circus ponies abreast,
016. She vaguely replied he disliked the “fox-hunting set” and the “yachting crowd.” I said those were abominable clichиs used only by Philistines. In my set, in my world, in the opulent Russia of my boyhood we stood <29> so far above any concept of “class” that we only laughed or yawned when reading about “Japanese Barons” or “New England Patricians.”
017. Apically, the white of the abdomen, brought out in frightening repoussи, with an ugliness never noticed before, a man’s portable zoo, a symmetrical mass of animal attributes, the elephant proboscis, the twin sea urchins, the baby gorilla, clinging to my underbelly with its back to the public.
018. a curious French novel (Du cтtи de chez Swann) that I had bought for her,
019. I made my way to the pantry for a glass or two of wine, the best breakfast in times of distress.
020. The shadow of those repellent and rather colorless recolections (mortal peril is colorless)
021. that delightful rapid monkey-scratching search a girl performs when groping for something in her bag
022. The moldings of her brown back, with a patch-size beauty spot below the left shoulder blade and a long spinal hollow, which redeemed all the errors of animal evolution, distracted me painfully
023. “Your mental health is jolly good, I think. You are sometimes strange and somber, and often silly, but that’s in character with ce qu’on appelle genius.” “What do you call `genius’?” “Well, seeing things others don’t see. Or rather the invisible links between things.”
024. In those days I seemed to have had two muses: the essential, hysterical, genuine one, who tortured me with elusive snatches of imagery and wrung her hands over my inability to appropriate the magic and madness offered me; and her apprentice, her palette girl and stand-in, a little logician, who stuffed the torn gaps left by her mistress with explanatory or meter-mending fillers
025. And to think that for almost five years I kept trying and kept getting caught–until I fired that painted, pregnant, meek, miserable little assistant!
xiii: The beginner’s well-known propensity for obtruding upon his own privacy, by introducing himself, or a vicar, into his first novel, owes less to the attraction of a ready theme than to the relief of getting rid of oneself, before going on to better things.
9: Meanwhile nostalgia in reverse, the longing for yet another strange land, grew especially strong in spring.
18: He was in the kind of mood that he called “dispersion of the will.” he sat motionless at his table unable to decide what to do: to shift the position of his body, to get up and wash his hands, or to open the window, outside of which the bleak day was fading into twilight.
18: He was powerless because he had no precise desire, and this tortured him because he was vainly seeking something to desire.
19: Only for a very short time had he been genuinely in love—in that state of mind in which Lyudmila had seemed wreathed in a seductive mist, a state of questing, exalted, almost unearthly emotion, as when music plays at the very moment when one is doing something quite ordinary, such as walking from a table to pay at the bar, and gives an inward dancelike quality to one’s simple movement, transforming it into a significant and immortal gesture.
That music had stopped at the moment one night when on the jolting floor of a dark taxi, he had possessed Lyudmila, and at once it had become utterly banal.
22: … the whole of life seemed like a piece of film-making where heedless extras knew nothing of the picture in which they were taking part.
27: … five sleepy, warm, gray worlds in coachman’s livery; and five other worlds on aching hooves, asleep and dreaming of nothing but oats streaming out of a sack with a soft crackly sound.
It is at moments like this that everything grows fabulous, unfathomably profound, hen life seems terrifying and death even worse.
44: Now Ganin wracked his memory in vain; he just could not picture their first meeting. The fact was that he had been waiting for her with such longing, had thought to much about her during those blissful days after the typhus, that he had fashioned her unique image long before he actually saw her. Now, many years later, he felt that their imaginary meeting and the meeting which took place in reality had blended and merged imperceptibly into one another, since as a living person she was only an uninterrupted continuation of the image which had foreshadowed her.
55: It was not simply reminiscence but a life that was much more real, much more intense than the life lived by his shadow…
60: …memory can restore to life everything except smells, although nothing revives the past so completely as a smell that was once associated with it.
87: …all those trivial yet somehow precious things which become so familiar to our sight and touch, and whose only virtue is that they enable a person condemned to be always on the move to feel at home, however slightly, whenever he unpacks his fond, fragile, human rubbish for the hundredth time.
110: For a moment he saw life in all the thrilling beauty of its despair and happiness, and everything became exalted and deeply mysterious…
001. Usually the passage of his choice would come from some old and naïve comedy of merchant-class habitus rigged up by Ostrovski almost a century ago, or from an equally ancient but even more dated piece of trivial Leskovian jollity dependent on verbal contortions.
002. It was the world that was absent-minded and it was Pnin whose business it was to set it straight. His life was a constant war with insensate objects that fell apart, or attacked him, or refused to function, or viciously got themselves lost as soon as they entered the sphere of his existence.
003. He never attempted to sleep on his left side, even in those dismal hours of the night when the insomniac longs for a third side after trying the two he has.
004. Some people–and I am one of them–hate happy ends. We feel cheated. Harm is the norm. Doom should not jam. The avalanche stopping in its tracks a few feet above the cowering village behaves not only unnaturally but unethically. Had I been reading about this mild old man, instead of writing about him, I would have preferred him to discover, upon his arrival to Cremona, that his lecture was not this Friday but the next.
005. It was a curriculum vitae in a nutshell–a coconut shell.
006. Hadn’t he been comfortable there? ‘Too many people,’ said Pnin. ‘Inquisitive people. Whereas special privacy is now to me absolutely necessary.’
007. The same afternoon, one of Pnin’s students, Charles McBeth (‘A madman, I think, judging by his compositions,’ Pnin used to say), zestfully brought over Pnin’s luggage in a pathologically purplish car
008. Laurence even made a film of what Timofey considered to be the essentials of Russian ‘carpalistics’, with Pnin in a polo shirt, a Gioconda smile on his lips, demonstrating the movements underlying such Russian verbs–used in reference to hands–as mahnut’, vsplesnut’, razvesti: the one-hand downward loose shake of weary relinquishment; the two-hand dramatic splash of amazed distress; and the ‘disjunctive’ motion–hands travelling apart to signify helpless passivity. And in conclusion, very slowly, Pnin showed how, in the international’ shaking the finger’ gesture, a half turn, as delicate as the switch of the wrist in fencing, metamorphosed the Russian solemn symbol of pointing up, ‘the Judge in Heaven sees you!’ into a German air picture of the; stick–‘something is coming to you!’
009. Ten years before she had had a handsome heel for a lover, who had jilted her for a little tramp, and later she had had a dragging, hopelessly complicated, Chekhovian rather than Dostoyevskian affair with a cripple who was now married to his nurse, a cheap cutie.
010. He was half-way through the dreary hell that had been devised by European bureaucrats (to the vast amusement of the Soviets) for holders of that miserable thing, the Nansen Passport (a kind of parolee’s card issued to Russian émigrés),
011. ‘It is nothing but a kind of microcosmos of Communism–all that psychiatry,’ rumbled Pnin, in his answer to Chateau. ‘Why not leave their private sorrows to people? Is sorrow not, one asks, the only thing in the world people really possess?’
012. In a set of eight tetrametric quatrains Pushkin described the morbid habit he always had–wherever he was, whatever he was doing–of dwelling on thoughts of death and of closely inspecting every passing day as he strove to find in its cryptogram a certain ‘future anniversary': the day and month that would appear, somewhere, sometime upon his tombstone.
013. Like so many ageing college people, Pnin had long ceased to notice the existence of students on the campus, in the corridors, in the library–anywhere, in brief, save in functional classroom concentrations. In the beginning, he had been much upset by the sight of some of them, their poor young heads on their forearms, fast asleep among the ruins of knowledge; but now, except for a girl’s comely nape here and there, he saw nobody in the Reading Room.
014. Victor indulged night after night in these mild fancies, trying to induce sleep in his cold cubicle which was exposed to every noise in the restless dorm. Generally he did not reach that crucial flight episode when the King alone–solus rex (as chess problem makers term royal solitude)–paced a beach on the Bohemian Sea, at Tempest Point, where Percival Blake, a cheerful American adventurer, had promised to meet him with a powerful motor-boat. Indeed, the very act of postponing that thrilling and soothing episode, the very protraction of its lure, coming as it did on top of the repetitive fancy, formed the main mechanism of its soporific effect.
015. He was now fourteen but looked two or three years older–not because of his lanky height, close on six feet, but because of a casual ease of demean our, an expression of amiable aloofness about his plain but clean-cut features, and a complete lack of clumsiness or constraint which, far from precluding modesty and reserve, lent a sunny something to his shyness and a detached blandness to his quiet ways. Under his left eye a brown mole almost the size of a cent punctuated the pallor of his cheek. I do not think he loved anybody.
016. Both parents, in their capacity of psychotherapists, did their best to impersonate Laius and Jocasta, but the boy proved to be a very mediocre little Oedipus.
017. the morose temper of genius,
018. It was really striking how the man resembled Pnin’s colleague at Waindell College, Dr Hagen–one of those random likenesses as pointless as a bad pun.
019. morose étagères with bits of dark-looking glass in the back as mournful as the eyes of old apes.
020. Next, they switched to the usual shop talk of European teachers abroad, sighing and shaking heads over the ‘ typical American college student’ who does not know geography, is immune to noise, and thinks education is but a means to get eventually a remunerative job.
021.’You will notice,’ he said, ‘that there is a significant difference between Lyovin’s spiritual time and Vronski’s physical one. In mid book, Lyovin and Kitty lag behind Vronski and Anna by a whole year. When, on a Sunday evening in May 1876, Anna throws herself under that freight train, she has existed more than four years since the beginning of the novel, but in the case of the Lyovins, during the same period, 1872 to 1876, hardly three years have elapsed. It is the best example of relativity in literature that is known to me.’
022. …the kind of dreary brush country–scrub oak and nursery pine–that, in terms of Nature, is the counterpart of a slum.
023. the new Fall Term began particularly well: he had never had so few students to bother about, or so much time for his own research. This research had long entered the charmed stage when the quest overrides the goal, and a new organism is formed, the parasite so to speak of the ripening fruit. Pnin averted his mental gaze from the end of his work, which was so clearly in sight that one could make out the rocket of an asterisk, the flare of a ‘sic!’ This line of land was to be shunned as the doom of everything that determined the rapture of endless approximation. Index cards were gradually loading a shoe box with their compact weight. The collation of two legends; a precious detail in manners or dress; a reference checked and found to be falsified by incompetence, carelessness, or fraud; the spine thrill of a felicitous guess; and all the innumerable triumphs of bezkorïstnïy (disinterested, devoted) scholarship–this had corrupted Pnin, this had made of him a happy, footnote-drugged maniac who disturbs the book mites in a dull volume, a foot thick, to find in it a reference to an even duller one.
024. The sense of living in a discrete building all by himself was to Pnin something singularly delightful and amazingly satisfying to a weary old want of his innermost self, battered and stunned by thirty-five years of homelessness. One of the sweetest things about the place was the silence–angelic, rural, and perfectly secure, thus in blissful contrast to the persistent cacophonies that had surrounded him from six sides in the rented rooms of his former habitations.
025. her husband had such a soothing capacity for showing how silent a man could be if he strictly avoided comments on the weather.
026. The bowl that emerged was one of those gifts whose first impact produces in the recipient’s mind a coloured image, a blazoned blur, reflecting with such emblematic force the sweet nature of the donor that the tangible attributes of the thing are dissolved, as it were, in this pure inner blaze, but suddenly and forever leap into brilliant being when praised by an outsider to whom the true glory of the object is unknown.
027. Jan van Eyck’s ample-jowled, fluff-haloed Canon van der Paele, seized by a fit of abstraction in the presence of the puzzled Virgin to whom a super, rigged up as St George, is directing the good Canon’s attention. Everything was there–the knotty temple, the sad, musing gaze, the folds and furrows of facial flesh, the thin lips, and even the wart on the left cheek.
028. Margaret Thayer admired it in her turn, and said that when she was a child, she imagined Cinderella’s glass shoes to be exactly of that greenish blue tint; whereupon Professor Pain remarked that, primo, he would like everybody to say if contents were as good as container, and, secundo, that Cendrillon’s shoes were not made of glass but of Russian squirrel fur–vair, in French. It was, he said, an obvious case of the survival of the fittest among words, verre being more evocative than vair which, he submitted, came not from varius, variegated, but from veveritsa, Slavic for a certain beautiful, pale, winter-squirrel fur, having a bluish, or better say sizïy, columbine, shade–‘from columba, Latin for “pigeon “, as somebody here well knows–so you see, Mrs Fire, you were, in general, correct.’
029. ‘This is not quite for your chaste ears, Timofey,’ said Hagen to Pnin, who always confessed he never could see the point of any’ scabrous anecdote’.
030. ‘However–‘ Clements moved away to rejoin the ladies. Hagen began to retell the story, and Thomas began to re-grin. Pnin waved a hand at the raconteur in a Russian disgusted ‘oh-go-on-with-you’ gesture and said: ‘I have heard quite the same anecdote thirty-five years ago in Odessa, and even then I could not understand what is comical in it.’
031. We sat and drank, each with a separate past locked up in him, and fate’s alarm clocks set at unrelated futures–when,
032. You and I will give next year some splendid new courses which I have planned long ago. On Tyranny. On the Boot. On Nicholas the First. On all the precursors of modern atrocity. Hagen, when we speak of injustice, we forget Armenian massacres, tortures which Tibet invented, colonists in Africa…. The history of man is the history of pain!’
033. In the rememoration of old relationships, later impressions often tend to be dimmer than earlier ones.
034. By midnight the fun began to thin; the smile I was keeping afloat began to develop, I felt, symptoms of labial cramp.
035. after an evening that somehow left me with the mental counterpart of a bad taste in the mouth, we all went to bed.
036. The thunder of trucks rocked the house every two minutes or so; I kept dozing off and sitting up with a gasp, and through the parody of a window shade some light from the street reached the mirror and dazzled me into thinking I was facing a firing squad.
The Real Life of Sebastian Knight
-001- pX: …what is still harder to understand is the amazing fact that a man writing of things which he really felt at the time of writing could have had the power to create simultaneously—and out of the very things which distressed him mind—a fictitious and faintly absurd character.
In one way, then, Sebastian’s real life might simply be Nabokov’s imaginary one, a thought-experiment, an almost Borges-like exploration of a forking path not actually taken. This is what I would have been like had I become a ‘faintly absurd’ English novelist.
-002- p5: Luck being what it is when left alone, here I was offered something which I might never have hunted down had it been a chosen quarry.
-003- p28: …super-modern things have a queer knack of dating much faster than others…
-004- p43: …he was in fact quite overcome at first to see and smell and feel the country for which he had always longed.
-005- p43: …a cup of strong tea and a generous fire-formed a harmony which somehow he knew by heart.
-006- pp43-4: Sebastian in spite of himself realised with perhaps a kind of helpless amazement (for he had expected more from England than she could do for him) that no matter how wisely and sweetly his new surroundings played up to his old dreams, he himself, or rather still the most precious part of himself, would remain as hopelessly alone as it had always been. The keynote of Sebastian’s life was solitude and the kindlier fate tried to make him feel at home by counterfeiting admirably the things he thought he wanted, the more he was aware of his inability to fit into the picture, –into any kind of picture.
-007- p44: …perfect taste consisted in ignoring the cap and gown one wore, thus granting them the faultless appearance of insignificant things which otherwise would have dared to matter.
-008- p46: …I think he was right in suggesting that Sebastian’s sense of inferiority was based on his trying to out-England England, and never succeeding, and going on trying, until finally he realised that it was not these outward things that betrayed him, not the mannerisms of fashionable slang, but the very fact of his striving to be and act like other people when he was blissfully condemned to the solitary confinement of his own self.
-009- p55: You seem to hint that we should all keep the dark secret of his success, which is to travel second-class with a third-class ticket, –or if my smile is not sufficiently clear, –to pamper the taste of the worst category of the reading public—not those who revel in detective yarns, bless their pure souls—but those who buy the worst banalities because they have been shaken up in a modern way with a dash of Freud or ‘stream of consciousness’ or whatnot, –and incidentally do not and never will understand that the pretty cynics of to-day are Marie Corelli’s nieces and old Mrs. Grundy’s nephews. Why should we keep that shameful secret? What is this masonic bond of triteness—or indeed tritheism? Down with these shoddy gods!
-010- p65: Time for Sebastian was never 1914 or 1920 or 1936—it was always year 1. Newspaper headlines, political theories, fashionable ideas meant to him no more than the loquacious printed notice (in three languages, with mistakes in at least two) on the wrapper of some soap or toothpaste. The lather might be thick and the notice convincing—but that was an end of it.
-011- p66:Whatever age Sebastian might have been born in, he would have been equally amused and unhappy, joyful and apprehensive, as a child at a pantomime now and then thinking of to-morrow’s dentist. And the reason of his discomfort was not that he was moral in an immoral age, or immoral in a moral one, neither was it the cramped feeling of his youth not blowing naturally enough in a world which was too rapid a succession of funerals and fireworks; it was simply his becoming aware that the rhythm of his inner being was so much richer than that of other souls. Even then, just at the close of his Cambridge period, and perhaps earlier, too, he knew that his slightest thought or sensation had always at least one more dimension than those of his neighbours. He might have boasted of this had there been anything lurid in his nature. As there was not, it only remained for him to feel the awkwardness of being a crystal among glass, a sphere among circles.
-012- pp68-9: I seem to pass with intangible steps across ghostly lawns and through dancing-halls full of the whine of Hawaiian music and down dear drab little streets with pretty names, until I come to a certain wamr hollow where something very like the selfest of my own self sits huddled up in the darkness.
-013- p75: …the two women were very old friend (that is, knew more about each other than each of them thought the other knew)
-014- p82: Well did he know that to flaunt one’s contempt for a moral code was but smuggled smugness and prejudice turned inside out. He usually chose the easiest ethical path (just as he chose the thorniest aesthetic one) merely because it happened to be the shortest cut to his chosen object) he was far too lazy in everyday like (just as he was far too hardworking in his artistic life) to be bothered by problems set and solved by others.
-015- pp83-4: His struggle with words was unusually painful and this for two reasons. One was the common one with writers of his type: the bridging of the abyss lying between expression and thought; the maddening feeling that the right words, the only words are awaiting you on the opposite bank in the misty distance, and the shudderings of the still unclothed thought clamouring for them on this side of the abyss. He had no use for ready-made phrases because the things he wanted to say were of an exceptional build and he knew moreover that no real idea can be said to exist without the words made to measure. So that (to use a closer simile) the thought which only seemed naked was but pleading for the clothes it wore to become visible, while the words lurking afar were not empty shells as they seemed, but were only waiting for the thought they already concealed to set them aflame an in motion. At times he felt like a child given a farrago of wires and ordered to produce the wonder of light. And he did produce it; and sometimes he would not be conscious at all of the way he succeeded in doing so, and at other times he would be worrying the wires for hours in what seemed the most rational way—and achieve nothing.
-016- p99: …and it’s all no good, no good, because we are dying. I cannot bear that backward glide into the past. That last kiss is already dead and The Woman in White (a film they had been to see that night) is stone-dead, and the policeman who passed is dead too, and even the door is as dead as its nail. And that last thought is already a dead thing by now.
-017- p149: I called to mind his acute distaste for the obvious bad and the obvious good; for ready-made forms of pleasure and hackneyed forms of distress.
-018- pp158-9: She says she liked his looks and his hands and his manner of talking, and she thought it would be rather good fun to have him make love to her—because, you see, he looked so very intellectual, and it is always entertaining to see that kind of refined, distant,–brainy fellow suddenly go on all fours and wag his tail.
-019- pp178-80 This is the moment when a wave of light suddenly floods the book: “…as if somebody had flung open the door and people in the room have started up, blinking, feverishly picking up parcels.” We feel that we are on the brink of some absolute truth, dazzling in its splendour and at the same time almost homely in its perfect simplicity. By an incredible feat of suggestive wording, the author makes us believe that he knows the truth about death and that his is going to tell it. In a moment or two, at the end of this sentence, in the middle of the next, or perhaps a little further still, we shall learn something that will change all our concepts, as if we discovered that by moving our arms in some simple, but never yet attempted manner, we could fly. “The hardest knot is but a meandering string; tough to the finger nails, but really a matter of lazy and graceful loopings. The eye unlocks it, while clumsy fingers bleed. He (the dying man) was that knot, and he would be untied at once, if he could manage to see and follow the thread. And not only himself, everything would be unravelled,–everything that he might imagine in our childish terms of space and time, both being riddles invented by man as riddles, and thus coming back at us: the boomerangs of nonsense…Now he had caught something real, which had nothing to do with any of the thoughts of feelings, or experiences he might have had in the kindergarten of life…”
The answer to all questions of life and death, “the absolute solution” was written all over the world he had known: it was like a traveller realising that the wold country he surveys is not an accidental assembly of natural phenomena, but the page in a book where these mountains and forests, and fields, and rivers are disposed in such a way as to form a coherent sentence; the vowel of a lake fusing with the consonant of a sibilant slope; the windings of a road writing its message in a round hand, as clear as that of one’s father; thees conversing in dumb-show, making sense to one who has learnt the gestures of their language…Thus the traveller spells the landscape and its sense is disclosed, and likewise, the intricate pattern of human life turns out to be monogrammatic, now quite clear to the inner eye disentangling the interwoven letters. And the word, the meaning which appears is astounding in its simplicity: the greatest surprise being perhaps that in the course of one’s earthly existence, with one’s brain encompassed by an iron ring, by the close-fitting dream of one’s own personality—one had not made by chance that simple mental jerk, which would have set free imprisoned thought and granted it the great understanding. Now the puzzled was solved. ‘”and as the meaning of all things shone through their shapes, many ideas and events which had seemed of the utmost importance dwindled not to insignificance, for nothing could be insignificant now, but to the same size which other ideas and events, once denied any importance, now attained.” Thus, such shining giants of our brain as science, art or religion fell out of the familiar scheme of their classification, and joining hands, were mixed and joyfully levelled. Thus a cherry stone and its tiny shadow which lay on the painted wood of a tired bench, or a bit of torn paper, or any other such trifle out of millions and millions of trifles grew to a wonderful size. Remodelled and re-combined, the world yielded its sense to the soul as naturally as both breathed.
And now we shall know what exactly it is; the word will be uttered—and you, and I, and every one in the world will slap himself on the forehead: What fools we have been! At this last bend of his book the author seems to pause for a minute, as if he were pondering whether it were wise to let that truth out. He seems to left his head and to leave the dyingman, whose thoughts he was following, and to turn away and to think: Shall we follow him to the end? Shall we whisper the word which will shatter the snug silence of our brains? We shall. We have gone too far as it is, and the word is being already formed, and will come out. And we turn and bend again over a hazy bed, over a grey, floating form, –lower and lower… But that minute of doubt was fatal: the man is dead.
-020- p196: I think I must have dozed for an hour or so—or at least I managed to keep my inner vision dark.