Some Talk of Nabokov

[1] It was love at first sight, at last sight, at ever and ever sight.

To mark the 117th birthday of Vladimir Nabokov, I’ve spaced out here, in no particular order, 117 of my favorite lines from some of his books:

[2] I find “April 23” under “birth date” in my most recent passport, which is also the birth date of Shakespeare, my nephew Vladimir Sikorski, Shirley Temple and Hazel Brown (who, moreover, shares my passport).

Vladimir Vladimirovich Nabokov was born in St. Petersburg on April 10th according to the “Old Style” of the Julian calendar, which corresponded with April 22nd on the Gregorian calendar, which Russia didn’t adopt until 1918. However, in 1900, Russia changed the difference between the Julian and Gregorian calendars from 12 days to 13, meaning Nabokov celebrated his birthday not on the 22nd but on April 23rd. This meant he shared a birthday not with Vladimir Lenin but with William Shakespeare, and he was more than happy to see in this a confirmation of his genius. Shirley Temple, incidentally, was one of the prototypes for his Lolita, whose “real name” was Dolores Haze. The daughter in Pale Fire is Hazel Shade. Nabokov had hazel brown eyes, hence the passport joke.

[3] The worst is the inclination to equate in retrospect my age with that of the century.

On both types of calendars, the year of Nabokov’s birth was 1899, the last year of the 19th century. Russia’s first great literary figure, Alexander Pushkin, was born in the last year of the 18th. Another coincidence he was proud of.

[4] In choosing our tutors, my father seems to have hit upon the ingenious idea of engaging each time a representative of another class or race, so as to expose us to all the winds that swept over the Russian Empire.

Nabokov was part of the last generation of Russians to receive a proper aristocratic upbringing. Apparently such parental manipulations were common amongst overbearing parents of the time. A father of one of his awkward schoolmates

[5] Is said to have actually paid needy parents in order to muster companions for his two sons.

Sad : ((( …

[6] By 1908, I had gained absolute control over the European Lepidoptera as known to Hofmann.

Lepidoptera: the order of insects that includes butterflies and moths, an important word to know for those entering Nabokov’s world.

[7] As a little boy, I showed an abnormal aptitude for mathematics, which I completely lost in my singularly talentless youth.

In fact

[8] Today, I cannot multiply 13 by 17 without pencil and paper.

Try to do it in your head real quick. What’d you get? How long did it take you? I clocked in at 11.52 seconds. A regular theme in his work is

[9] The fantastical misbehavior of numbers.

This is a debt he owes to his Russian literary forbearers, i.e. Fyodor “2+2=5” Dostoevsky.

[10] Russian children of my generation passed through a period of genius, as if destiny were loyally trying what it could for them by giving them more than their share, in view of the cataclysm that was to remove completely the world they had known.

The idyllic world of his childhood was shattered by World War I and the Russian Revolution. His family fled the country in 1919, and Vlad the Younger entered university in England. Vlad the Elder, a liberal politician, was accidentally assassinated in 1922. V. II went to Berlin after graduation to live in its Russian émigré community.

[11] Deeply beloved of blurbists is the list of more or less earthly profession that a young author (writing about Life and Ideas — which are so much more important, of course, than mere “art”) has followed: newspaper boy, soda jerk, monk, wrestler, foreman in a steel mill, bus driver and so on. Alas, none of these callings has been mine.

Notice Nabokov, a Cambridge man, avoids the Oxford comma.

[12] I used to compose for a daily émigré paper, the Berlin Ful’, the first Russian crossword puzzles, which I baptized krestoslovitsi.

Not “called” but “baptized,” because he must highlight the unexpected Christian origins of the activity.

[13] A colored spiral in a small ball of glass, this is how I see my own life. The twenty years I spent in my native Russia (1899–1919) take care of the thetic arc. Twenty-one years of voluntary exile in England, Germany and France (1919–1940) supply the obvious antithetic. The period spent in my adopted country (1940–1960) forms a synthesis — and a new thesis.

His biography life is very easy to keep track of, with these 20-year chunks. “My adopted country” is, of course, ours, and he insisted he had become

[14] As American as April in Arizona.

I am not sure whether he’s referring to a person or a time. If any reader named April or currently residing in Arizona would care to comment, please enlighten us. After his third score in the U.S., he packed his bags and lived out his years — nearly a neat 20 more — in the mountains of Switzerland. So his life was a game composed of four pretty even quarters, and looking at this one life — which weaves its way from the suburbs of St. Petersburg to the pages of Playboy to an alpine castle — you’ll appreciate just how much the world changed in the 20th century. And yet he says

[15] 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.

His dad was a politician and political pamphleteer, but Vlad II was first and foremost an aesthete. Not that he didn’t have political views, but they were

[16] Classical to the point of triteness. Freedom of speech, freedom of thought, freedom of art. The social or economic structure of the ideal state is of little concern to me. My desires are modest. Portraits of the head of the government should not exceed a postage stamp in size. No torture and no executions. No music, except coming through earphones, or played in theatres.

And he said he intended no didactic political message for his works.

[17] A work of art has no importance whatever to society. It is only important to the individual, and only the individual reader is important to me.

Likewise, he bristled at the notion his works arose from a political context.

[18] Neither in environment nor in heredity can I find the exact instrument that fashioned me, the anonymous roller that pressed upon my life a certain intricate watermark whose unique design becomes visible when the lamp of art is made to shine through life’s foolscap.

“Foolscap.” His English vocabulary puts most other English writers to shame, i.e.

[19] I sense the nature of this kind of word propinquity.

In Lolita we find such doozies as

[20] Pavonine


[21] Wimble

alongside neo-Americanisms like

[22] Fruithead


[23] honeymonsoon

— Nabokov said Lolita was his

[24] Love letter to the English language.

Surprisingly, he actually knew how to read English before he learned to read Russian. In England, so as not to loose touch with his native language,

[25] I unexpectedly came upon a Russian work, a secondhand copy of Dahl’s Interpretive Dictionary of the Living Russian Language in four volumes. I bought it and resolved to read at least ten pages per day.

One of the standard readings of Lolita is Humbert Humbert’s love with Lolita represents the supposedly cultured Old Europe being seduced by vulgar New America. We can see this how this works linguistically; for example:

[26] I knew, of course, it was but an innocent game on her part, a bit of backfisch foolery in imitation of some simulacrum of fake romance.

Backfisch: German for teenage girl. (lit. “fish for frying”). Unlike some of his other English works, which were written in English merely because he was trying to sell them here, this one was written in English because it had to be.

[27]Well-wishers have tried to translate Lolita into Russian, but with such execrable results that I'm now doing a translation myself. The word "jeans," for example, is translated in Russian dictionaries as "wide, short trousers" — a totally unsatisfactory definition.

My favorite Nabokovian blend of sophisticated Europe with crass America is this line from Pale Fire:

[28] Red Sox Beat Yanks 5–4/On Chapman’s Homer, thumbtacked to the door.

— a lovely paste-up of baseball and John Keats. More fun than Nabokov’s dictionary diction or anachronisms is his simple delight with words. Most authors do this but him especially well. For example,

[29] He quickly gathered up the cards, smartly made the pack crackle and threw out a trey of spades.

Why “trey” of spades and not “three”? Because it’s different and it rhymes! Never pick a simple word when a slightly-off one will do. Like

[30] “Socrates Must Decrease”

I don’t know what this means but it’s funny.

[31] I didn’t weep a slink all night.

Pure delight! And don’t call your soccer shoes “cleats,” call them:

[32] Teat-cleats.

Not “my family” but

[33] A flock of Nabokovs.

The stuff in his tea cup is

[34] a flotilla of tea leaves.


[35] What one must do for a commonplace word to come alive!

You just have to look at objects a certain way.

[36] The art of writing is a very futile business if it does not imply first of all the art of seeing the world as the potentiality of fiction.

Put simply, personification:

[37] Every now and then I had to look around to see how the objects in my room were behaving.

Like a magician, John Shade notices

[38] The little scissors I am holding are/ A dazzling synthesis of sun and star.

And in this way,

[39] Everything is filled with the kind of fun that children know.

Why walk when could dance! Why mumble when you could sing! Why not demand each day be made of magic! Nabokov wants readers to

[40]”Read with your spine,”

Or more famously,

[41] In reading, one should notice and fondle details.

The opening of Lolita deserves to be read in full

[42] Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta. She was Lo, plain Lo, in the morning, standing four feet ten in one sock. She was Lola in slacks. She was Dolly at school. She was Dolores on the dotted line. But in my arms she was always Lolita.

You can’t say this without salivating, moving your tongue the way Humbert Humbert wants you too. He wants you to experience his pleasure, to fondle the details of her name the way he does. But of course, this is troublesome because what he’s fondling is a 12-year-old girl. Incidentally,

[43] I am probably responsible for the odd fact that people don't seem to name their daughters Lolita any more.

Isn’t that what one wants of one’s love? To love so completely, so selfishly that it blots out the possibility of anything else?

[44] How magically his singing violin can conjure up a tendresse, a compassion for Lolita that makes us entranced with the book while abhorring its author.

The way Humbert Humbert tries to get us to crave his nymphet is an example of the many traps Nabokov sets for his readers, for

[45] The art of the book is separate from its ethics.

For another example, consider the title of his 2nd-to-last Russian novel:

[46] “Invitation to a Beheading.”

Oh golly, an invitation, who doesn’t like getting invitations! I’d love to come! Oh, to a beheading … That’s not so pleasant! May I ask whose? A character’s? My own? At the beginning of the novel, we read:

[47] So we are nearing the end. The right-hand, still untasted part of the novel, which, during our last delectable reading, we would lightly feel, mechanically testing whether there were still plenty let (and our fingers were always gladdened by the placid, faithful thickness) has suddenly, for no reason at all, become quite meager: a few minutes of quick reading, already downhill, and — O horrible!

The more we read, the closer we are to the death of the character, to Cincinnatus’ death. Are we amongst the crowd watching him die? Are we the executioner? To prevent him from dying, we could stop reading! But then we wouldn’t know what happens…

[48]“Cincinnatus opened a book and buried himself in it.”

The simple sentence now sports deathly irony. Nabokov has calculated confusion. We are not sure whether this book is what gives Cincinnatus life or takes it from him. Nabokov took cruel pleasure in trapping, tricking, and clowning his readers, especially the bad ones.

[49] I planned to entitle the British edition Speak, Mnemosyne but was told that “little old ladies would not want to ask for a book whose title they could not pronounce.”

In dismissing incompetent commentators on Don Quixote, he snides,

[50] One has to read the book in order to write about it.

One of his most memorable characters is the colossally inept scholar Charles Kinbote, whose self-absorbed commentary on fictional American poet John Shade’s poem “Pale Fire” comprises most of his book of the same name. For example, on Shade’s line

[51] I never bounced a ball or swung a bat.

Kinbote obliviously glosses:

[52] Frankly, I too never excelled in soccer and cricket.

Shade was talking about basketball and baseball, but Kinbote is too immersed in his own problems to consider what the text itself is trying to explain. Kinbote, a monster of ego, in fact believes himself to be essential to Shade’s work.

[53] Let me state that without my notes Shade’s text simply has no human reality at all.

The great puzzle of Pale Fire is the relationship between Kinbote’s commentary and Shade’s poem. Did Shade invent not just the poem but Kinbote as well? Or did Kinbote invent Shade? The best (and only) commentary I’ve read on this is here. What emerges is, surprise, an M.C. Escher-like game in which the existence of each is dependent upon the other.

[54] An insane man mistakes his visiting kin for galaxies, logarithms, low-haunched hyenas.

And yet

[55] There are also madmen — and they are invulnerable — who take themselves for madmen — and here the circle closes.

Nabokov wanted his readers to be both types of people — capable of google-eyeing over galaxies as well as mucking in the grimy details. In his famous literature seminars, he tried to train “good readers” by demanding his students pay impossible attention to the teeny particulars of the books. And so, for example, he quizzed students on the pattern of Madame Bovary’s wallpaper, the parts of a 17th-century Spanish windmill, and the geographical layout of Dublin through which Leopold Bloom wanders. Another quiz:

[56] Select four answers to the question what should a reader be to be a good reader:
 1. The reader should belong to a book club.
 2. The reader should identify himself or herself with the hero or heroine.
 3. The reader should concentrate on the social-economic angle.
 4. The reader should prefer a story with action and dialogue to one with none.
 5. The reader should have seen the book in a movie.
 6. The reader should be a budding author.
 7. The reader should have imagination.
 8. The reader should have memory.
 9. The reader should have a dictionary.
 10. The reader should have some artistic sense.

The correct answers, Nabokov says, are 7,8,9, & 10.

[57] It is he — the good, the excellent reader — who has saved the artist again and again from being destroyed by emperors, dictators, priests, puritans, philistines, political moralists, police- men, postmasters, and prigs.

Stuck in alliteration mode again, apparently. If there can be said to be a political message of his work, it is to create “good readers,” for it is they who are needed to make the good writers. He wasn’t indifferent after all to his political surroundings.

[58]“The only people who flourish under all types of government are the Philistines.”

In other words, a good regime with good citizens is a prerequisite for good art.

[59] More important to us than scientific significance and literary worth, is the ethical impact the book should have on the serious reader; for in this poignant personal study there harks a general lesson; the wayward child, the egotistic mother, the panting maniac — these are not only vivid characters in a unique story: they warn us of dangerous trends; they point out potent evils. “Lolita” should make all of us — parents, social workers, educators — apply ourselves with still greater vigilance and vision to the task of bringing up a better generation in a safer world.

Perhaps only half tongue-in-cheek. Now,

[60]A certain man once lost a diamond cuff-link in the wide blue sea, and twenty years later, on the exact day, a Friday apparently, he was eating a large fish — but there was no diamond inside. That’s what I like about coincidence.

I was making small talk with my alphabetically assigned line-mate during graduation rehearsal at the end of college when she brought up Nabokov. I hadn’t read any of his books but was going on a trip on which I needed something to read, and so she gave me a suggestion I took up. Two years later here I am spending two days of life typing this up. Coincidence.

[61] Dolorian

Was a neologism derived from the name Dolores that Nabokov employed in writing Lolita, an American satire of Hollywood about a family embarking on a mad road trip to escape time. A few years after his death, Hollywood would produce a hit movie about a family escaping time in a modified DeLorean. Coincidence.

[62] One cannot read a book; one can only reread it.

Unfortunately, it’s hard enough to make time or stay awake for one read-through, much less a reread, what with all the thousands of books floating around there. But here’s my method: read ten pages at a time, breaking it up with usual daily activities, ten times a day. Rather than underline in the book (since these are often library copies), I put a torn-off slip of paper on all the pages with memorable quotations on them. After I’m done reading, I go back through the book, try to find what the quotation was that stuck out to me on each marked page, and type these quotations into a document called “Quotations” I started on my computer a number of years ago because my high school English teacher insisted that “quote” isn’t and never will be a noun. This can be tedious but at least it takes less time then rereading.

[63] “The kind of poem I produced in those days was hardly anything more than a sign I made of being alive, of passing or having passed, or hoping to pass, through certain intense human emotions. It was a phenomenon of orientation.”

The process of recording quotations is a way of engaging with the text with the aim of hopefully rendering it more memorable oneself. I don’t put them in any order or with any heading so reading back over the document is a fun way to recall what I was thinking and try to reconstruct why certain things stuck out. For example:

[64] I recall one particular sunset. It lent an ember to my bicycle hell.

I like bikes.

[65] I feel, tightly rolled up in my calves, so many miles that I could yet run in my lifetime. My head is so comfortable…

I like running.

[66] Heavy snowfalls were much more usual in St. Petersburg than, say, around Boston.

This one’s actually from a book I marked in. I circled “Boston” and wrote “hey! That’s where I’m headed” in big, stupid letters in the margin, which means it was December 11, 2015 when I wrote this. I was in the midst of an 11-hour Megabus trek to Beantown. We stopped in New Jersey for lunch and I ate Burger King fries and an overpriced but well-fruited parfait.

[67] I have rewritten — often several times — every word I have ever published. My pencils outlast their erasers.”

Some quotations are useful because, in isolating them and thinking about why they were memorable to you, you can think about good style. What makes this phrase so good is two things. He could have written “I have rewritten every word I have ever published,” but the added dashed phrase in the middle enacts the sense of the sentence, rewriting “rewritten” with “I have written often several times.” And the second statement is also a rewriting of the 1st but via an appropriate metaphor. And so we have 3 different statements for the same statement about restating things.

[68] One day, as we were bending together over a starfish, and Colette’s ringlets were tickling my ear, she suddenly turned toward me and kissed me on the cheek. So great was my emotion that all I could think of saying was, ‘You little monkey.”

God, he’s so good.

[69] I descended into hell to retrieve a dropped napkin

A single quotation can capture the whole sense of a long passage. In this case, this summarizes the enormous horror of Cincinnatus at a dinner party where he’s afraid to look under the tale because he knows he’ll see his wife playing naughty with another man. On the other hand, some quotations are memorable simply for the message, not the context:

[70] In order to enjoy life, we should not enjoy it too much.

I read this as Nabokov’s reminder to decline the Faustian bargain. Unfortunately, as I found out later, the context actually is important. For the next paragraph (in Speak, Memory) begins

[71] I rebel against this state of affairs. I feel the urge to take my rebellion outside and picket nature.

And so he’s actually endorsing the opposite — a rebellion against settling for mere humdrum life. One of the rules for Cincinnatus in prison is

[72] 5. Singing, dancing and joking with the guards is permitted only by mutual consent and on certain days.

These rules are counter to the earlier rapture on singing, dancing, and magic.

[73] Knowing you have something good to read before bed is among the most pleasurable of sensations.

I believe this is from Lolita and is a euphemism, but in any case his characters are always in expectation of something superior — but just out of reach.

[74] In my dreams the world would come alive, becoming so captivatingly majestic, free and ethereal, that afterwards it would be oppressive to breathe the dust of this painted life.

And obviously this is a double-edged sword, creating

[75] A longing with nothing to long for, a sick pining, a vague restlessness, mental throes, yearning.

The pains of absence. Sad : ((( …

[76] Oh, my Lolita, I have only words to play with!

When you demand too much of life, that everything become magical, you’re bound to be disappointed with any time not in the presence of the shimmering beauty of life. For example, when you’re asleep.

[77] I simply cannot get used to the nightly betrayal of reason, humanity, genius. No matter how great my weariness, the wrench of parting with consciousness is unspeakably repulsive to me.

Oliver and I have an ongoing debate on how much one should sleep. I summon Nabokov to my side.

[78] Sleep is the most moronic fraternity in the world, with the heaviest dues and the crudest rituals. It is a mental torture I find debasing.

You can see how his insistence of the world being made of the magic of imagination might lead him to rub the wrong way his fellow humans.

[79] The trouble was that those gentlemen had not, and I had, caught glimpses of an incomparably more poignant bliss.

(This is actually Humbert on those who haven’t enjoyed the company of a “nymphet.”). There’s a tension in Nabokov, on the one had between love of order:

[80] Coincidence of pattern is one of the wonders of nature.

And yet his insistence on individuality.

[81] I was intensely averse to joining movements or associations of any kind.

At few times is he his best as when depicting scenes of suffocatingly awkward social interactions.

[82] Too stout and flabby for his years, he walked this way and that among people thought up by his wife.

It’s said of Luzhin, perhaps the most socialize immobilized of the bunch.

[83] Meanwhile the staircase continued to spawn people …

He observes at a party his wishes not to be at. Other people are consistently repulsive.

[84] I conjured up Charlotte as a possible mate. By God, I could make myself bring her that economically halved grapefruit, that sugarless breakfast.

(That’s Humbert imagining whether he could use Charlotte as a Trojan Horse to conquering his Lolita). Nabokov’s unsavory social interactions weren’t limited to his fiction. In real life as well he too was expert at awkward. He recounts in his autobiography a meeting with Ivan Bunin, the first Russian Nobel Prize-winning writer.

[85] Toward the end of the meal we were utterly bored with each other. “You will die in dreadful pain and complete isolation,” remarked Bunin bitterly as we went toward the cloakroom.

Though he never met him, Freud was a favorite target of Vlad’s. He referred to him as

[86] The Viennese witch-doctor.

and joked

[87] I cannot conceive how anybody in his right mind should go to a psychiatrist.

He also called him

[88] The Viennese Quack

as in

[89] I take gleeful pleasure every morning in refuting the Viennese quack by recalling and explaining the details of my dreams without using one single reference to sexual symbols or mythical complexes. I urge my potential patients to do likewise.

Given all this, it shouldn’t surprise you to hear him report

[90]“I maintain that in the course of almost one-fifth of a century spent in Western Europe I have not had, among the sprinkling of Germans and Frenchmen I knew (mostly landladies and literary people, more than two friends all told.”

And the friends he had, he didn’t exactly always treat with fraternity. His exchange with Edmund Wilson in the New York Review of Books over his translation of Pushkin is priceless.

[91] “We are indeed old friends….. A patient confidant of his long and hopeless infatuation with the Russian language, I have always done my best to explain to him his mistakes of pronunciation, grammar, and interpretation.”

(If you take Russian, you’d enjoy reading the whole thing). Needless to say, Nabokov had

[92] Strong Opinions,

As he’d call a collection of his interviews and letters. It’s heartening though to read his letters and see that his voice is exactly the same in real life as it is in his fiction. His letters to his wife were recently published. He wrote, upon meeting her,

[93] This is a joke, a masquerade trick.”

Like so many of his characters, he believes his life is a trap sprung upon him by Mr. McFate. The echoes of Humbert’s opening of Lolita is apparent in all the nicknames he scrawls for her, both ordinary

[94]My sun, my soul, my song, my bird, my sweetheart, my pink sky, my sunny rainbow, my little music, my inexpressible delight, my softness, my tenderness, my lightness, my dear life, my dear eyes

and fantastical

[95]Goosikins, Poochums, Tigercubkin, Puppykin

Such a will to pluck out each of life’s manifold possibilities is charming, but of course it has its downsides. As we know, it’s hard to be demanding to yourself without being so towards others. When Vera describes a butterfly as merely “yellow,” he goes off on her.

[96] I found your dear little skunky letter. I’m happy that you’re better. Stay, Skunky, in Saint Blasia. You can’t describe butterflies that way. What does “yellow” mean? There are a million shades of yellow. That little one, with black speckles, must be not simply yellow, but orangey-russet, rather like yellow wax for boots. If that’s the case, then it belongs to the genus Brenthis or Melithea (butterflies with a motley, often nacreous underside. The other one, you write, is white with a yellow piping? I don’t know. Describe it in more detail — and in general note a few others too.

He could be overwhelming.

[97]“My beloved insecticle, today, by my count, I’m writing my hundredth page to you. And yours will make up no more than ten or so. Is this amiable?”

By his calculation, his words made up 80 percent of their conversation, and he whined about it regularly.

[98] “You write disgustingly rarely to me.”

Of course, he was not exactly equanimous about letter others have a word in edgewise. Interviewing Nabokov was an amusing process for journalists. When The Paris Review’s Herbert Gold traveled to Switzerland to meet with Nabokov, the writer required him to send the questions in advanced. When he arrived, Nabokov was waiting for him and handed him an envelope.

[99]“Here is your interview. You may go home now.”

There was not interview. He had written all the answered to the questions out in advanced. This was typical. He demanded

[100] I have the right to correct therein all factual errors and specific slips ("Mr. Nabokov is a small man with long hair," etc.)

But really he just wrote the whole thing out himself. His interviews were an extension of his fiction. Some journalists wouldn’t admit this was what happened. The interviewer for a Playboy, for example, said he met the writer a “week-long series of conversations” that “took place” in his study, when really the procedure was Nabokov just wrote the whole thing up himself. Even when being interviewed on TV, he arrived with notecards to be read off. And yet somehow he doesn’t come across as the self-centered artist one is used to. Not to say he didn’t have his faults. He cheated on Vera serially. He wasn’t, as we’ve said, a very good friend. And he somehow was able to take the joy of out Pushkin in his pedantic translation. But you can’t say he was self-centered. He was always looking beyond.

[101] “Part of my thoughts is always crowding around the invisible umbilical cord that joins this world to something — to what I shall not say yet…”

To where?

[102] To Vera

Is inscribed on the dedication page of all his books, though she doesn’t appear obviously in many of them. My friend Oliver texted me one day: “I love the way Nabokov deals with his wife in Speak, and he way the picture on the front perfectly summarizes. We look at him. We don’t see her. But he looks at her, not us.”

[103] Yes, I need you, my fairy-tale. Because you are the only person I can talk with about the shade of a cloud, about the song of a thought — and about how, when I went out to work today and looked a tall sunflower in the face, it smiled at me with all of its seeds.

Nabokov said he recreated Vera’s picture

[104] By some mysterious means of reflected color in the inner mirrors of my books,”

Perhaps it’s no coincidence that Vera is Russian for “Truth” (and incidentally — I just checked — that’s the only time that word has appeared in this whole document).

[105] I’m wrong when I keep repeating that there is no refuge in the world for me. There is! I’ll find it!

It’s this pursuit that animates the characters of his fiction. Creating such a refuge is the magic of art.

[106] I feel I understand
 Existence, or at least a minute part
 Of my existence, only through my art,
 In terms of combinatorial delight;
 And if my private universe scans right,
 So does the verse of galaxies divine
 Which I suspect is an iambic line.
 I’m reasonably sure that we survive
 And that my darling somewhere is alive,

We can never get a glimpse of the beyond, but we can get a glimpse of ourselves glimpsing it, something that somehow squares the circle between good and bad. That comes to terms, literally and figuratively, with personal tragedy, which is the only kind of tragedy persons experience:

[107] I’ll turn down eternity unless 
 The melancholy and the tenderness
 Of mortal life; the passion and the pain;

Unless …

 Are found in Heaven by the newlydead
 Stored in its strongholds through the years.

If the story can explain, the universe can explain.

[107] Life is a message scribbled in the dark.


[108] Laughter in the Dark

Or else

[109] Life is but a series of footnotes to a vast obscure unfinished masterpiece.

That’s the inspirational poster line. You have to write many better lines to be able to get away with something like that.

[110] The pages are still blank, but there is a miraculous feeling of the words being there, written in invisible ink and clamoring to become visible.

I’ve smashed my quotebank with a little hammer and collected all the pennies, but we’ve come up a few numbers short.

[111] Genius is an African who dreams up snow.

We could fill the rest with nonsense from Google.

[112] What is this jest in majesty? This ass in passion? How do God and Devil combine to form a live dog?

That one’s kind of funny, and reminds me that

[113] Vivian Darkbloom

is an anagram of Vladimir Nabokov and that I’ve reserved the term “Vladimir Knock-off” for use in some future send-up of a Russkii pretender I pretend one day I’ll write.

[114] I was the shadow of the waxwing slain
 by the false azure in the windowpane

The most beautiful lines he wrote.

[115] Solitude is the playfield of Satan.

It must be true since they both start with “s.”

[116] I speak like child.


[117] “For better or worse, it is the commentator who has the last word.”