Sunday, November 6, 2011

reading Nabokov

I've been reading his short stories. Some of them are really cool. I'll write something here about one of those stories – “Cloud, Castle, Lake.”

Here, we have a neurotic protagonist – Vasiliy Ivanovich -- who is caught in a web of tensions, the fibers of which are oppressive and transcendent, portentous and hopeful. He wins a ticket for a vacation outing, from the “Bureau of Pleasantrips.” It is compulsory, so we have entered Kafkaesque terrain. Neat. This is going to be good.

Along the train journey, he catches faint glimpses of his dream. Of a daydream long suppressed, practically forgotten. As things between him and his traveling companions deteriorate, the impression grows stronger in him that his desire is near. He steals away from his tormentors and discovers a house -- a rustic inn -- set amid natural allurement. This is it! A simple room, austere. Outside the window, an environment of idyllic beauty, perpetual wonder. Images to stand in for an untouchable ideal. This is where he shall abide forever, free of world and people.

But it's not to be. He is found out and nearly beaten to death by his fellow vacationers. Desire is frustrated, on the cusp of heaven.

I usually prefer to get lost in a good story and not dwell on meanings and themes. Especially an odd story with moments of evocative prose that seem to happen just for me. But this remarkable piece inspires me to wax “philosophic.”

Inside certain neurotic individuals, an ember glows stubbornly. It burns from early to elder age. It is a secret ember that casts a faint, dubious light into the ordinary world of experience. A desire for the perfect phase, the perfect mode, the perfect one. Something or someone to explain the heart's unease and make it well. But this desire is not made of the world's stuff. When it comes into contact with quotidian, earthbound consciousness, it is revealed to be a heretical thing. It does not compute on the plane of convention and normality. It is of a different and unreal substance. That suppressed, unrealizable desire is a form of madness. To believe one has found Paradise (or a sufficient substitute) – how else could that situation end except in disaster?


  1. I think being mentally ill is myth, but I see your point -- perhaps.

    We all need to dream a little dream or a big one, even if we suffer for it. It's just what life is. I think -- perhaps.

    And so on and on and on ... I'm listening to your video from the next post, very nice!

  2. You say stuff that I like to read.

    About mental illness -- I have no way of knowing. I do, though, tend to think that Bedlam has a few genuine inmates.