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606 pages, Paperback
First published January 1, 1969
“I deduce,” said the boy, “three main facts: that not yet married Marina and her married sister hibernated in my lieu de naissance; that Marina had her own Dr. Krolik, pour ainsi dire; and that the orchids came from Demon who preferred to stay by the sea, his dark-blue great-grandmother.”
“I can add,” said the girl, “that the petal belongs to the common Butterfly Orchis; that my mother was even crazier than her sister; and that the paper flower so cavalierly dismissed is a perfectly recognizable reproduction of an early-spring sanicle that I saw in profusion on hills in coastal California last February. Dr. Krolik, our local naturalist, to whom you, Van, have referred, as Jane Austen might have phrased it, for the sake of rapid narrative information (you recall Brown, don’t you, Smith?), has determined the example I brought back from Sacramento to Ardis, as the Bear-Foot, B,E,A,R, my love, not my foot or yours, or the Stabian flower girl’s—an allusion, which your father, who, according to Blanche, is also mine, would understand like this” (American finger-snap). “You will be grateful,” she continued, embracing him, “for my not mentioning its scientific name. Incidentally the other foot—the Pied de Lion from that poor little Christmas larch, is by the same hand—possibly belonging to a very sick Chinese boy who came all the way from Barkley College.”
Refuting the determinist’s statement more elegantly: unconsciousness, far from awaiting us, with flyback and noose, somewhere ahead, envelops both the Past and the Present from all conceivable sides, being a character not of Time itself but of organic decline natural to all things whether conscious of Time or not. That I know others die is irrelevant to the case. I also know that you, and, probably, I, were born, but that does not prove we went through the chronal phase called the Past: my Present, my brief span of consciousness, tells me I did, not the silent thunder of the infinite unconsciousness proper to my birth fifty-two years and 195 days ago.
Remembrance, like Rembrandt, is dark but festive.If Nabokov is anything, he's clever. Unfortunately for Nabokov, clever is as clever does is rarely good enough in my case, so that lack of fifth star is a team effort on both our parts. Fortunately for Nabakov, so are the remaining four stars, making this review a pleased one despite all my grumbling.
In full, deliberate consciousness, at the moment of the hooded click, he bunched the recent past with the imminent future and thought to himself that this would remain an objective perception of the real present and that he must remember the flavor, the flash, the flesh of the present (as he, indeed, remembered it a half dozen years later - and now, in the second half of the next century).But here we run into more misfortune, for if you're going to parody names such as Mann and Proust, you have to measure up to the point of the reader preferring the imitation to the original. For this reader, it was close, but no cigar. As for the meditations on time, they dabbled and dipped and came up with some rather intricate insight, but for one whose reading history includes Borges, the meanderings ultimately paled in comparison.
"If I could write," mused Demon, "I would describe, in too many words no doubt, how passionately, how incandescently, how incestuously—c'est le mot—art and science meet in an insect, in a thrush, in a thistle of that ducal bosquet."
The wide lovely lake lay in dreamy serenity, fretted with green undulations, ruffed with blue, patched with glades of lucid smoothness between the ackers…
The bloom streaking Ada's arm, the pale blue of the veins in its hollow, the charred-wood odor of her hair shining brownly next to the lampshade's parchment (a translucent lakescape with Japanese dragons), scored infinitely more points than those tensed fingers bunched on the pencil stub could ever add up in the past, present or future.
The tall clock struck an anonymous quarter, and Ada was presently watching, cheek on fist, the impressive, though oddly morose, stirrings, steady clockwise launch, and ponderous upswing of virile revival.
The girl's pale skin, so excitingly delicate to Van's eye, so vulnerable to the beast's needle, was, nevertheless, as strong as a stretch of Samarkand 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 – for it is a rather rare and interesting mosquito (described – not quite simultaneously – by two angry old men – the second was Braun, the Philadelphian dipterist, a much better one than the Boston professor), 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, stripes 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.
"What Van experienced in those first strange days when she showed him the house - and those nooks in it where they were to make love so soon - combined elements of ravishment and exasperation. Ravishment - because of her pale, voluptuous, impermissible skin, her hair, her legs, her angular movements, her gazelle-grass odor, the sudden black stare of her wide-set eyes, the rustic nudity under her dress; exasperation - because between him, an awkward schoolboy of genius, and that precocious, affected, impenetrable child there extended a void of light and a veil of shade that no force could overcome and pierce."
"After the first contact, so light, so mute, between his soft lips and her softer skin had been established - high up in that dappled tree, with only that stray ardilla daintily leavesdropping - nothing seemed changed in one sense, all was lost in another..."
"Van would brush his lips against hers, teasing their burning bloom, back and forth, right, left, life, death, reveling in the contrast between the airy tenderness of the open idyll and the gross congestion of the hidden flesh."
"You kissed and nibbled, and poked, and prodded, and worried me there so much and so often that my virginity was lost in the shuffle; but I do recall definitely that by midsummer the machine which our forefathers called 'sex' was working as smoothly as later..., darling."
"The Past, then, is a constant accumulation of images...
"It is now a generous chaos out of which the genius of total recall...can pick anything he pleases."
"Maybe the only thing that hints at a sense of Time is rhythm; not the recurrent beats of the rhythm but the gap between two such beats, the grey gap between black beats: the Tender Interval...
"The dim intervals between the dark beats have the feel of the texture of Time."
"The conscious construction of one, and the familiar current of the other give us three or four seconds that can be felt as nowness. This nowness is the only reality we know...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..."
"If the Past is perceived as a storage of Time, and if the Present is the process of that perception, the future, on the other hand, is not an item of Time, has nothing to do with Time and with the dim gauze of its texture. The future is but a quack at the court of Chronos..."
"My aim was to compose a kind of novella in the form of a treatise on the Texture of Time, an investigation of its veily substance, with illustrative metaphors gradually increasing, very gradually building up a logical love story, going from past to present, blossoming as a concrete story, and just as gradually reversing analogies and disintegrating again into bland abstraction."
"One can even surmise that if our time-racked, flat-lying couple ever intended to die they would die, as it were, into the finished book, into Eden or Hades, into the prose of the book or the poetry of its blurb."
«Tutte le famiglie felici sono più o meno diverse tra loro; le famiglie infelici sono tutte più o meno uguali» dice un grande scrittore russo al principio di un famoso romanzo [...].
«[...] Il mio fine era quello di creare una specie di novella in forma di trattato sulla Tessitura del Tempo, di un'indagine sulla sua sostanza impalpabile, con metafore illustrative sempre più fitte che edificassero molto gradualmente una storia d'amore logica, dal passato al presente, capace di fiorire come una storia concreta, e di annullare poi, sempre per gradi, ogni analogia, fino a disintegrarsi di nuovo in blanda astrazione»
«Mi chiedo,» disse Ada «mi chiedo se queste scoperte valgano di più di una manciata di vetri colorati. Noi possiamo conoscere il tempo giorno per giorno, possiamo conoscere un tempo. Non potremo mai conoscere il Tempo. I nostri sensi non sono atti alla sua percezione. È come...».