Vladimir Nabokov


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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. (Pt 4)

I wish to examine the essence of Time, not its lapse, for I do not believe that its essence can be reduced to its lapse. I wish to caress Time. (Pt 4)

To give myself time to time Time I must move my mind in the direction opposite to that in which I am moving, as one does when one is driving past a long row of poplars and wishes to isolate and stop one of them, thus making the green blur reveal and offer, yes, offer, its every leaf. (Pt 4)

Space flutters to the ground, but Time remains between thinker and thumb, when Monsieur Bergson uses his scissors. Space introduces its eggs into the nests of Time: a “before” here, an “after” there—and a speckled clutch of Minkowski’s “world-points.” A stretch of Space is organically easier to measure mentally than a “stretch” of Time. (Pt 4)

The “passage of time” is merely a figment of the mind with no objective counterpart, but with easy spatial analogies. It is seen only in rear view, shapes and shades, arollas and larches silently tumbling away: the perpetual disaster of receding time, éboulements, landslides, mountain roads where rocks are always falling and men always working. (Pt 4)

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 year 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 book. (Pt 4)

This now-ness is the only reality we know; it follows the colored nothingness of the no-longer and precedes 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. (Pt 4)

At every moment it is an infinity of branching possibilities. A determinate scheme would abolish the very notion of time (here the pill floated its first cloudlet). The unknown, the not yet experienced and the unexpected, all the glorious “x” intersections, are the inherent parts of human life. (Pt 4)

. . .for are not our childhood memories comparable to Vineland-borne caravelles, indolently encircled by the white birds of dreams? (Pt 5, Ch 6)


The Art of Literature and Commonsense

The writer's pulpit is dangerously close to the pulp romance, and what reviewers call a strong novel is generally a precarious heap of platitudes or a sand castle on a populated beach, and there are few things sadder than to see its muddy moat dissolve when the holiday makers are gone and the cold mousy waves are nibbling at the solitary sands.

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

If the mind were constructed on optional lines and if a book could be read in the same way as a painting is taken in by the eye, that is without the bother of working from left to right and without the absurdity of beginnings and ends, this would be the ideal way of appreciating a novel, for thus the author saw it at the moment of its conception.

I take my hat off to the hero who dashes into a burning house and saves his neighbor's child; but I shake his hand if he has risked squandering a precious five seconds to find and save, together with the child, its favorite toy.

The inspiration of genius adds a third ingredient: it is the past and the present and the future (your book) that come together in a sudden flash; thus the entire circle of time is perceived, which is another way of saying that time ceases to exist.

The Russian language which otherwise is comparatively poor in abstract terms, supplies definitions for two types of inspiration, vostorg and vdokhnovenie, which can be paraphrased as "rapture" and "recapture."

Lunatics are lunatics just because they have thoroughly and recklessly dismembered a familiar world but have not the power- or have lost the power - to create a new one as harmonious as the old.


The Art of Translation (I: A Few Perfect Rules)

The next step to Hell is taken by the translator who intentionally skips words or passages that he does not bother to understand or that might seem obscure or obscene to vaguely imagined readers; he accepts the blank look that his dictionary gives him without any qualms. . .

I knew a very conscientious poet who in wrestling with the translation of a much tortured text rendered "is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought" in such a manner as to convey an impression of pale moonlight.

Perhaps the most charming example of Victorian modesty that has ever come my way was in an early English translation of Anna Karenin. Vronsky had asked Anna what was the matter with her. "I am beremenna" (the translator's italics), replied Anna, making the foreign reader wonder what strange and awful Oriental disease that was; all because the translator thought that "I am pregnant" might shock some pure soul,. . .

What is to be done with this bird you have shot down only to find that it is not a bird of paradise, but an escaped parrot, still screeching its idiotic message as it flaps on the ground?


The Aurelian (short story)

And, just because they were together with the butterflies, a few other objects would remain in one’s memory: a globe, pencils, and a monkey’s skull on a pile of copybooks.

Father Dejean, stouthearted missionary climbing among the rhododendrons and snows, how enviable was thy lot!

In Italian gardens in the summer dusk, the gravel crunched invitingly underfoot, and Pilgram gazed through the growing darkness at clusters of blossoms in front of which suddenly there appeared an oleander hawk, which passed from flower to flower, humming intently and stopping at the corolla, its wings vibrating so rapidly that nothing but a ghostly nimbus was visible about its streamlined body.

Night came; a slippery polished moon sped, without the least friction, in between chinchilla clouds. .

. .one can hardly doubt that he saw all the glorious bugs he had longed to see - velvety black butterflies soaring over the jungles, and a tiny moth in Tasmania, and that Chinese “skipper” said to smell of crushed roses when alive, and the short-clubbed beauty that a Mr. Baron had just discovered in Mexico.


A Bad Day (short story)

Shine and shade speckled the depths of the forest: one could not separate the pattern of tree trunks from that of their interspaces. Here and there a patch of moss flashed its heavenly emerald. Floppy ferns ran past, almost brushing against the wheels.

The pair of well-fed black horses, with a gloss on their fat croups and something extraordinarily feminine about their long manes, kept lashing their tails in sumptuous fashion as they progressed at a rippling trot, and it pained one to observe how avidly, despite that movement of tails and that twitching of tender ears—despite, too, the thick tarry odor of the repellent in use—dull gray deerflies, or some big gadfly with shimmery eyes bulging, would stick to the sleek coats.


Cloud, Castle, Lake (short story)

Because he had to get up unusually early, and hence took along into his dreams the delicate face of the watch ticking on his night table; but mainly because that very night, for no reason at all, he began to imagine that this trip, thrust upon him by a feminine fate in a low-cut gown, this trip which he had accepted so reluctantly, would bring him some wonderful, tremulous happiness.

The blue dampness of a ravine. A memory of love, disguised as a meadow. Wispy clouds - greyhounds of heaven.

. .a smear on the platform, a cherry stone, a cigarette butt - and would say to himself that never, never would he remember these three little things here in that particular interrelation, this pattern, which he now could see with such deathless precision. .

It was a pure, blue lake, with an unusual expression of its water. In the middle, a large cloud was reflected in its entirety. On the other side, on a hill thickly covered with verdure (and the darker the verdure, the more poetic it is), towered, arising from dactyl to dactyl, an ancient black castle.


Conversation Piece, 1945 (short story)

Moreover, when I get excited, I stammer so badly that any attempt on my part to tell Dr. Shoe what I thought of him would have sounded like the explosions of a motorcycle which refuses to start on a frosty night in an intolerant suburban lane.

. . whom I at once visualized as a ruddy but unpalatable apple on my namesake’s family tree.

I had slammed the door behind me and was carrying my overcoat downstairs as one carries a child out of a house on fire.

It described a parabola and made a pancake landing in the middle of the street. There it turned a somersault, missed a puddle by a matter of inches, and lay gaping, wrong side up.

"Now in America, not content with having caused me all sorts of troubles in other countries, you have the arrogance to impersonate me and to appear in a drunken condition at the house of a highly respected person. This I will not tolerate. I could have you jailed and branded as an impostor, but I suppose you would not like that, and so I suggest that by way of indemnity…”



It was a fast, fresh, blue-dappled day; the wind, a distant relation of the one here, winged its course along the narrow streets; a cloud every now and then palmed the sun, which reappeared like a conjurer’s coin. (Ch 1)

I could, of course, have crossed it out, but I purposely leave it there as a sample of one of my essential traits: my light-hearted, inspired lying. (Ch 1)

I discovered there a golden cigarette-end, a dead violet, a scrap of Czech newspaper, and—that pathetically impersonal trace which the unsophisticated wanderer is wont to leave under a bush: one large, straight, manly piece and a thinner one coiled over it. Several emerald flies completed the picture. (Ch 1)


The Eye

The plot will not be reducible in the reader’s mind — if I read that mind correctly—to a dreadfully painful love story in which a writhing heart is not only spurned, but humiliated and punished. The forces of imagination which, in the long run, are the forces of good remain steadfastly on Smurov’s side, and the very bitterness of tortured love proves to be as intoxicating and bracing as would be its most ecstatic requital. (Foreword)



In the brilliant air the match burned with an invisible flame and from its sulfur a sweetish taste spread to his tongue. Thus, sitting on a rock and listening to the brook’s gurgling, Martin enjoyed his fill of viatic freedom from all concerns: he was a wanderer, alone and lost in a marvelous world, completely indifferent toward him, in which butterflies danced, lizards darted, and leaves glistened—the same way as they glisten in a Russian or African wood. (Ch 38)

He said something under his breath, rubbed his cheek pensively, and walked on. The air was dingy, here and there tree roots traversed the trail, black fir needles now and then brushed against his shoulder, the dark path passed between the tree trunks in picturesque and mysterious windings. (Ch 48)


Lance (short story)

The name of the planet, presuming it has already received one, is immaterial. At its most favorable opposition, it may very well be separated from the earth by only as many miles as there are years between last Friday and the rise of the Himalayas—a million times the reader’s average age.

A rosy globe, marbled with dusky blotches, it is one of the countless objects diligently revolving in the infinite and gratuitous awfulness of fluid space.

In the present instance, the greater the magnification, the more the mottling of the planet’s surface looks as if it were seen by a submerged swimmer peering up through semi-translucent water.

Immortality must have a star to stand on if it wishes to branch and blossom and support thousands of blue-plumed angel birds all singing as sweetly as little eunuchs.

Only by a heroic effort can I make myself unscrew a bulb that has died an inexplicable death and screw in another, which will light up in my face with the hideous instancy of a dragon’s egg hatching in one’s bare hand.

They are like those “assorted” cookies that differ from one another only in shape and shade, whereby their shrewd makers ensnare the salivating consumer in a mad Pavlovian world where, at no extra cost, variations in simple visual values influence and gradually replace flavor, which thus goes the way of talent and truth.

Inhabitants of foreign planets, “intelligent” beings, humanoid or of various mythic makes, have one remarkable trait in common: their intimate structure is never depicted. In a supreme concession to biped propriety, not only do centaurs wear loincloths; they wear them about their forelegs.

Terrestrial space loves concealment. The most it yields to the eye is a panoramic view. The horizon closes upon the receding traveler like a trap door in slow motion.

The conjuror who displays the firmament has rolled up his sleeves and performs in full view of the little spectators. Planets may dip out of sight (just as objects are obliterated by the blurry curve of one’s own cheekbone); but they are back when the earth turns its head.

Lancelot is gone; the hope of seeing him in life is about equal to the hope of seeing him in eternity.

Deep in the human mind, the concept of dying is synonymous with that of leaving the earth. To escape its gravity means to transcend the grave, and a man upon finding himself on another planet has really no way of proving to himself that he is not dead—that the naive old myth has not come true.



a shining example of moral leprosy (Foreword)

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. (Pt 1, Ch 1)

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. (Pt 1, Ch 1)

You can always count on a murderer for a fancy prose style. (Pt 1, Ch 1)

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, exhibit number one is what the seraphs, the misinformed, simple, noble-winged seraphs, envied. Look at this tangle of thorns. (Pt 1, Ch 1)

a salad of racial genes (Pt 1, Ch 2)

. . .for I often noticed that living as we did, she and I, in a world of total evil, we would become strangely embarrassed whenever I tried to discuss something she and an older friend, she and a parent, she and a real healthy sweetheart, I and Annabel, Lolita and a sublime, purified, analyzed, deified Harold Haze, might have discussed—an abstract idea, a painting, stippled Hopkins or shorn Baudelaire, God or Shakespeare, anything of a genuine kind. (Pt 2, Ch 32)

The road now stretched across open country, and it occurred to me—not by way of protest, not as a symbol, or anything like that, but merely as a novel experience—that since I had disregarded all laws of humanity, I might as well disregard the rules of traffic. (Pt 2, Ch 36)

I stood listening to that musical vibration from my lofty slope, to those flashes of separate cries with a kind of demure murmur for background, and then I knew that the hopelessly poignant thing was not Lolita’s absence from my side, but the absence of her voice from that concord. (Pt 2, Ch 36)


Lik (short story)

Loneliness as a situation can be corrected, but as a state of mind it is an incurable illness.

It was hard to say, though, if Lik (the word means “countenance” in Russian and Middle English) possessed genuine theatrical talent or was a man of many indistinct callings who had chosen one of them at random but could just as well have been a painter, jeweler, or ratcatcher.

Such a person resembles a room with a number of different doors, among which there is perhaps one that does lead straight into some great garden, into the moonlit depths of a marvelous human night, where the soul discovers the treasure intended for it alone.


The Luzhin Defense

The whole summer - a swift country summer consisting in the main of three smells: lilac, new-mown hay, and dry leaves. . (Ch 1)

A ten-year-old boy knows his knees well, in detail - the itchy swelling that had been scrabbled till it bled, the white traces of fingernails on the suntanned skin, and all those scratches which are the appended signatures of sand grains, pebbles and sharp twigs. (Ch 1)

. .where they were supposed to fit - whether they were to fill up the piebald hide of a cow, already almost completed, or whether this dark border on a green background was the shadow of the crook of a shepherd whose ear and part of whose head were plainly visible on a more outspoken piece. (Ch 2)

From time to time a faint glimmer sped over the ceiling in a mysterious arc and a gleaming dot showed on the desk - he did not know what: perhaps one facet of a paperweight in the guise of a heavy crystal egg or a reflection in the glass of a desk photograph. (Ch 3)

The avenue was paved with sunflecks, and these spots, if you slitted your eyes, took on the aspect of regular light and dark squares. (Ch 4)

Swallows soared: their flight recalled the motion of scissors swiftly cutting out some design. (Ch 4)

She made his acquaintance on the third day after his arrival, made it the way they do in old novels or in motion pictures: she drops a handkerchief and he picks it up - with the sole difference that they interchanged roles. (Ch 6)

During the whole time that he lived with Luzhin he unremittingly encouraged and developed his gift, not bothering for a second about Luzhin as a person, whom, it seemed, not only Valentinov but life itself had overlooked. (Ch 6)

And suddenly, as in a fairground booth when a painted paper screen is burst starwise, admitting a smiling human face, there appeared from no one knew where a person who was so unexpected and so familiar, and who spoke with a voice that seemed to have been sounding mutely all his life and now had suddenly burst through the usual murk. (Ch 6)

He sat leaning on his cane and thinking that with a Knight’s move of this lime tree standing on a sunlit slope one could take that telegraph pole over there. . (Ch 6)

. .she experienced a kind of legendary eclipse - when inexplicable night comes down and ash flies and blood appears on the walls - and it seemed that if at once, at once, she did not help, did not cut short another’s torture. . (Ch 6)

And to hold her on his lap was nothing compared to the certainty that she would follow him and not disappear, like certain dreams that suddenly burst and disperse because the gleaming dome of the alarm clock has floated up through them. (Ch 7)

With one shoulder pressed against his chest she tried with a cautious finger to raise his eyelids a little higher and the slight pressure on his eyeball caused a strange black light to leap there, to leap like his black Knight which simply took the Pawn if Turati moved it out on the seventh move, as he had done at their last meeting. (Ch 7)

But the moon emerged from behind the angular black twigs, a round, full-bodied moon - a vivid confirmation of victory - and when finally Luzhin left the balcony and stepped back into his room, there on the floor lay an enormous square of moonlight, and in that light - his own shadow. (Ch 7)

A chandelier with pale translucent pendants answered him with an oddly familiar vibration; and on the yellow parquetry that reflected the legs of Empire armchairs, a white bearskin with spread paws lay in front of the piano, as if flying in the shiny abyss of the floor. (Ch 8)

. .by that time he no longer felt distinctly the boundary between chess and his fiancée’s home, as if movement had been speeded up, and what at first had seemed an alternation of strips was now a flicker. (Ch 8)

. .in the darkness of his memory, as in two mirrors reflecting a candle, there was only a vista of converging lights with Luzhin sitting at a chessboard, and again Luzhin at a chessboard, only smaller, and then smaller still, and so on an infinity of times. (Ch 8)

Tiny yellow leaves gleamed in this blueness, throwing a speckled shadow on a white tree trunk, that was concealed lower down by the dark green paw of a fir tree; and immediately this vision filled with life, the leaves began to quiver, spots crept over the trunk and the green paw oscillated, and Luzhin, unable to support it, closed his eyes, but the bright oscillation remained beneath his lids. (Ch 10)

A tender optical illusion took place: he returned to life from a direction other than the one he had left it in, and the work of redistributing his recollections was assumed by the wondrous happiness that welcomed him first. (Ch 10)

It seemed as though that distant world was unrepeatable; through it roamed the by now completely bearable images of his parents, softened by the haze of time, and the clockwork train with its tin car painted to look like paneling went buzzing under the flounces of the armchair, and goodness knows how this affected the dummy engine driver, too big for the locomotive and hence placed in the tender. (Ch 10)

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. (Chap 11)

She would get up and change the record, holding the disc up to the light, and one sector of it would be a silky shimmer, like moonlight on the sea. (Chap 12)

It is difficult, difficult to hide a thing: the other things are jealous and inhospitable, holding on firmly to their places and not allowing a homeless object, escaping pursuit, into a single cranny. (Chap 13)

. .he revolved in other circles in which revolving was essential, and Mrs. Luzhin’s head began to spin as it used to in the amusement park on the revolving disk. (Chap 14)


Orache (short story)

“What are you scrawling? Why bedoy, when it’s lebedoy, orache—a clingy weed? Where are your thoughts roaming? Go back to your seat!”

Then a crisp sound broke it—the fall of an incurved chrysanthemum petal. On the monumental writing desk the familiar, discreetly gleaming objects were fixed in an orderly cosmic array, like planets: cabinet photographs, a marble egg, a majestic inkstand.


The Original of Laura

I loathe my belly, that trunkful of bowels, which I have to carry around, and everything connected with it - the wrong food, heartburn, constipation’s leaden load, or else indigestion with a first installment of hot filth pouring out of me in a public toilet three minutes before a punctual engagement. (marked as D10)

I do not believe that the spinal cord is the only or even main conductor of the extravagant messages that reach my brain. I have to find out more about that—about the strange impression I have of there being some underpath, so to speak, along which the commands of my will power are passed to and fro along the shadow of nerves, rather [than] along the nerves proper. (from Wild's note)

Like toads or tortoises neither saw each other’s faces. (from I, near Penult. End)

In experimenting on oneself in order to pick out the sweetest death, one cannot, obviously, set part of one’s body on fire or drain it of blood or subject it to any other drastic operation, for the simple reason that these are one-way treatments: there is no resurrecting the organ one has destroyed. (Marked as D one)

....which evidently had be[en] already done to lamentation in Heaven and laughter in Hell. (Chap. 1)

He looked now like a not too successful conjuror paid to tell fairytales to a sleepy child at bedtime, but he sat a little too close. (Chap 2)

Of art, of love, of the difference between dreaming and waking she knew nothing but would have darted at you like a flat-headed blue serpent if you questioned her. (Chap 3)

So let it be “Landskaya” — land and sky and the melancholy echo of her dancing name. (Chap 4)

A deep probe of one’s darkest self, the unraveling of subjective associations, may suddenly lead to the shadow of a clue and then to the clue itself. (Marked as D three)

...you, Curson, and you, Croydon — who will clap their claws like crabs in boiling water. (Chap 7*)


Pale Fire

"Although those notes, in conformity with custom, come after the poem, the reader is advised to consult them first and then study the poem with their help, rereading them of course as he goes through its text, and perhaps, after having done with the poem, consulting them a third time so as to complete the picture. I find it wise in such cases as this to eliminate the bother of back-and-forth leafings by either cutting out and clipping together the pages with the text of the thing, or, even more simply, purchasing two copies of the same work which can then be placed in adjacent positions on a comfortable table" (Foreword)

            I was the shadow of the waxwing slain
            By the false azure in the windowpane
            I was the smudge of ashen fluff -- and I
            Lived on, flew on, in the reflected sky.  ("Pale Fire", 1-4)

            Nor can one help the exile, the old man
            Dying in a motel, with the loud fan
            Revolving in the torrid prairie night
            And, from the outside, bits of colored light
            Reaching his bed like dark hands from the past
            Offering gems; and death is coming fast.
            He suffocates and conjures in two tongues
            The nebulae dilating in his lungs.  ("Pale Fire", 609-16)

We are absurdly accustomed to the miracle of a few written signs being able to contain immortal imagery, involutions of thought, new worlds with live people, speaking, weeping, laughing. We take it for granted so simply that in a sense, by the very act of brutish routine acceptance, we undo the work of the ages, the history of the gradual elaboration of poetical description and construction, from the treeman to Browning, from the caveman to Keats. (Commentary to ln. 991)

I know also that the world could not have occurred fortuitously and that somehow Mind is involved as a main factor in the making of the universe. In trying to find the right name for that Universal Mind, or First Cause, or the Absolute, or Nature, I submit that the Name of God has priority. (Commentary to ln. 549)

Resemblances are the shadows of differences. Different people see different similarities and similar differences. (Commentary to ln. 894)


Perfection (short story)

The lesson came to an end, the boy would hurry to show him something, such as an automobile catalogue, or a camera, or a cute little screw found in the street—and then Ivanov did his best to give proof of intelligent participation—but, alas, he never had been on intimate terms with the secret fraternity of man-made things that goes under the name technology, and this or that inexact observation of his would make David fix him with puzzled pale-gray eyes and quickly take back the object which seemed to be whimpering in Ivanov’s hands.

The moon groped its way to the wash-stand, selected there one facet of a tumbler, and started to crawl up the wall. 

He felt too lazy to dress; when he closed his eyes tightly, optical spots glided against a red background, Martian canals kept intersecting, and, the moment he parted his lids, the wet silver of the sun started to palpitate between his lashes.

. .and three men in sweaters were pushing into the water a boat grinding against the shingle; and a bewildered David was being led away by a fat woman in a pince-nez, the wife of a veterinarian, who had been expected to arrive on Friday but had had to postpone his vacation, and the Baltic Sea sparkled from end to end, and, in the thinned-out forest, across a green country road, there lay, still breathing, freshly cut aspens; and a youth, smeared with soot, gradually turned white as he washed under the kitchen tap, and black parakeets flew above the eternal snows of the New Zealand mountains; and a fisherman, squinting in the sun, was solemnly predicting that not until the ninth day would the waves surrender the corpse.


Spring in Fialta (short story)

How familiar to me were her hesitations, second thoughts, third thoughts mirroring first ones, ephemeral worries between trains.

. . and in that life-quickening atmosphere of a big railway station where everything is something trembling on the brink of something else, thus to be clutched and cherished. .

. . as if woman’s love were springwater containing salubrious salts which at the least notice she ever so willingly gave anyone to drink.

Having mastered the art of verbal invention to perfection, he particularly prided himself on being a weaver of words, a title he valued higher than that of a writer. .

. . were I a writer, I should allow only my heart to have imagination, and for the rest rely upon memory, that long-drawn sunset shadow of one’s personal truth.

I grew apprehensive because something lovely, delicate, and unrepeatable was being wasted: something which I abused by snapping off poor bright bits in gross haste while neglecting the modest but true core which perhaps it kept offering me in a pitiful whisper.

And moreover was she not chained to her husband by something stronger than love - the staunch friendship between two convicts?

Fialta consists of the old town and of the new one; here and there, past and present are interlaced, struggling either to disentangle themselves or to thrust each other out; each one has its own methods: the newcomer fights honestly - importing palm trees, setting up smart tourist agencies, painting with creamy lines the red smoothness of tennis courts; whereas the sneaky old-timer creeps out from behind a corner in the shape of some little street on crutches or the steps of stairs leading nowhere.

. .I glanced back and foresaw, in an almost optical sense, as it were, what really happened an hour or so later: the three of them wearing motoring helmets, getting in, smiling and waving to me, transparent to me like ghosts, with the color of the world shining through them, and then they were moving, receding, diminishing (Nina’s last ten-fingered farewell); but actually the automobile was still standing quite motionless, smooth and whole like an egg. .


"That in Aleppo once..." (short story)

It was love at first touch rather than at first sight.

. .and my own plight, by contrast, acquired a commonplace air of irreality while I sat in some crowded café with the milky blue sea in front of me and a shell-hollow murmur behind telling and retelling the tale of massacre and misery, and the gray paradise beyond the ocean, and the ways and whims of harsh consuls.

. .brown birthmark on her downy forearm, as one concentrates upon a punctuation mark in an illegible sentence.

. .what was driving us on was something more than a booted and buckled fool with his assortment of variously propelled junk—something of which he was a mere symbol, something monstrous and impalpable, a timeless and faceless mass of immemorial horror..

But the little boy was still scratching and scraping and tugging until he tumbled a flat stone and forgot the object of his solemn exertions as he crouched on his haunches, his thin, eloquent neck showing all its vertebrae to the headsman, and watched with surprise and delight thousands of minute brown ants seething, zigzagging, dispersing, heading for places of safety in the Gard, and the Aude, and the Drôme, and the Var,..

. .and I crushing and crushing the mad molar till my jaw almost burst with pain, a flaming pain which seemed somehow preferable to the dull, humming ache of humble endurance.

Viewing the past graphically, I see our mangled romance engulfed in a deep valley of mist between the crags of two matter-of-fact mountains: life had been real before, life will be real from now on, I hope.


Time and Ebb (short story)

. .since tracking the name of an Asiatic town or the title of a Spanish novel through a maze of jumbled syllables on the last page of the evening newsbook (a feat which my youngest great-granddaughter performs with the utmost zest) strikes me as far more strenuous than toying with animal tissue.

Solitaire, on the other hand, is worthy of consideration, especially if one is sensitive to its mental counterpart; for is not the setting down of one’s reminiscences a game of the same order, wherein events and emotions are dealt to oneself in leisurely retrospection?

Arthur Freeman is reported to have said of memoirists that they are men who have too little imagination to write fiction and too bad a memory to write the truth.

Attainment and science, retainment and art - the two couples keep to themselves, but when they do meet, nothing else in the world matters.

Admirable monsters, great flying machines, they have gone, they have vanished like that flock of swans which passed with a mighty swish of multitudinous wings one spring night above Knights Lake in Maine, from the unknown into the unknown: swans of a species never determined by science, never seen before, never seen since - and then nothing but a lone star remained in the sky, like an asterisk leading to an undiscoverable footnote.

In their letters they addressed perfect strangers by what was... the equivalent of “beloved master” and prefaced a theoretically immortal signature with a mumble expressing idiotic devotion to a person whose very existence was to the writer a matter of complete unconcern.

They were still up to their waists in its prudery and prejudice. They clung to tradition as a vine still clings to a dead tree.

Mountain gorges seemed to have been ransacked for echoes; these were subjected to a special treatment on a basis of honey and rubber until their condensed accents could be synchronized with the labial movements of serial photographs on a moon-white screen in a velvet-dark hall.

Our denominations of time would have seemed to them “telephone” numbers.

Old men resembling the hoary ferryman of still more ancient fairy tales chanted out their intermittent “nextations” and checked the tickets of the travelers...

...and the unforgettable tonality of mixed traffic noises coming from the street—these patterns and melodic figures, for the conscious analysis of which time is alone responsible, somehow connected the “drugstore” with a world where men tormented metals and where metals hit back.

I remember the sun-splashed garden chairs under the apple tree, and a bright copper-colored setter, and a fat, freckled boy with a book in his lap, and a handy-looking apple that I picked up in the shadow of a hedge.

The inquisitive breeze would join in the reading and roughly finger the pages so as to discover what was going to happen next.


Transparent Things

A thin veneer of immediate reality is spread over natural and artificial matter, and whoever wishes to remain in the now, with the now, on the now, should please not break its tension film. Otherwise the inexperienced miracle-worker will find himself no longer walking on water but descending upright among staring fish. (Ch 1)

The tap expostulated, letting forth a strong squirt of rusty water before settling down to produce the meek normal stuff—which you do not appreciate sufficiently, which is a flowing mystery, and, yes, yes, which deserves monuments to be erected to it, cool shrines! (Ch 2)

We recognize its presence in the log as we recognized the log in the tree and the tree in the forest and the forest in the world that Jack built. We recognize that presence by something that is perfectly clear to us but nameless, and as impossible to describe as a smile to somebody who has never seen smiling eyes. (Ch 3)

With an oath and a sigh Hugh retraced his steps, which was once a trim metaphor, and went back to the shop. (Ch 5)

This Henry Emery Person, our Person’s father, might be described as a well-meaning, earnest, dear little man, or as a wretched fraud, depending on the angle of light and the position of the observer. (Ch 6)

No matrimonial agency could have offered its clients such variations on the theme of one virgin. (Ch 12)

Knowing Julia, he was quite sure she would not have told a chance friend about their affair—one sip among dozens of swallows. (Ch 13)

. .the simple expression of love became a kind of degenerate avian performance executed by the male alone, with no female in sight—long neck straight, then curved, beak dipped, neck straightened again. (Ch 17)

One of his characters is consulting a Michelin, and says: there’s many a mile between Condom in Gascogne and Pussy in Savoie. (Ch 19)


What luck that Mr. Romeo still gripped and twisted and cracked that crooked cricoid as X-rayed by the firemen and mountain guides in the street. Superman carrying a young soul in his embrace! (Ch 20)


According to my almond-eyed little spy, the great surgeon, may his own liver rot, lied to me when he declared yesterday with a deathhead’s grin that the operazione had been perfetta. (Ch 21)

As you know—as everybody, even Marion, knows—he gnawed his way into all my affairs, crawling into every cranny, collecting every German-accented word of mine, so that now he can boswell the dead man just as he had bossed very well the living one. (Ch 21)

My wretched liver is as heavy as a rejected manuscript; they manage to keep the hideous hyena pain at bay by means of frequent injections but somehow or other it remains always present behind the wall of my flesh like the muffled thunder of a permanent avalanche which obliterates there, beyond me, all the structures of my imagination, all the landmarks of my conscious self. (Ch 21)

Total rejection of all religions ever dreamt up by man and total composure in the face of total death! If I could explain this triple totality in one big book, that book would become no doubt a new bible and its author the founder of a new creed. (Ch 21)

It was either raining or pretending to rain or not raining at all, yet still appearing to rain in a sense that only certain old Northern dialects can either express verbally or not express, but versionize, as it were, through the ghost of a sound produced by a drizzle in a haze of grateful rose shrubs. (Ch 23)

One should bear in mind, however, that there is no mirage without a vanishing point, just as there is no lake without a closed circle of reliable land. (Ch 24)

It is generally assumed that if man were to establish the fact of survival after death, he would also solve, or be on the way to solving, the riddle of Being. Alas, the two problems do not necessarily overlap or blend. (Ch 24)

For some people, alas, a gal is nothing but a unit of acceleration used in geodesy. (Ch 25)

This was, in fact, his main “umbral companion” (a clownish critic had taken R. to task for that epithet) and had he been without that transparent shadow, we would not have bothered to speak about our dear Person. (Ch 25)

A mess of sprouts and mashed potatoes, colorfully mixed with pinkish meat, could be discerned, if properly focused, performing hand-over-fist evolutions in Person’s entrails, and one could also make out in that landscape of serpents and caves two or three apple seeds, humble travelers from an earlier meal. (Ch 26)

Now flames were mounting the stairs, in pairs, in trios, in redskin file, hand in hand, tongue after tongue, conversing and humming happily. (Ch 26)

Rings of blurred colors circled around him, reminding him briefly of a childhood picture in a frightening book about triumphant vegetables whirling faster and faster around a nightshirted boy trying desperately to awake from the iridescent dizziness of dream life. (Ch 26)

This is, I believe, it: not the crude anguish of physical death but the incomparable pangs of the mysterious mental maneuver needed to pass from one state of being to another. (Ch 26)


The Vane Sisters (short story)

There was a rhythm, an alternation in the dripping that I found as teasing as a coin trick.

I was rewarded at last, upon choosing one, by the sight of what might be described as the dot of an exclamation mark leaving its ordinary position to glide down very fast - a jot faster than the thaw-drop it raced.

I walked on in a state of raw awareness that seemed to transform the whole of my being into one big eyeball rolling in the world’s socket.

The lean ghost, the elongated umbra cast by a parking meter upon some damp snow, had a strange ruddy tinge; this I made out to be due to the tawny red light of the restaurant sign above the sidewalk. .

"Please, Monsieur le Professeur, contact ma soeur and tell her that Death was not better than D minus, but definitely better than Life minus D."

And then, holding that limp notebook as if it were a kind of passport to a casual Elysium (where pencil points do not snap and a dreamy young beauty with an impeccable complexion winds a lock of her hair on a dreamy forefinger, as she meditates over some celestial test). .

Contrary to Cynthia, he cared nothing for the thrill of obscure predictions; all he sought was the freak itself, the chance that mimics choice, the flaw that looks like a flower; and Cynthia, a much more perverse amateur of misshapen or illicitly connected words, puns, logogriphs, and so on, had helped the poor crank to pursue a quest that in the light of the example she cited struck me as statistically insane.

I thumbed a mental ride with a very remote automobile but it dropped me before I had a chance to doze off.

Who knows, if recorded and then run backward, those bird sounds might not become human speech, voiced words, just as the latter become a twitter when reversed?

I could isolate, consciously, little. Everything seemed blurred, yellow-clouded, yielding nothing tangible. Her inept acrostics, maudlin evasions, theopathies - every recollection formed ripples of mysterious meaning. Everything seemed yellowly blurred, illusive, lost.