Friday, December 16, 2011

The Unreal Life of Sergey Nabokov VIII

Demonic Doubles: Gide & Nabokov

Demonic Doubles

“What’s the difference?
The important thing is that
It doesn’t hold me back.”
—André Gide, “Identification
of the Demon,” Journal to
The Counterfeiters

“The best part of a writer's
biography is not the record
of his adventures but the
story of his style.”
—Vladimir Nabokov,
Strong Opinions

There are several similarities between André Gide and Vladimir Nabokov. Style is one of them—and the use of the demonic double. In many ways, The Real Life of Sebastian Knight and The Counterfeiters are both Houses of Mirrors—using the mise-en-abyme technique of narrative.

At the end of The Counterfeiters—in what Gide calls a “detached dialog,” he mentions that he has a love for life. And that if he seeks out peril and problematic plots like in The Counterfeiters—he’s always had the certainty and conviction that he can overcome the plot and write about it. He admits that he doesn’t understand how or why—other than perhaps it’s just that “I have the Devil on my side.”

Then the person he’s talking with brings up an objection—saying or rather asking a question about the Devil. Saying that the Devil doesn’t require us to believe in him—whether we serve him or not. Apparently we can only serve God—if we have faith in him. But with the Devil—sometimes he’s best served when he’s unperceived. It’s sometimes if not always in his best interest—not to let himself be recognized.

Paradoxically, then, the less we believe in the Devil—the more we strengthen him. It’s exactly what he wants—that he should not be believed in. He knows exactly how and where to insulate himself in our hearts—how to enter for the first time. Unperceived.

The Devil would be more than pleased—by all the ingenious denials of his existence. The perfectly natural, scientific ones—the puerile Freudian oversimplifications. The apparent explanations—the psychological problems. Satan loves such kvetching—all the various aliases and unreliable narratives. The more his existence is denied—the more inexplicable and incomprehensive he becomes.

Even if the Devil had an Advocate—the best attorney in town to cross-examine him. Wouldn’t the Devil interrupt by saying—“Why do you fear me? You know very I don’t exist?” Which leads Gide to say that many great minds—believed in the existence of the Devil. Like Goethe who said—“A man’s strength and his force of predestination were recognizable by the demoniacal element he had in him.”

Gide concludes this Appendix dialog by saying that on certain days he’s overcome by an rush of evil—making him imagine that the Prince of Darkness is already beginning to set up hell within him…

Apparently many readers thought the same thing about The Counterfeiters—a story about a bunch of bad boys who, according to the “Newspaper Clippings” appendix in the Journal, were part of a counterfeit coin racket. They were a bunch of bohemians, second-year students, unemployed journalists, artists, novelists—the kind of criminal trade that André Gide, Jean Genet and other French writers liked to be around.

There’s quite a bit of homosexuality in the book—all of which is looked at by Gide from two points of view. One as a character in The Counterfeiters—the other as an omniscient observer in a Journal about Gide writing The Counterfeiters.

Gide identifies with Edouard in the novel—but constantly asks himself questions in The Journal about writing the novel. At the end of the novel he says—“I feel curious to know about Caloub.” Caloub is his youngest nephew—and so to the disapproval of many readers back then in 1927, Gide confesses that the gay milieu of The Counterfeiters is his cup of tea.

Perhaps Nabokov identifies with “Sergey” in The Real Life of Sebastian Knight—enough to use them as mirror-texts in a mise-en-abyme novel like Gide’s The Counterfeiters. Paul Russell's new novel The Unreal Life of Sergey Nabokov is very much a Gide mis-en-abyme mirror text of the original Sebastian Knight test. Like a mirror or emblem in a coat of arms, are the Sebastian Knight and Sergey Nabokov texts examples of Leonid Livak's "Vladimir Nabokov's apprenticeship in Andre Gide's "Science of Illumination": From The Counterfeiters to The Gift"?

It appears to be so—TOOL (The Original of Laura) seems to be structured the same way as Gide’s The Counterfeiters/The Journal along with Sebastian Knight-Sergey Nabokov writing style which included some interesting 'fictional' novels with some rather queer tres gay-titled novels. V the so-called brother and narrator of The Real Life of Sebastian Knight is helping the reader to imagine his brother as a writer, going back over these rather gay-titled novels. Russell's The Unreal Life of Sergey Nabokov is told from Sergey's point of view; it would be interesting for the 'Sergey' character to go back over these novels and some of the books in his library, relating them to his so-called gay life as the Sergey-Sebastian Nabokov-Knight mise-em-abyme paradigm of Gide would suggest:

"The Prismatic Bezel," Sebastian's first novel, "a rollicking parody of the setting of a detective tale" reflecting in V's search for SK's Russian lover?

"Success," Sebastian's second novel, tracing "the exact way in which two lines of life were made to come into contact" (forming a "V", like V's narration).

"Lost Property," Sebastian's memoir. "A counting of the things and souls lost" on SK's "literary journey of discovery", a counting reflected in V's narration.

"The Funny Mountain", a short story.

"Albinos in Black", a short story.

"The Back of the Moon," - this short story includes a Mr. Siller whose likeness resurfaces in V's narration as Mr. Silbermann.

The Doubtful Asphodel, a book about "A man is dying, and he is the hero of the tale . . . The man is the book; the book itself is heaving and dying, and drawing up a ghostly knee," and may be seen as a reflection on V's forcoming book on his brother Sebastian/Sergey.

Would Nabokov say—“I have the Devil on my side?”

No comments:

Post a Comment