“Or of the air itself”: Nabokov’s “mothers” as bearers of spiritual understanding
← 102 | 103 →NORA SCHOLZ
“Or of the air itself:” Nabokov’s “mothers” as bearers of spiritual understanding
In a letter to his mother of October 1925 Nabokov writes, “We are translators of God’s creation, his little plagiarists and imitators, we dress up what he wrote, as a charmed commentator sometimes gives an extra grace to a line of genius.”1 There are many hints not only in Nabokov’s prose, but also in his autobiographical writings, that his spiritual understanding was deeply connected to his mother, Elena Ivanovna.2 This understanding is probably most directly expressed in a famous sentence in his Playboy interview of 1964, reprinted in Strong Opinions: “I know more than I can express in words, and the little I can express would not have been expressed, had I not known more” (SO, 38).
Nabokov’s spirituality is multifaceted and calls for more in-depth explanation. It is clearly encountered in his experience of oneness, which he describes in Speak, Memory and which is connected to his mother, in particular in the context of Nabokov’s memory that allows him “to always have his Russia with him”. One of the essential characteristics of this memory is the ability to call up certain “trifles,” just as he had learned from his mother: to read the marks left on the surface of time – “Her special tags and imprints became as dear and as sacred to me as they were to her” (SM, 22) – which become a substrate of memory...
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