She had strange fears, strange fantasies, strange force
Of character-as when she spent three nights
Investigating certain sounds and lights
In an old barn. She twisted words: pot, top,
Lines 347-348: She Twisted Words (45)
One of the examples her father gives is odd. I am quite sure it was I who one day, when we were discussing “mirror words,” observed (and I recall the poet’s expression of stupefaction) that “spider” in reverse is “redips,” and “T.S. Eliot,” “toilest.” But then it is also tre that Hazel Shade resembled me in certain respects. (193)
“I had next great fun with all kind of shorts and briefs–phantom little Lolitas dancing, falling, daisying all over the counter. We rounded up the deal with some prim cotton pajamas in popular butcher-boy style” (108).
I wasn’t sure what is meant by “butcher boy style” so I searched the term in the electronic archives of some 1950’s newspapers and it seems (based on reviewing the ads) that butcher boy style is a kind of pajama that does not have a drawstring and seems to occur more in marketing for younger children. It specifically refers to the bottom half of the pajama as well where there is specifically no drawstring. There are all sorts of ways to think about why Humbert would want this specific style. Probably, it suggests that Humbert desires Lolita as childlike- that he is specifically buying her childlike pajamas rather than some other kind of sexually exciting lingerie. I’ve attached a picture of “butcher-boy style” pajamas below:
So I have been trying to understand the spider in An Invitation to a Beheading and much of An Invitation to a Beheading through the motif of light (e.g. Cincinattus being referred to as “opaque” and others being referred to as “transparent” or “translucent”). For example, in class I believe we made the connection between Marthe and the spider in that the spider produces silk and Marthe typically wears velvet, a material made of silk. At first glance you can understand how light figures into something like the silk of a spider web because it is transparent. Bugs cannot see it and so get caught in the web. Thereby, can we understand the spider and the web as an extension of the translucent enemies that surround Cincinattus? I’m not sure it’s so simple. I’m no physicist and couldn’t tell you much about the optics of webs, but it seems as if its an exaggeration to say that webs are simply “transparent.” This site: (https://www.itp.uni-hannover.de/fileadmin/arbeitsgruppen/zawischa/static_html/spiderweb.html) suggests that webs can reflect all the colors of the rainbow and this study (https://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2008/06/080612-spider-webs.html) and also (https://www.newscientist.com/article/2141493-spiders-web-uses-optical-illusion-to-lure-nocturnal-moths/) suggests that spider webs actually use light to ensnare insects.
So if I am trying to understand the spider web through the motif of light how can I proceed if scientific consensus to how webs use light is mixed? Potentially, the danger of the web being its manipulation of light instead of its transparency could have huge hermeneutic differences.
I also wonder about the words “transparent” and “translucent.” In physics, these definitions have different meanings.
Here is a snippet from wikipedia: “Translucency (also called translucence or translucidity) is a superset of transparency: it allows light to pass through, but does not necessarily (again, on the macroscopic scale) follow Snell’s law; the photons can be scattered at either of the two interfaces where there is a change in index of refraction, or internally. In other words, a translucent medium allows the transport of light while a transparent medium not only allows the transport of light but allows for image formation. The opposite property of translucency is opacity. Transparent materials appear clear, with the overall appearance of one color, or any combination leading up to a brilliant spectrum of every color.”
Again, in terms of hermeneutics, this leaves me at a loss. Should I conflate the two terms or is their separation a kind of hint I should dig a little deeper and arrive at a symbolic world of Invitation that can provide a reason for the specific usage of either word? Or would that be reading too far?
Science seems to be more reflexive and self-correcting than religion and in terms of hermeneutics this presents a kind of challenge. The core beliefs of Gnoticism will never change, and often gnostic symbols seem easier to track than others. The stability of the signified depends on the stability of the symbol. In the case where science has destabilized the connection between symbol and signified how can the reader come to meaning? Should they historicize? Isn’t that the sort of thing Nab. would disagree with? Maybe not, as “kindness to the author” could include historicization when necessary. I don’t really know what to do with this idea, but it has been something I’ve been thinking about.
“…his eyes had automatically filled with a burning mist, and everything he looked at-out of the accursed necessity of looking at something-was subject to intricate, optical metamorphoses. The page with criss-cross blue lines grew blurry; the white numbers on the blackboard alternately contracted and broadened; the arithmetic teacher’s voice, as if steadily receding, would get more and more hollow and incomprehensible, and his desk neighbor, an insidious with down on his cheeks, would say with quiet satisfaction: ‘Now he’s going to cry.” (29, Nabokov).
I was reading Nabokov’s “A Guide to Berlin” and got interested in this idea of shells that comes up in the short story. I find it particularly compelling because the story seems to be interested in objects and people that will one day reside in another person’s memory. The last line of the story reads, “What indeed! How can I demonstrate to him that I have glimpsed somebody’s future recollection?” It occurs to me that a clever way to express the memory of a past object or person as reflected in the future is in the shell it leaves behind. In particular, I am thinking of the narrator’s description of a turtle in the fourth section, “But that dome above it-ah, that dome, that ageless, well-rubbed, dull bronze, that splendid burden of time…” When the turtle that the narrator views at the aquarium dies it will leave behind its shell. The shell, rather than the turtle, is the “splendid burden of time.” In fact, in future generations it will be the shell that allows a person to recreate the turtle that once lived in it. There are other moments like this in the text. The narrator refers to the conductor’s hands as having a “harsh chitinous crust.” As an expert entomologist I doubt that Nabokov was not aware that chitin is the long-chain polymer that makes up exoskeletons of arthropods, of which crustaceans and insects are both members. That is to say, I suspect Nabokov is being very particular in his language here, and he means to refer to the conductor’s hands as if they were some kind of insect-like exoskeleton. Like the turtle’s shell you might imagine that even when the conductor has long since stopped existing these hands will remain just as the discarded exoskeleton of an arthropod. My last example is more of a stretch, but I would mention the pipes of section one. The narrator describes them as the “street’s iron entrails.” The pipes are like the remains of something, as if the bones of the street had been exposed. I almost imagine them fossilized, the only thing later generations can physically look at to imagine the streets they once undergirded, the children’s play they once provided.
I am interested in all these things: the turtle shell, the chitinous nails, the pipes, because they imply a continued existence after the things around them fade away and in doing so show an obvious importance for the recreation of the past. It is through these objects that an accurate picture of the past will be triangulated. The attitude of a narrator seems to be that of a kind of curator probing his daily life for the objects that will recall their specific time in future days. I guess this is why something like a shell, an exoskeleton, bones, or entrails would be important, because they function as the associative triggers by which the accurate reconstitution of the past is knit. What is so odd about this story is that the narrator is reverse engineering this process. This is a story in the present tense, and the narrator’s attention would seemingly serve the future. It is an odd thing to curate the present, to make your audience feel as if their lives belonged in a museum as the streetcar will. It’s a little like asking a turtle to notice the shell on its back.
A chitinous exoskeleton.