Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Transparency V

The crystogram of Luzhin's vague existence works because it manages to connect a desiring subject (the smoker) with an object of belief (the unlit cigarette) through a series of haptic happenings that together form a live world. It is when the automatism of removing a cigarette from the pack, picking up the matchbox, shaking it and evoking a rattle (apparently normally only registered unconsciously), extracting the match and lighting it, holding it to the end of the cigarette, etc. is thwarted by the emptiness of the box of matches that the image crystalizes, sparkles with rain.

A "whole life [is now] concentrated in the single desire to smoke" and a whole world, we might say, is concentrated into a single soulless thing stuck in his mouth. These are aspects of one and the same moment.

The singularity of the desire is not trivial. Luzhin becomes aware of his existence as this existence -- this life, this entity which, as Heidegger emphasised, "is in each case mine" (H. 41). Heidegger (H. 171, 358) and Pound (Canto LXXXI/535), however, both emphasise the primacy of seeing (though one gets the sense that Heidegger is aware that this is a historically contingent metaphysical bias). Heidegger, like Pound, invoked light imagery at every turn, probably because both were influenced by Duns Scotus. But while Nabokov's books, too, are full of light, full of things that shine and glisten and sparkle and twinkle, they are also, as in this case, full of motion -- shaking, rattling, thrusting.

What I like about the way the transparencies of the match and cigarette are constructed in this case is its dependence on what might be called manual imagery. I don't want to argue for the opposite bias (i.e., for the primacy of movement) but I do want to note the effect of maintaining a balanced view (cf. also my "The History of the World").

And this brings us back to the beginning, to the tension film of immediate reality that is neither the object nor the subject of literature (which has neither) but is, as Heidegger might say, its proximate theme, or, to invoke Catholic psychology, its proximate occasion. The "here" of the literary text.


hackzkztv said...

I was interested in this post having posted earlier today a poem of mine (from 1996) that also has a cigarette:

In the motel bed, I’m visited by a procession. I lie in the middle, pulled there by the wornout mattress. I light a smoke and inhale. It’s the first I’ve had in years. It leaves a strong taste of tar on the tip of my tongue, bittersweet and pleasant. I feel a swirl of nicotine in my veins. It pulses in the base of my neck like sonar’s concentric waves.

So the cigarette I see now as an unintentional symbol. So while it is a "soulless thing" the act is I think about a shift in perception, therefore the act of lighting its emphasis is to evoke a sounding comparison.

Not sure really. This post of yours has me digging. "Proximate occasion." Man, that practically invites a smoke.

Thomas Basbøll said...

You will note that the cigarette is soulless only when unlit. Or only when there is some palpable failure in its lighting. Nothing soulless about a cigarette in good working order.