Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Nabokov, dreaming

For eighty-odd days in late 1964 and early 1965, Vladimir Nabokov wrote down his dreams, following the instructions in John Dunne’s An Experiment with Time (1927). Dunne, an aeronautical engineer and a figure straight from the Museum of Jurassic Technology, advanced a theory of time in which future events may influence our dreams. “Many dreams more or less forgotten,” Nabokov wrote on December 29, 1964. But, on the same index card:

Clear end of one: am correcting, with other people, students’ examination papers. Of the three I get, the first read proves to be a little masterpiece. The name of the student is Mostel (not known in waking life)*. I am wondering what to give him, an A or an A+. Cannot find my pencil and am, moreover, upset by a sordid and complicated love affair with another’s wife (unknown in waking life and not shown in dream). A colleague (I have never in my life corrected papers collectively!) urges me to finish my batch. I still can’t find an implement to write with and furthermore am badgered and hampered in my movements by the betrayed husband, a very small man who works with his arms as he pours out a torrent of complaints. In exasperation I take him and send him flying and spinning into a revolving door where he continues to twist at some distance from the ground, in a horizontal position, before falling. Awkward suspense: is he dead? No, he picks himself up and staggers away. We return to the exam. papers.

* (V. says there is a famous American actor of that name).

Vladimir Nabokov, Insomniac Dreams: Experiments with Time, ed. Gennady Barabtarlo (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2018).
Four observations: 1. Nabokov’s dreams don’t seem any more interesting that anyone else’s. 2. They contain scant evidence to support Dunne’s theory, but are, unsurprisingly, filled with people and places from Nabokov’s life and incidents from his fiction. 3. Nabokov doesn’t always notice the connections to his fiction, but the editor of this volume does. 4. There is no getting away from grading, not even in dreams, or especially not in dreams.

Here’s a grading dream of my own. And another.

Related reading
All OCA Nabokov posts (Pinboard)

[“V.” is Véra Nabokov, married to Vladimir. The actor is Zero Mostel.]

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