Saturday, 14 March 2015

Hermann's descriptions

Hermann, the narrator of Despair, is a keen observer (or so he says). But his descriptions are so weird, so unsettling, disturbing. Who writes like that? Of course it's Nabokov that is doing the describing, but that doesn't count- he's a great writer. Among ordinary people, who describes and compares like that? 

From chapter 1:
"He drew his breath in with a sharp sniff; his face broke into ripples of life..."
"That man, especially when he slept, when his features were motionless, showed me my own face, my mask, the flawlessly pure image of my corpse- I used the latter term merely because I wish to express with the utmost clarity- express what? Namely this: that we had identical features, and that, in a state of perfect repose, this resemblance was strikingly evident, and what is death, if not a face at peace- its artistic perfection?"
From chapter 3:
"... Lamps had already lit up there, shining upon office ledgers, and a man in black, with 1 hand behind his back, was walking to and fro, presumably dictating to a secretary I could not see. Ever and anon he appeared, and once, even, he stopped at the window to do some thinking, and then again turned, dictating, dictating, dictating. 
Inexorable! I switched on the light, sat down, pressed my temples. Suddenly, with mad fury, the telephone rang; but it proved a mistake- wrong number. And then there was silence once more, save for the light patter of the rain quickening the approach of the night."
From chapter 4:
"A few days before the 1st of October I happened to walk with my wife through the Tiergarten; there on a foot bridge we stopped, with our elbows upon the railing. Below, on the still surface of the water, we admired the exact replica (ignoring the model, of course) of the park's autumn tapestry of many-hued foliage, the glassy blue of the sky, the dark outlines of the parapet and of our inclined faces. When a slow leaf fell, there would flutter up to meet it, out of the water's shadowy depths, its unavoidable double. Their meeting was soundless. The leaf came twirling down, and twirling up there would rise towards it, early, its exact, beautiful, lethal reflection. I could not tear my gaze away from those inevitable meetings."
"During the last fortnight I had let my mustache grow. This altered my countenance for the worse. Above my bloodless mouth there bristled a brownish-red blotch with an obscene little notch in the middle. I had the sensation that it was glued on; and sometimes it seemed to me that a small prickly animal was settled on my upper lip..."
From chapter 5:
"From behind a black tree there came out noiselessly a gloomy and fleshful moon. A cloud slipped a mask over it in passing, which left visible only its chubby chin."
"It was a sharp bleak night. Among small clouds curled like astrakhan, a shiny flat moon kept sliding in and out."
"We again walked past the duplicate of the Bronze Rider. Not a soul did we meet on the boulevard. Not a gleam was there in the houses; had I noticed a single lighted window, I should have supposed that somebody had hanged himself there and left the lamp burning- so unwonted and unwarranted would a light have seemed..."
"All of a sudden Felix, as if shot dead, let his head fall and began unlacing his shoes..."
"He listened, that was certain. I listened to his listening. He listened to my listening to his listening. Something snapped. I noticed that I was not thinking at all of what I thought I was thinking; attempted to catch my consciousness tripping, but got mazed myself." 

A madman he must be. Someone horrible. Evil? Obsessed with death, apparently. Such a strange, perplexing, sinister way of looking at things. No wonder he, while making love to his wife, somehow sees himself standing outside the lovemaking, at a distance, watching. 

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