What Are You Talking to Yourself About?
Point out a man from the past, peacefully living in 1995, a picture of a bright future (that is, our present-day), and he would decide that we’re all schizophrenics. On the streets of our cities people walk along and talk loudly to themselves. Sometimes it’s deafening, as if they’re trying to show everyone how supposedly important they are to someone on the other end of the line.
The New Yorker published an article about talking to yourself. There are two high points – the first is a reference to the magical work of Julian Jaynes about the bicameral mind (a hit of the 1980s), and suddenly brought to bear in the recent series Westworld in which robots hear voices in their heads. The second was the results from a survey at a writing conference, where 70% admitted they hear the voices of their characters.
Some of the characters’ voices have even defied the author’s vision and have insisted on their own concept. I read that and felt so jealous! And not only that, but some of the voices simply dictate the novel to you, telling you where to go with the plot, and all your hard work is just the rattling of a keyboard. Nabokov was making fun of this concept. He has always been very proud of his totalitarian control over the behavior of his fictional characters.
I’m not sure that such control is possible, in principle. At the start of sentence, the writer does not know in advance how it will end. Even in lucid dreams, we do not have total control of the mind. Yes, you know it’s all a dream, but in this case have no idea why there are carpet snakes dancing on the walls against your will, why the chandelier is turning into a clam, or your ex into a mysterious and beautiful stranger.
And there I stopped short… I thought about Dr. Benjamin, who’s now on a Caribbean island, reading these lines. You never know. He’s reading and thinks, “What the hell is this? What about the eyes?”
Do you believe in fate? Neither do I, but I believe in luck. Therefore I googled “Nabokov – cataract” and Bingo! I found a sort of serendipity, which was a quote from some Nabokov study article.
“In the epilogue to Lolita, Nabokov calls the fictional town where the heroine dies, Grey Star, the “capital of the book”. It’s a strange choice, since neither Humbert nor the reader has ever been to that place. And what a strange name for a town. However, in German, the language Humbert speaks grauer Star means wall-eye or cataract. This is symbolizing the readers’ blindness. The more the reader judges Humbert, following his story but not learning about him, the more the reader deserves to be judged in return.”
This is from the book “The Secret Life of Vladimir Nabokov” by Andrea Pitzer, whose name I read like “Petitzer”, despite the absence of cataracts. And by the way, I’m not a fanatic Nabokov-phile; I started to write about him accidentally. For me, unlike these happy authors with voices in their heads, or those that scribble in the New Yorker, I have to write for myself – with these hands, and look through my own intraocular lenses.
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Text and photo: Sebastian Varo