I recently finished Nabokov’s autobiography Speak, Memory. I feel like I understood most of it. With Nabokov there’s always a vague sense of embarrassment, even annoyance, that his writing in English — which is not even his native language, mind you — seems to be pitched at people with a level of literacy above my own. Forget about feeling in any way competitive with him as a writer; I’m talking about the struggle for basic comprehension on a survival level.
And then you come across a paragraph like this one, and what can you do but shake your head and bow in reverence?
Whenever in my dreams I see the dead, they always appear silent, bothered, strangely depressed, quite unlike their dear, bright selves. I am aware of them, without any astonishment, in surroundings they never visited during their earthly existence, in the house of some friend of mine they never knew. They sit apart, frowning at the floor, as if death were a dark taint, a shameful family secret. It is certainly not then – not in dreams – but when one is wide awake, at moments of robust joy and achievement, on the highest terrace of consciousness, that mortality has a chance to peer beyond its own limits, from the mast, from the past and its castle tower. And although nothing much can be seen through the mist, there is somehow the blissful feeling that one is looking in the right direction.