[f_minor] OT: For My Fellow Nabokovians

maryellen jensen maryellenjensen28 at hotmail.com
Thu Jan 27 06:28:03 EST 2011

"I have been searching desperately on the Web for a very short piece Nabokov wrote on transformation (which
 concerns us all and perhaps especially those of us who listen to music)
 as an introduction for his Lectures on Literature and have found the 
following copy, more I shall not say."

In case it didn't come up from the NYT hyperlink (I hope this copy/paste works on F Minor):

April 25, 1999


Invitation to a Transformation

 was a Chinese philosopher who all his life pondered the problem whether
 he was a Chinese philosopher dreaming that he was a butterfly or a 
butterfly dreaming that she was a philosopher. . . . 

Jean Vong; photographs courtesy of the Estate of Vladimir NabokovA page from one of Vladimir Nabokov's butterfly books.
Related Links
Celebrating Nabokov's Centenary with collected reviews, articles, writing samples and audio
Audio Special: Nabokov: A Centenary Celebration
Slide Show: Vladimir Nabokov Photo Album (15 photos)

Transformation. Transformation is a marvelous thing. I am thinking 
especially of the transformation of butterflies. Though wonderful to 
watch, transformation from larva to pupa or from pupa to butterfly is 
not a particularly pleasant process for the subject involved. There 
comes for every caterpillar a difficult moment when he begins to feel 
pervaded by an odd sense of discomfort. It is a tight feeling -- here 
about the neck and elsewhere, and then an unbearable itch. Of course he 
has molted a few times before but that is nothing in comparison to the 
tickle and urge that he feels now. He must shed that tight dry skin, or 
die. As you have guessed, under that skin, the armor of a pupa -- and 
how uncomfortable to wear one's skin over one's armor -- is already 
forming: I am especially concerned at the moment with those butterflies 
that have carved golden pupa, called also chrysalis, which hang from 
some surface in the open air. 

Well, the caterpillar must do something about that horrible feeling. He 
walks about looking for a suitable place. He finds it. He crawls up a 
wall or a tree trunk. He makes for himself a little pad of silk on the 
underside of that perch. He hangs himself by the tip of his tail or last
 legs, from the silk patch, so as to dangle head downwards in the 
position of an inverted question mark, and there is a question -- how to
 get rid now of his skin. One wriggle, another wriggle -- and zip the 
skin bursts down the back, and he gradually gets out of it working with 
shoulders and hips like a person getting out of a sausage dress. Then 
comes the most critical moment. You understand that we are hanging head 
down by our last pair of legs, and the problem now is to shed the whole 
skin -- even the skin of those last legs by which we hang -- but how to 
accomplish this without falling? 

So what does he do, this courageous and stubborn little animal who is 
already partly disrobed? Very carefully he starts working out his hind 
legs, dislodging them from the patch of silk from which he is dangling, 
head down -- and then with an admirable twist and jerk he sort of jumps 
off the silk pad, sheds his last shred of hose, and immediately, in the 
process of the same jerk-and-twist-jump he attaches himself anew by 
means of a hook that was under the shed skin on the tip of his body. Now
 all the skin has come off, thank God, and the bared surface, now hard 
and glistening, is the pupa, a swathed-baby-like thing hanging from that
 twig -- a very beautiful chrysalis with golden knobs and plate-armor 
wing cases. This pupal stage lasts from a few days to a few years. I 
remember as a boy keeping a hawk moth's pupa in a box for something like
 seven years, so that I actually finished high school while the thing 
was asleep -- and then finally it hatched -- unfortunately, it happened 
during a journey on the train -- a nice case of misjudgment after all 
those years. But to come back to our butterfly pupa. 

After, say, two or three weeks something begins to happen. The pupa 
hangs quite motionless, but you notice one day that through the wing 
cases, which are many times smaller than the wings of the future perfect
 insect -- you notice that through the hornlike texture of each wing 
case you can see in miniature the pattern of the future wing, the lovely
 flush of the ground color, a dark margin, a rudimentary eyespot. 
Another day or two -- and the final transformation occurs. The pupa 
splits as the caterpillar had split -- it is really a last glorified 
molt, and the butterfly creeps out -- and in its turn hangs down from 
the twig to dry. She is not handsome at first. She is very damp and 
bedraggled. But those limp implements of hers that she has disengaged 
gradually dry, distend, the veins branch and harden -- and in 20 minutes
 or so she is ready to fly. You have noticed that the caterpillar is a 
he, the pupa an it, and the butterfly a she. You will ask -- what is the
 feeling of hatching? Oh, no doubt, there is a rush of panic to the 
head, a thrill of breathless and strange sensation, but then the eyes 
see, in a flow of sunshine, the butterfly sees the world, the large and 
awful face of the gasping entomologist. 

Let us now turn to the transformation of Jekyll into Hyde.

From: maryellenjensen28 at hotmail.com
To: f_minor at glenngould.org
Date: Wed, 26 Jan 2011 14:24:41 +0100
Subject: [f_minor] OT: For My Fellow Nabokovians

A friend from Seattle emailed me this link to the NY Times Science page:


 I have been searching desperately on the Web for a very short piece Nabokov wrote on transformation (which concerns us all and perhaps especially those of us who listen to music) as an introduction for his Lectures on Literature and have found the following copy, more I shall not say:


For anyone interested in the Karner Blues:


A short recording of the poet/author/lepidopterist/linguist/chess master/father/bon vivant reminding us all to look, see, speak, remember:


 Gould was all about transformation; he wasn't able to make it from performer to composer and as I am neither I make no judgement but it seems he put himself through a world of pain for some reason. For those reasons? What was the hairshirt for? Why torture an already tortured back sitting on a chair with no cushion and only a wooden crossbar to support a 50 year old body when there was a second chair in good condition at his disposal? To make a pathetic film? (Gould/Monsaingeon "Goldberg Variations") Bathos??? What?



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