Nabokov’s Dreams

via The New Yorker

…Nabokov decided to follow it scrupulously, and almost instantly he found himself brimming with precognitive powers. On the second night, he dreamed of a clock set at half past ten; the next day, he came across the very same time in Dunne’s book. That’s nice, but it’s not volcanic-eruption nice. A few nights later, he saw a more “incontestable success” while dreaming about a museum: “I was absent-mindedly eating exhibits on the table—bricks of crumbly stuff which I had apparently taken for some kind of dusty insipid pastry but which were actually samples of rare soils.” Afterward, watching French television, he came across a program discussing soil samples in Senegal. Eureka! He had eaten the dirt of a future time.

And yet Nabokov didn’t seem to linger on his victory or its metaphysical ramifications. Though he kept up his index-card routine for eighty nights, he drifted from Dunne’s method. Rather than flagging his dreams for their precognitive potential, he began to find patterns among them, breaking them into categories: nostalgic or erotic, shaped by current events or professional anxieties. Apart from a dry spell he referred to as “dream constipation,” Nabokov was a prodigious dreamer, his mind a wellspring of trenchant, tender, and perturbing images that he recounts with verve. An old Cambridge classmate “gloomily consumes a thick red steak, holding it rather daintily, the nails of his long fingers glisten[ing] with cherry-red varnish.” A cryptic caller “wonders how I knew she was Russian. I answer dream-logically that only Russian women speak so loud on the phone.” There are capers: in one, Nabokov and his son, Dmitri, “are trying to track down a repulsive plump little boy who has killed another child—perhaps his sister.” And there are intimations of mortality: “A tremendous very black larch paradoxically posing as a Christmas tree completely stripped of its toys, tinsel, and lights, appeared in its abstract starkness as the emblem of permanent dissolution.”

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