- The American Conservative - https://www.theamericanconservative.com -

Nabokov Wonders

From the website Brain Pickings [1], these excerpts from a lecture by Vladimir Nabokov. He says that optimism is not a luxury of the privileged, but at the core of everyone’s survival:

The second result is that the irrational belief in the goodness of man… becomes something much more than the wobbly basis of idealistic philosophies. It becomes a solid and iridescent truth. This means that goodness becomes a central and tangible part of one’s world, which world at first sight seems hard to identify with the modern one of newspaper editors and other bright pessimists, who will tell you that it is, mildly speaking, illogical to applaud the supremacy of good at a time when something called the police state, or communism, is trying to turn the globe into five million square miles of terror, stupidity, and barbed wire. And they may add that it is one thing to beam at one’s private universe in the snuggest nook of an unshelled and well-fed country and quite another to try and keep sane among crashing buildings in the roaring and whining night. But within the emphatically and unshakably illogical world which I am advertising as a home for the spirit, war gods are unreal not because they are conveniently remote in physical space from the reality of a reading lamp and the solidity of a fountain pen, but because I cannot imagine (and that is saying a good deal) such circumstances as might impinge upon the lovely and lovable world which quietly persists, whereas I can very well imagine that my fellow dreamers, thousands of whom roam the earth, keep to these same irrational and divine standards during the darkest and most dazzling hours of physical danger, pain, dust, death.

More:

I take my hat off to the hero who dashes into a burning house and saves his neighbor’s child; but I shake his hand if he has risked squandering a precious five seconds to find and save, together with the child, its favorite toy. I remember a cartoon depicting a chimney sweep falling from the roof of a tall building and noticing on the way that a sign-board had one word spelled wrong, and wondering in his headlong flight why nobody had thought of correcting it. In a sense, we all are crashing to our death from the top story of our birth to the flat stones of the churchyard and wondering with an immortal Alice in Wonderland at the patterns of the passing wall. This capacity to wonder at trifles — no matter the imminent peril — these asides of the spirit, these footnotes in the volume of life are the highest forms of consciousness, and it is in this childishly speculative state of mind, so different from commonsense and its logic, that we know the world to be good.

I needed to read those words today. I am so bound to the world as it comes to me through my laptop. It is my vocation to read, to watch, to contemplate, and to write about it. But it is far, far too easy, especially if you have a temperament like mine, to get lost in the darkness, and to lose sight of the straight path that God has laid before us, and that many people with lesser powers than our own still manage to stagger along it, rejoicing and not losing their way despite it all.

Today is the Feast of St. Nicholas. This afternoon, when the children come home from school, we are going to buy our family Christmas tree. Little makes me happier than watching my children run among the trees in the field, and choose the right one for our house. This is how I know the world to be good.

St. Nicholas of Myra, by Jaroslav Čermak

32 Comments (Open | Close)

32 Comments To "Nabokov Wonders"

#1 Comment By Bob Loblaw On December 6, 2018 @ 12:13 pm

Man, Nabokov could write.

#2 Comment By Matt On December 6, 2018 @ 12:16 pm

What a great painting! Beautiful!

#3 Comment By PJM On December 6, 2018 @ 12:20 pm

Amen. We can’t lose sight of the goodness that is in the world and given to each one of us from a loving creator.

#4 Comment By Northern Observer On December 6, 2018 @ 12:42 pm

Amen.

#5 Comment By JonF On December 6, 2018 @ 12:44 pm

A propos of nothing, but today, St Nicholas Day, is also when I start putting up the holiday decorations, though I won’t get the outdoor stuff done til the weekend. I put my icon of St Nicholas up in my bedroom last nite.

Now, on the broader topic, the greatest deficit of virtue I find in our world is not the lack of love or even of faith, but the lack of hope, and on all sides of every question. It’s one of the three great spiritual virtues and nothing good comes in it’s absence

#6 Comment By Lord Karth On December 6, 2018 @ 12:47 pm

An “optimist” may be operationally defined as “someone who only pays attention to the world around him intermittently”.

A Realist may be operationally defined as “someone who is aware of the world around him, and the Humans in that world, and fulfills his responsibilities in spite of that awareness”.

Your servant,

Lord Karth

#7 Comment By Harve On December 6, 2018 @ 1:11 pm

“It is my vocation to read, to watch, to contemplate, and to write about it. But it is far, far too easy, especially if you have a temperament like mine, to get lost in the darkness, and to lose sight of the straight path that God has laid before us, and that many people with lesser powers than our own still manage to stagger along it, rejoicing and not losing their way despite it all.”

Might I humbly suggest that this might be a New Year’s resolution to tape on the bathroom mirror?

“I am so bound to the world as it comes to me through my laptop.”

Resolution # 2: Curate my feeds.

#8 Comment By Locksley On December 6, 2018 @ 1:15 pm

Sure glad to know that you don’t use an artificial tree, Mr D. A blessed and happy Feast of St Nicholas to you and yours.

#9 Comment By ginger On December 6, 2018 @ 1:27 pm

My gratitude to Nabokov for putting into words a justification for looking around in wonder, noticing moments of goodness all around us, and remaining irrationally optimistic in the face of so much doom-and-gloom in the world.

There is only so much rationality people can handle before they start losing something precious about humanity.

#10 Comment By nkc On December 6, 2018 @ 1:30 pm

I am reminded of the time 35 or so years ago when my aunt and her young daughter were driving home from the grocery store the front end of her car was run over by a milk truck that went through a stop sign. A few inches more and my aunt and cousin would have been crushed but instead they were unharmed. My cousin, who was a toddler at the time was screaming in fear, but my aunt was distraught because the ice cream in the trunk of the now destroyed car was melting and she had to get it home and in the freezer.

#11 Comment By Shelley On December 6, 2018 @ 1:44 pm

Wonder is a magnetic force. It draws us towards it rather than pushing us from behind. I needed to be reminded today as we are now in the midst of emotional recovery from the earthquake. What a wonder that no one was killed. What a wonder that my house is structurally sound. What a wonder that the shattered roads are repaired already. What a wonder that everyone in the Anchorage Wasilla community pulled together in support. What a wonder that there has been no crime at all. What a wonder that life goes on in the midst of catastrophe and can even be joyful. What a wonder that we Alaskans are meeting the challenge with humor and laughter. I have so much to be grateful for today, like heat, electricity, running water, community, faith, family. The natural response to wonder is gratitude, thankfulness. And the highest expression of that thankfulness is Eucharist. So tonight we will gather in our intact and undamage church with all our healthy and uninjured people to remember the life of a man who walked in wonder and thankfulness by celebrating the Eucharist together. All is good.

#12 Comment By Roy Fassel On December 6, 2018 @ 1:44 pm

We just witness a funeral which witnessed a “Thousand Points of Light” and a hope for a “Kinder, gentler nation” .

One of the church messages of today’s Houston funeral was this scripture….:

1 Corinthians 13:13

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

This reflected the religion and thoughts of #41.

That age is now in a crisis mode. The toxic hatred and contempt for any and all that are different than the XXXXXXX, is a dark moment in America’s history. Hopefully, this period will soon pass.

#13 Comment By Roy Fassel On December 6, 2018 @ 2:02 pm

“It is instructive to think that there is not a single person in this room, or for that matter in any room in the world, who, at some nicely chosen point in historical space-time would not be put to death there and then, here and now, by a commonsensical majority in righteous rage. The color of one’s creed, neckties, eyes, thoughts, manners, speech, is sure to meet somewhere in time or space with a fatal objection from a mob that hates that particular tone. And the more brilliant, the more unusual the man, the nearer he is to the stake. Stranger always rhymes with danger. “

We live in an age when Christian doctrine is totally ignored….

This current Fundamentalist/Evangelical version of Christianity and its coalition with the new RINO Party will one day be looked at as an aberration in Christian history.

For instance…

Luke 6:31

New International Version

Do to others as you would have them do to you.

Or….

Matthew 7:12

In everything, then, do to others as you would have them do to you. For this is the essence of the Law and the prophets.

#14 Comment By Thomas Hobbes On December 6, 2018 @ 2:08 pm

Lovely, I could not agree with Nabokov more.

We took the kids to cut down trees for my parent’s and our own home last week and it was a wonderful time. My older kids are just getting to the point where they have opinions about what makes the best type of Christmas tree. The misty northwestern forest hills made for a spectacular backdrop as well.

#15 Comment By Lee Penn On December 6, 2018 @ 2:47 pm

This Akathist of Thanksgiving offers support for Nabokov’s view of goodness:

[2]

It was written by a priest who was a prisoner in the Gulag, during the 1930s.

#16 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On December 6, 2018 @ 2:48 pm

The second result is that the irrational belief in the goodness of man… becomes something much more than the wobbly basis of idealistic philosophies. It becomes a solid and iridescent truth.

So, the drum-beat that man is inherently evil and THAT is why the liberals, or socialists, or even the Montessori school down the street, or other enemy du jour, have their fate sealed in the end, appears to be significantly misguided?

Lord Karth may be operationally defined as the conjoined evil twin of Charles Cosimano, albeit the juncture is a metaphysical one, not, as it were, at the hip.

#17 Comment By Hound of Ulster On December 6, 2018 @ 2:59 pm

Had a day off from work (wage slave life yo :)) and was able to attend the festal liturgy for St. Nicholas. A more peaceful and beautiful day here in Santa Cruz ☦️❤️😊 can never be had. Don’t be afraid of the cracks caused by our sins, for it is through those cracks that the grace of God gets in and fills us up.

#18 Comment By Thomas On December 6, 2018 @ 3:06 pm

About the closet to pure love I have felt in a long long time happened the other night. My 3 year old struggling to go to sleep was flopping and flipping around fighting sleep. I was probably laying in the dark just hoping he would go to sleep but he always kept coming back to snuggle up next to me for comfort or either when he in an ecstatic voice screamed for all of his friends to hear that his daddy was here and he was going with me and one of his friends came back looking for him and he said that I was there and she just replied oh because at that age it is just accepted that daddy is important.

#19 Comment By Mark B. On December 6, 2018 @ 3:07 pm

Great post, mr. Dreher. Being a fan of you (although I can sometimes shoot you after reading), I do sometimes wonder how you manage to stay sane, espescially editing all those comments. I know I lost it a while ago, seeing progressive dystopia and/or alt-right concentration camps everywhere after reading TAC and engaging myself with fellow readers a bit too much. Feeling lost in the darkness, wondering later why I wrote what I wrote and what it is I really think and believe in.

BTW: I am reading a book, God in search of Man by Abraham Joshua Hesschel. It states that all religions and indeed life itself is without real value if there is no room to wonder at trifles or to wonder at all.

So my motto for 2019: Read less and wonder more.

#20 Comment By charles cosimano On December 6, 2018 @ 3:54 pm

Happy St. Nicholas Day

And don’t forget the Krampus.

#21 Comment By Lance On December 6, 2018 @ 7:38 pm

I’ll do like always and hang half price lights and maybe decorate a free tree either Christmas Eve or Day, and leave them up all Christmas, which begins Christmas Day, because I do not let culture run my religion.

#22 Comment By Khalid mir On December 6, 2018 @ 10:40 pm

In the deserts of the heart
Let the healing fountain start,
In the prison of his days
Teach the free man how to praise.

–Auden.

#23 Comment By Norman Wood On December 6, 2018 @ 11:01 pm

A bit out of context, but “All will be well, all will be well, all manner of thing will be well.”

#24 Comment By Lord Karth On December 7, 2018 @ 3:00 am

@Siarlys @ 2:48 PM:

I invite you to make the rounds of the Family and criminal courts of Upstate NY with me. Having practiced in them for 30 years, I have seen very little evidence to contradict my definitions and far more to confirm them. If anything, I commit the error of understatement. Were you to have accompanied me to my one Family Court trial of yesterday, you would have received positive, if not conclusive proof of the truth of my definitions—and that matter was run-of-the-mill.

In any case, Reality is. I call myself Realist because correct and accurate perception of the Real World—in all its aspects, including the Human—is survival-oriented and something to be aspired to. If you choose not to acknowledge the truth that is implied, then so be it. I sorrow for you.

Your servant,

Lord Karth

#25 Comment By Lord Karth On December 7, 2018 @ 3:17 am

Also, Siarlys, do not make the mistake Mr. Cosimano makes. He assumes that the disregard for one’s obligations is a good thing. I do not.

My chief Motto can be summarized as follows: Life primarily consists of, and is oriented towards, the discharge of responsibility through the performance of duty.

One’s obligations and responsibilities exist, and must be carried out to the best of one’s abilities, despite the actions and interference (“positive” or “negative”) of those around one. To do anything less is to deliberately murder one’s honor and that of one’s family, House and Line, potentially back to the first generation.

To assume that my worldview aligns with that of our Cosimano-friend is to commit a fundamental and somewhat basic error; this is rather unlike you.

But so be it; your perception is what it is. I wish you clarity in and correctness of that perception; your survival depends on it.

Your servant,

Lord Karth

#26 Comment By dan On December 7, 2018 @ 7:31 am

“So, the drum-beat that man is inherently evil and THAT is why the liberals, or socialists, or even the Montessori school down the street, or other enemy du jour, have their fate sealed in the end, appears to be significantly misguided?”

Replace ‘evil’ with ‘sick’ and its still more or less true. For the record, I wouldn’t include Montessori. Also, its a product of our sickness that we’d even dream up something like socialism rather than just focusing on our neighbor, our Christmas Tree, etc.

#27 Comment By Clifford On December 7, 2018 @ 7:47 am

Very good words for this day, Rod.

I was going to celebrate St. Nicholas by punching a heretic, but that’s not very optimistic or in keeping with the season. And, goodness me, where to begin? The list is rather long nowadays. Plus, I don’t think Mary would spring me from jail.

#28 Comment By connecticut farmer On December 7, 2018 @ 9:18 am

Good job, Rod. A reminder that with all the turmoil and anxiety in the world, it remains a thing of mystery and beauty. So much to learn and appreciate, so little time!

#29 Comment By Alan Reynolds On December 7, 2018 @ 11:57 am

My thoughts on why optimism is an illusion:

[3]

#30 Comment By Thomas Hobbes On December 7, 2018 @ 4:08 pm

Siarlys Jenkins says:
So, the drum-beat that man is inherently evil and THAT is why the liberals, or socialists, or even the Montessori school down the street, or other enemy du jour, have their fate sealed in the end, appears to be significantly misguided?

Man is inherently broken and often wicked, but even those broken and wicked men can perceive beauty and even, on occasion, create great beauty. Further more, despite our terrible machinations, we can’t come close to destroying beauty.

#31 Comment By JonF On December 10, 2018 @ 11:18 am

A friend took me to a performance of Handel’s Messiah at the BSO Saturday night (he had a gift certificate that was about to expire). And I will say that I was impressed- I have the Messiah on CD at home though I haven’t listened to it in a good long while, but hearing it done live is an order of magnitude more glorious. And I reflected on how Handel, like Bach, was the product of a difficult era, a time of war, epidemics, corruption, injustice and a climatic downturn that produced some brutal famines. We humans are a bundle of contradictions, capable of great beauty, and heroism too, in the midst of our darkness.

#32 Comment By Thomas Hobbes On December 10, 2018 @ 3:08 pm

JohF says:
And I reflected on how Handel, like Bach, was the product of a difficult era, a time of war, epidemics, corruption, injustice and a climatic downturn that produced some brutal famines. We humans are a bundle of contradictions, capable of great beauty, and heroism too, in the midst of our darkness.

I’m inclined believe that most of our great art arises from pain and suffering and perhaps requires it. There is an Elisabeth Kübler-Ross quote: People are like stained-glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed only if there is a light from within. That, I suspect only tells half the story. Stained-glass windows are actually pretty drab in the daylight from the outside and many people just coast through life in times of comfort. Sometimes suffering and darkness is required to bring out the light within.