Saturday, November 14, 2009
Not Even a Footnote
I have read three or four reviews of the newly released posthumous incomplete novel of Nabokov, and I wanted to provide a little footnote here, something none of the reviewers have mentioned as far as I can tell. Maybe it is mentioned in the book, which I have not read: the technique of mental self-annihilation practiced by the protagonist (making himself disappear from the toes up) is an old one. I want to say it is Tibetan. I want to say I read about it in either Alexandra David-Neel or Thomas Merton, but I can't find the passage, which is why this turns out not to be a footnote, even. I found a form of meditation in David-Neel's MAGIC AND MYSTERY IN TIBET (1929) in which "A deity is imagined; it is first contemplated alone, then from its body spring out other forms sometimes like its own, sometimes different. There are often four of them, but in some meditations they become hundreds or even innumerable. When all these personages have appeared quite clearly around the central figure, they are one after another reabsorbed in it. Now the original deity remains again alone and gradually begins to disappear. The feet vanish first and then slowly the whole body and finally the head. Only a dot remains. This may be dark, coloured, or purely luminous." But that's not what I'm talking about. Nor am I talking about the terrifying "red meal" described in the same book, where a bunch of weird creatures eat the body of the meditator. That's part of a ritual called "chod." (There's supposed to be an umlaut in chod, which you will have to supply with your imagination.) When Ms. David-Neel practiced chod, she saw "a transparent giant, whose eyes were two stars." That's not what I'm talking about, but neat-o. Well, I can't find confirmation of exactly what I'm talking about, but I know exactly what I'm talking it about, and I think it's exactly what Nabokov was talking about. This is not helpful! But sometimes things aren't helpful. And that's okay! Read your Chuang Tzu if you don't believe me!