Pnin Panics

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I am inappropriately and absurdly in love with Vladimir Nabokov. I want to scrape his words from the page and eat them for three square meals. I want to live on their bread alone. It couldn’t be too hard to scrape them up; he writes such vivid prose his words seem corporeal and textured.

With the scalpel edge of his exacting words he delves into open heart surgery on poor Professor Pnin. But he does not find the things the surgeons find, rather Nabokov’s instruments discover the revenants of the human interior: hope, anxiety, wonder. And his findings are carefully listed in the pages of his novel.

Beneath the cracked sternum, somewhere near the galloping heart, Nabokov finds in perfect form the terrible tremors and visions of human anxiety. It is a small metaphysical organ reaching its claws toward the chambers of blood, which it now and then squeezes, causing panic and dizziness. It is a memento mori.

Pnin’s panic attack ensues:

“The wave of hopeless fatigue that suddenly submerged his topheavy body, detaching him, as it were, from reality, was a sensation not utterly unknown to him….Was it a mysterious disease that none of his doctors had yet detected?…He felt porous and pregnable. He was sweating. He was terrified….He pressed his poor bald head against the stone back of the bench and recalled all the past occasions of similar discomfort and despair….It all happened in a flash but there is no way of rendering it in less than so many consecutive words.”

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