On Love, Infinity, and the Art of Self-Preservation

From Speak, Memory, by Vladimir Nabokov

Whenever I start thinking of my love for a person, I am in the habit of immediately drawing radii from my love – from my heart, from the tender nucleus of a personal matter – to monstrously remote points of the universe.  Something impels me to measure the consciousness of my love against such unimaginable and incalculable things as the behavior of nebulae (whose very remoteness seems a form of insanity), the dreadful pitfalls of eternity, the unknowledgeable beyond the unknown, the helplessness, the cold, the sickening involutions and interpenetrations of space and time.  It is a pernicious habit, but I can do nothing about it.  It can be compared to the uncontrollable flick of an insomniac’s tongue checking a jagged tooth in the night of his mouth and bruising itself in doing so but still persevering.  I have known people who, upon accidentally touching something – a doorpost, a wall – had to go through a certain very rapid and systematic sequence of manual contacts with various surfaces in the room before returning to a balanced existence.  It cannot be helped; I must know where I stand, where you and my son stand.  When that slow-motion, silent explosion of love takes place in me, unfolding its melting fringes and overwhelming me with the sense of something much vaster, much more enduring and powerful than the accumulation of matter or energy in any imaginable cosmos, then my mind cannot but pinch itself to see if it is really awake.  I have to make a rapid inventory of the universe, just as a man in a dream tries to condone the absurdity of his position by making sure he is dreaming.  I have to have all space and all time participate in my emotion, in my mortal love, so that the edge of its mortality is taken off, thus helping me to fight the utter degradation, ridicule, and horror of having developed an infinity of sensation and thought within a finite existence.

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One thought on “On Love, Infinity, and the Art of Self-Preservation

  1. Pingback: Miss Mary and Lotte at the Hill Crest « into the flare and glare

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