Nabokov on Happiness

October 29, 2009

“Listen: I am ideally happy. My happiness is a kind of challenge. As I wander along the streets and the squares and the paths by the canal, absently sensing the lips of dampness through my worn soles, I carry proudly my ineffable happiness. The centuries will roll by, and schoolboys will yawn over the history of our upheavals; everything will pass, but my happiness, dear, my happiness will remain, in the moist reflection of a street lamp, in the cautious bend of stone steps that descend into the canal’s black waters, in the smiles of a dancing couple, in everything with which God so generously surrounds human loneliness.”

— Vladimir Nabokov in Selected Letters 1940-1977


“God”, of course, is not so relevant to my own sense of ineffable happiness. I could replace him equally with “nature”, or perhaps “the eyes”. If I reel in the scent or the sight of summer jasmine, it is not because God has so generously allowed it, but because I have. It is a re-awakening, you know, this recovery-of-life-post-mental-illness.

Happiness for me, too, is a kind of challenge. It’s a point of choice. For one so pre-disposed to be moody, reclusive and critical, to be happy requires a certain amount of force. Sometimes it’s a force I’m not willing to exert. But more often these days I’ll run all circles for a moment’s tilt at that “ineffable happiness”, especially in the presence of trees.

Right-i-o, then. Back to my essay on Wordsworth, Blake and Carlyle and the phenomonology of history. Then next week it’s Kenneth Slessor, ‘Five Bells’, and the world literary space. And then, I’m done. English Honours, kaBOOM.


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