The Air at the Top of the Bottle

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The Non-Cinema Rubric (3)

December 1st, 2011 · 2 Comments

The glum protagonist of Vladimir Nabokov’s first novel, Mary, sinks so low that he works as a movie extra:

“Nothing was beneath his dignity; more than once he had even sold his shadow, as many of us have.  In other words he went out to the suburbs to work as a movie extra on a set, in a fairground barn, where light seethed with a mystical hiss from the huge facets of lamps that were aimed, like cannon, at a crowd of extras, lit to a deathly brightness.  They would fire a barrage of murderous brilliance, illumining the painted wax of motionless faces, then expiring with a click — but for a long time yet there would glow, in those elaborate crystals, dying red sunsets — our human shame.  The deal was clinched, and our anonymous shadows sent out all over the world.”

The poor man even has to suffer the indignity of seeing himself on screen:

“And at the present moment Ganin felt not only shame but also a sense of the fleeting evanescence of human life.  There on the screen his haggard image, his sharp uplifted face and clapping hands merged into the gray kaleidoscope of other figures; a moment later, swinging like a ship, the auditorium vanished and now the scene showed an aging, world-famous actress giving a very skillful representation of a dead young woman.  ‘We know not what we do,’ Ganin thought with repulsion, unable to watch the film any longer.”

(Posted by Doug Skinner)

Tags: Non-cinema

2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Lisa // Dec 2, 2011 at 11:58 am

    Sounds like an even grimmer version of “Day of the Locust.” I’ve never heard of Mary – now I will have to read it!

  • 2 Doug // Dec 2, 2011 at 1:02 pm

    Ganin’s extra work is brief, but Nabokov does interesting things with it. Mary herself is a shadow, a memory and photo — but you’ll have to read it. And I certainly sympathize with the visceral distaste for movies.

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