jim, vlad, tommy & raynor: a cosmic link
last thursday, i posted a map that vladimir nabokov used when teaching joyce to thomas pynchon. an anonymous operative in dublin axed me where he could get a higher-rez image and i promised that i would look into the matter. this is how my quest starts. how it ends is with me pawing through nabokov’s original papers in the inner-most sanctum of the new york public library. here is the in-between stuff:
part the first: a map quest
the original map is housed in the morgan collection of the nypl. since i was going to be in the city this weekend with some time to kill, i thought i would try and see how close that i could come to getting my greasy mitts on a facsimilie of the map.
i have a long and sordid history of infiltrating libraries and figured that the nypl would be lemon pound cake. it wasn’t. it took 3 levels of access (for which i had no ready documentation) and a lot of paperwork. ultimately the decision came down to the morgan curator, donna barker. my access would be based entirely upon her assessment of 1. how legit that i was (i am not legit) and 2. the reasons for my wanting to see nabokov’s unpublished papers (a whim? scorching curiosity?).
after a lot of blah-blah-blahing i was admitted into room 444. donna then reviewed my paperwork and grilled me for fifteen minutes before finally acquiescing. within the hour i received a folder containing not facsimiles of nabokov’s papers but the real deal—coffee ringed, besmudged, finger-printed, mothball-scented* handwritten notes of one of the giants of western literature!
part the second: notes on his notes
i have handled highly revered objects before. i have made small talk with authors that i admire at book signings. but i have never lost my shit the way i did when a librarian dropped a big folder with nabokov’s personal writings into my lap and told me to go to town. after composing myself, i was able to make a few notes. here are some (in bullet form for ease of reading):
- there were actually 3 different versions of the maps all with mostly the same information. each was on standard letter-sized typing paper.
- nabokov’s handwriting was meticulous and bold with an occasional flourish. i was delighted to see that at points he lapsed into [what appeared to be] sütterlinschrift (seen especially in his medial s’s).
- the maps themselves were not very different from standard ones like this and this.
- nabokov calculates that bloom walks 5 miles throughout the day.
- for reasons not readily understandable, he drew england about 1,000 feet off the coast of dublin.
- while i was sifting through personal notes written by one of the top writers of the twentieth century, sitting in a room containing original manuscripts and love letters by the likes of woolf, pound, yeats, kerouac and james, the curator was reading a patrick o’brian novel.
- in the end, donna would NOT let me photocopy anything. she said that i would first need to get the permission of dmitri nabokov. i joked that dmitiri would probably oblige given his latest decision regarding his father’s literary estate. this joke did not go over so well.
- dmitiri however, failed to prevent me from taking notes and i WAS able to recreate the whole map on my own little scrap of paper. perhaps in 500 years, some pesky hoverboard-riding blogger might con his way into the new nypl so as to catch a quick peak of the raynor/nabokov/joyce map. or perhaps it will wind up as trash and a hobo will use it to toilet train his golden retreiver. only time will tell.
*yes, i sniffed it.