FROM NOW ON 3 - chrysalis

by Susan Weber

Lips to Lips is a story by Vladimir Nabokov about a well-to-do businessman named Ilya Borisovich who, on the cusp of old age and overcome by writer’s itch, decides to write a novel.

If you read the story, you can see why Ilya Borisovich’s fate might give a writer pause. You may squirm a bit, as I do, to watch the literati of Berlin and Paris have their fun with the neophyte’s swooning melodrama of a manuscript. Behind his back they snigger; to his face they stroke the giant ego so hungry for their high regard. Poor Ilya Borisovich, too busy selling bathroom fixtures to learn the difference between good writing and bad, has set himself up for the big, embarrassing reveal.

Nabokov himself was a lepidopterist, a zoologic term for butterfly expert. Other stories in his canon — Terra Incognita, The Aurelian, Christmas — teem with the minutiae of a butterfly hunt. Scholars have linked the author’s penchant for detail, contemplation, and symmetry to his life-long pursuit of the bright-winged beauties. Indeed, a reader seldom wonders what is going on in a Nabokov story. Lips to Lips, with its precise description of the numerous ways by whiich Ilya Borisovich makes a fool of himself, is not a pretty sight. But the catastrophe is so well depicted, it's hard to look away.

I plan to take full advantage of the pupal stage of my writing. What's the rush to crawl out and flap my scrawny wings at the world? I pull my shell around me, dine on fine literature, practice swordplay with a pen while imagining a time, some distance from now, on a splendorous day, when I'll step out to get a little air.

Photo by Harald Süpfle CC BY-SA 3.0