Nabokov and Marcus Aurelius

Nabokov and Marcus Aurelius

Yesterday morning I was reading a passage in V. Nabokov’s Speak, Memory. In the introduction there is this passage:

Nature expects a full-grown man to accept the two black voids, fore and aft, as stolidly as he accepts the extraordinary visions in between. […] my mind has made colossal efforts to distinguish the faintest of personal glimmers in the impersonal darkness on both sides of my life.
(emphasis added)

And later in the evening, I’ve found a quote from Marcus Aurelius, the philosopher-emperor of the ancient Rome:
Roman - Portrait of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius - Walters 23215

You have the power to strip away many superfluous troubles located wholly in your judgment, and to possess a large room for yourself embracing in thought the whole cosmos, to consider everlasting time, to think of the rapid change in the parts of each thing, of how short it is from birth until dissolution, and how the void before birth and that after dissolution are equally infinite
(Meditations, Book 9)

Black void, darkness on both sides of the life – before birth and after death. Seemingly my favourite author liked the emperor… Actually, all his work is full of this kind of hidden and less hidden allusions to authors, literary texts and who-knows-what. Enjoy!

One thought on “Nabokov and Marcus Aurelius

  1. I happen to know why one of your friends is not impressed by Nabokov or Marcus Aurelius: he’s a little familiar with Epicurus and Lucretius whose powerful influence on Marcus Aurelius is acknowledged by the scholars who studied this “latter-day” Stoic.
    Martha Nussbaum in her ‘The Therapy of Desire: Theory and Practice in Hellenistic Ethics’ called it “symmetry argument”. The symmetry argument “points out that the time before we were born is, as all will agree, a time that is of no concern to us: not in the sense that now, during our lives, we do not take an interest in the events of history, as we clearly do, but in the sense that then, we did not suffer either good or ill, even if good or bad things were then happening, since we were not even in existence. So too, the argument continues, if we take away the illicit fiction of the survivor, we will see that the time after our death is, equally, of no concern to us, in the sense that it is a time during which we can suffer neither good nor ill, no matter what events are going on, since we will not even exist.”
    The symmetry argument was one of the Epicurean tools to take away the fear of death, an “impersonal” “ void”, to use the neutral words of the later authors you quote, and whose images of “darkness” and “blackness” seem to hint at some sort of relapse into “”the dread of something after death – the undiscover’d country from whose bourn no traveler returns”.

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