Illusory Exiles and The Texture of Time

Rachel Trousdale, Agnes Scott College

Van’s novella, The Texture of Time, is the heart of Nabokov's Ada. The novella (which Nabokov began as a stand-alone piece) explains Nabokov’s understanding of the nature of time as continuous and nonlinear. But since the novella has been filtered through Ada’s narrator, it also reveals Van’s failures. Despite his avowal of Nabokov’s philosophy of temporal continuity, Van systematically misunderstands the nature of time throughout both his text and his life. For Van, time is ultimately linear, a process, albeit one which can be fixed or frozen in memory. Van’s desire in the novel is to achieve a static reconstruction of his childhood. For Nabokov, however, time cannot and need not be frozen: “memory” is not so much a means of recalling the past as a faulty term for how the human consciousness can transcend linear time, making all times part of the eternal present. Van attempts this transcendence, but fails, instead producing a distorted and solipsistic version of his childhood affair with Ada. Nabokov uses Van’s failure to demonstrate the artificiality of separate and linear notions of time, space, and mortality.

Nabokov’s notion of time is a key to understanding the peculiar nature of exile in his novels. Nabokov’s exiles are not those who have left their homelands, but those whose consciousnesses are incapable of synchronizing past and present. Furthermore, the continuous nature of time reveals the continuous nature of the “real” world and the otherworld: the two are not, as some critics suppose, separate worlds linked by occasional communications, but simultaneous. The topics of time, geography, and immortality are no more separate than the different worlds are: Nabokov, like Einstein, posits a continuum. Nabokov’s view, which he gives to his readers, is the view of Boethius’s God: outside of time and space, looking at the picture as a whole. For Nabokov, exile and death are not absolute states: rather, they are the false perceptions of a limited consciousness.