Monday, July 28, 2008

"The integrity of my sleep has been forever compromised, sir."

{Photo by rocketlass.}

One night last week I dreamed that a previously unknown and unpublished story by Vladimir Nabokov, called "H. H. in Eden," had come to light. Even as I was dreaming, I was trying deliberately to remember the details of the story as I read it; the usual half-lucidity of my dreaming self allowed me to know that the only place "H. H. in Eden" actually existed was in my head. Though on waking I lost the rich language of Nabokov--which, heartbreakingly, was fully realized in the dream--I retained the basic outline of the tale.

What I remember of it is this:
Humbert Humbert, having somehow escaped the fate described for him in the introduction to Lolita, manages to trick the Archangel Michael into letting him slip into the long-vacant Eden to escape the hash he has made of his life. Once past Michael and his flaming sword, however, Humbert is surprised to discover that Eden, rather than being depopulated . . . is full of other Humberts. Somehow {and here is where my ability to translate the logic of dreamlife begins to break down} that brings home to Humbert the painful realization that Michael hadn't been fooled at all, and that he'd let Humbert, not into Eden, but into Purgatory.
And there, with that somewhat metaphysical take on an O. Henry twist, the story ended. If only I could get back to that specific dream--but we so rarely find our way back to the same dreams twice, to what Proust called the "second apartment that we have, into which, abandoning our own, we go in order to sleep." I fear that the summary above is all our world is likely to enjoy of "H. H. in Eden."

The dream reminded me that I haven't yet presented a link to a pleasantly strange article by Hilary Mantel that appeared in the Guardian a while back, in which she tells of a story that, Coleridge-like, she pulled straight from a dream. Explains Mantel,
Wrapped in its peculiar atmosphere, as if draped in clouds, I walked entranced to my desk at about 4am and typed it on to the screen. The story was called "Nadine at Forty". In its subject matter, in its tone, its setting, it bore no relation to anything I have ever written before or since. It extended itself easily into paragraphs, requiring little correction and not really admitting any; how could my waking self revise what my sleeping self had imagined? By 6am I had finished. I was shaking with fatigue.
Part of what draws me to Mantel as a writer is her ability to plausibly--and yet chillingly--convey, both in fiction or memoir, uncanny moments; in this particular tale, there's still another unexpected creepy turn to come once she's transcribed the story from her dream brain to her computer.

I should also point out the nice recent piece on sleep in the London Review of Books by regular contributor Jenny Diski. Diski is a lover of sleep, while I only reluctantly make my daily peace with its necessity, but her column is wonderfully decriptive and anecdotal, her description of the borderlands of sleep--forevermore owned by Proust though they may be--sufficiently enchanting to justify reading the whole article:
Coming to, coming round. Slowly. Holding onto sleep, then hovering in hypnoland for as long as you can. Jung almost redeems himself from creepy spiritus munditude with the story in which he asks his new patient, a pathologically anxious, blocked writer, to describe his day in detail. ‘Well, I wake, get up and . . .’ ‘Stop,’ Jung says. ‘That’s where you’re going wrong.’ Not likely to be true, but perfectly correct. The hinterland between sleeping and waking is what compensates for having to start and get through the day, blocked writer, besieged schoolteacher or sullen secretary as I’ve been in my time.
Finally, a prize* awaits the first person who can tell me where I took this post's headline from.

*Prize to be your choice of one of two books I've discovered multiple copies of recently in my house: Tanizaki's Some Prefer Nettles or the second volume of Tolstoy's letters. This is, after all, a low-rent blog, which fact prizes will necessarily reflect.


  1. Five-plus years later, you win, fungloid. And I honor my debts--but I do have to weasel a bit: I no longer have the extra Tolstoy volume, but I will gladly send the Tanizaki if you'll e-mail me your address. I'm at levistahl at