An Excerpt from Nabokov’s Despair
The nonexistence of God is simple to prove. Impossible to concede for example, that a serious Jah, all wise and almighty, could employ his time in such inane fashion as playing with manikins, and—what is still more incongruous—should restrict his game to the dreadfully trite laws of mechanics, chemistry, mathematics, and never-mind you, never!—show his face, but allow surreptitious peeps and circumlocutions, and the sneaky whispering (revelations, indeed!) of contentious truths from behind the back of some gentle hysteric.
All this divine business is, I presume, a huge hoax for which priests are certainly not to blame; priests themselves are its victims. The idea of God was invented in the small hours of history by a scamp who had genius; it somehow reeks too much of humanity, that idea, to make its azure origin plausible; by which I do not mean it is the fruit of crass ignorance; that scamp of mine was skilled in celestial lore—and really I wonder which variation of Heaven is best: that dazzle of argus-eyed angels fanning their wings, or that curved mirror in which a self-complacent professor of physics recedes, getting ever smaller and smaller. There is yet another reason why I cannot, nor wish to, believe in God: the fairy tale about him is not really mine, it belongs to strangers, to all men; it is soaked through by the evil-smelling effluvia of millions of other souls who have spun about a little under the sun and then burst; it swarms with primordial fears; there echoes in it a confused choir of numberless voices striving to drown one another out; I hear it in the boom and pant of the organ, the roar of the orthodox deacon, the croon of the cantor, Negroes wailing, the flowing eloquency of the Protestant preacher, gongs, thunderclaps, spasms of epileptic women; I see shining through it the pallid pages of all philosophies like the foam of long-spent waves; it is foreign to me, and odious and absolutely useless.
If I am not master of my own life, not sultan of my own being, then no man’s logic and no man’s ecstatic fits may force me to find less silly my impossibly silly position: that of God’s slave; no, not his slave even, but just a match which is aimlessly struck and then blown out by some inquisitive child, the terror of his toys. There are, however, no grounds for anxiety: God does not exist, as neither does our hereafter, that second bogey being as easily disposed of as the first. Indeed, imagine yourself dead—and suddenly wide awake in Paradise where, wreathed in smiles, your dear dead welcome you.
Now tell me, please, what guarantee do you possess that those beloved guests are genuine; that it is really your dear dead mother and not some petty demon mystifying you, masked as your mother and impersonating her with consummate art and naturalness? There is the rub, there is the horror; the more so as the acting will go on, endlessly; never, never, never will your soul in that other world be quite sure that the sweet gentle spirits crowding about it are not friends in disguise, and forever, and forever, and forever shall your soul remain in doubt, expecting every moment some awful change, some diabolical sneer to disfigure the dear face bending over you.
That is the reason why I am ready to accept all, come what may, the burly executioner in his top hat, and then the hollow hum of blank eternity; but I refuse to undergo the tortures of everlasting life, I do not want those cold white little dogs. Let me go, I will not stand the least token of tenderness, I warn you, for all is deceit, a low conjuring trick. I do not trust anything or anyone—and when the dearest being I know in this world meets me in the next and the arms I know stretch out to embrace me, I shall emit a yell of sheer horror, I shall collapse on the paradisian turf, writhing. . . oh, I know not what I shall do! No, let the strangers not be admitted to the land of the blessed.
Still, despite me lack of faith, I am by nature neither sullen nor wicked. When I returned from Tarnitz to Berlin and drew up an inventory of my soul’s belongings, I rejoiced like a child over the small but certain riches found therein, and I had the sensation that, renovated, refreshed, released, I was entering, as the saying goes, upon a new period of life…in short I was bursting with fierce energy which I did not know how to apply.
—Vladimir Nabokov, writing from the view of Hermann in his seventh novel, originally written in Russian (in which he translated into English himself). I am unsure whether or not Nabokov shares the same view as his character but something tells me he does, although that is not an important issue for me, rather his beautiful style of writing is what transfixes me. I, along with scores of others regard Nabokov as the greatest, most talented writer to ever live. The book was written in Russian in 1934 and translated to English in 1937. However, during World War II German bombs destroyed most/all of the 1937 English editions of the book. The Russian version was again translated to English by the author in 1965, the ’65 version being the only English version around today. Indeed, my version of the novel, although it’s pages are brittle and falling out, is dated Copyright 1965-66.