The Insomniac’s Dream Diary: Part Four


Dream Diaries

Copyright © Ellis Rosen

This week, we’ll be running a series of dreams from the forthcoming Insomniac Dreams: Experiments with Time. For nearly three months in 1964, Nabokov recorded his dreams upon waking, as a way of testing J. W. Dunne’s theory that dreams offered not only “fragments of past impressions,” but also “a proleptic view of an event to come.” In other words, that dreams were a sort of reverse déjà vu, a way of subconsciously working through not only the past but the future. 

In this fourth installment, Nabokov has a confrontation with his father. 

38.     22 Nov. 1964 3.15 am                                                                                               

In a kind of lecture-hall during an informal performance or rehearsal of lecture. On the platform my father seated at a small table is reading and discussing something. Several people between the stage and me. Am eagerly taking down what he says. My mother is among the four or five people sitting in front of me. My father is now elucidating a point. I see and appreciate it and clear my throat a trifle too loudly while trying to jot down his argument as fully as possible. From the stage he suddenly addresses me—I nod my head supposing he is making the possible objection I have foreseen; but instead, he says to me: “Even if you are <new card> bored you might have the decency to sit quietly.” I feel deeply injured and reply (textual words [transl. from Russian], chosen and uttered with great care and dignity): “I think your observation to me is most unjust. I was listening attentively and with enormous interest.” I get up and start to leave hoping I shall be called back. But I hear behind me my father’s voice resuming his speech with a little less force than before. I visualize in a medallion of light to-morrow morning’s interview with him—imagine him in his beige dressing—<new card> gown. Shall I ignore what happened? Will he refer to it? I decide philosophically—a similar case has come up before within dream experience—that time will decide (curious that I saw myself imagining the future in my dream and vaguely recalling a past and that a sense of future, of time, clearly though somewhat crudely existed in my mind, i.e. I distinctly perceived the degree of difference in comparative reality between the dream vision and the dream prevision). It is odd that my father who was so good-natured, and gay, is always so morose and grim in my dreams.

■    VN’s father was killed in a lecture-hall of sorts (the Berlin Philharmonic Hall, used for public lectures) in March 1922 by a bullet intended for another man, Pavel Miliukov, a prominent left-wing member of the Russian liberal party of which V. D. Nabokov was a (moderate) founding member. Cf. the earlier Dream III, also a later one, Dream X, in part 3. Cf. also:

“His father often appeared to him in dreams, as if just returned from some monstrous penal servitude, having experienced physical tortures which it was forbidden to mention, now changed into clean linen—it was impossible to think of the body underneath—and with a completely uncharacteristic expression of unpleasant, momentous sullenness, with a sweaty brow and slightly bared teeth, sitting at table in the circle of his hushed family. But when, overcoming his sensation of the spuriousness of the very style foisted on fate, he nevertheless forced himself to imagine the arrival of a live father, aged but undoubtedly his, and the most complete, most convincing possible explanation of his silent absence, he was seized, not by happiness, but by a sickening terror—which, however, immediately disappeared and yielded to a feeling of satisfied harmony when he removed this meeting beyond the boundary of earthly life.” (The Gift, 99–100)

In his lectures The Borders of Gnoseology, Florensky calls this phenomenon paramnesia: “There is, strictly speaking, memory of the future just as there is memory of the past, both having to do with the proceeding order of time but shifting the past and the future, along with their temporal characteristics, to the present” (Florensky 1996, 56–57).


Excerpted from Insomnia Dreams: Experiments with Time by Vladimir Nabokov. Compiled, edited, and with commentary by Gennady Barabtarlo. Copyright © 2018 by the Estate of Dmitri Nabokov. Compilation, preface, parts 1 and 5, notes, and other editorial material copyright © 2018 by Princeton University Press. Reprinted by permission.