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Archive for January, 2011

I believe this needs to be tom-tommed.

 

[ … I have hunted butterflies in various climes and disguises: as a pretty boy in knickerbockers and sailor cap; as a lanky cosmopolitan expatriate in flannel bags and beret; as a fat hatless old man in shorts”. (Speak, Memory). Photo: Vladimir Nabokov as Lepidopterist. (From Nabokov Museum)]

Nabokov, Dostoevsky, Kafka and Camus would be four picks that I would make if I were to pick from the bag of my favourite non-science/logic authors. And each would be for an entirely different reason. I have always believed that Nabokov was the un-surpassable one when it came to intricate word play and constructing word-filigrees. I relate his remarkable ability to swim through words and conjuring up unimaginably beautiful lines from him being a synesthete, made even more remarkable by the fact that English was his third language.  That aside, Nabokov had a parallel existence as an auto-didactic lepidopterist with a serious interest in Chess problems. While I knew that he had an interest in butterflies (and wrote poems on them), I somehow thought it might be more of a dabble than a serious interest. But it turns out that it was much more than that. 60 years after he did so, his theory on a particular genus of butterflies turns out to be remarkably true. I found this story very interesting. Read more about this here (Nabokov Theory on Butterfly Evolution is Vindicated By Carl Zimmer).

 

Acmon blue butterfly, described by Nabokov in 1944. Photo from the New York Times

On Discovering a Butterfly (Nabokov, 1943).

I found it and I named it, being versed
in taxonomic Latin; thus became
…godfather to an insect and its first
describer — and I want no other fame.

Wide open on its pin (though fast asleep),
and safe from creeping relatives and rust,
in the secluded stronghold where we keep
type specimens it will transcend its dust.

Dark pictures, thrones, the stones that pilgrims kiss,
poems that take a thousand years to die
but ape the immortality of this
red label on a little butterfly.

_____________

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