In Speak, Memory, why does the author try to defy time?

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Time is something that all humans, no matter how powerful, wealthy or prestigious, are subject to. This relationship that humanity has with time has been the subject of much literary focus throughout the ages. Shakespeare for example wrote his Sonnets primarily as a way of immortalising the beauty of his beloved, protecting him from the ravages of time and encapsulating his youthfulness. It is only natural therefore that Nabokov should join in the ranks of such literary figures in his attempt to use his literary art to combat the power of time. What Nabokov does in this text is to explore the power of memory as his prime technique of defeating time. Through memory, Nabokov argues, time can be defeated as moments in the past can be summoned up once again through the ages in such a vivid and realistic way as to defy time and its power on our lives as humans. Note the following quote:

I witness with pleasure the supreme achievement of memory, which is the masterly use it makes of innate harmonies when gathering to its fold the suspended and wandering tonalities of the past. I like to imagine, in consummation and resolution of those jangling chords, something as enduring, in retrospect, as the long table that on summer birthdays and namedays used to be laid for afternoon chocolate out of doors, in an alley of birches, limes and maples at its debouchment on the smooth sanded space of the garden proper that separated the park and the house.

Nabokov here pays homage to the "supreme achievement of memory," which, in his opinion, is the way that it can resurrect the past and bring it into the present. He uses the memory of eating outside during the long summers for important occasions and finds that the senses that his memory is able to create bring back the past to him and mean that time has, in effect, lost its power. This is why Nabokov, elsewhere in this book, says that he does "not believe in time." With memory, he argues, time is rendered powerless.

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