by Gautam Pemmaraju
Thro’ the Heaven and Earth and Hell
Thou Shalt never, never quell:
I will fly and thou pursue:
Night and morn the flight renew’.
From William Blake's My Spectre Around Me Day And Night
Once I happened to see two brothers, tennis champions, matched against one another; their strokes were totally different, and one of the two was far, far better than the other; but the general rhythm of their actions as they swept all over the court was exactly the same, so that had it been possible to draft both systems two identical designs would have appeared.
In search of the derelict details of his deceased half brother, V, the narrator of Nabokov’s The Real Life of Sebastian Knight, offers these words while reflecting upon the mysterious cadences that seem to be mirrored between siblings. But here, the sibling in no mere blood brother, he is no mere adventurer who sought fortune in a distant land, reinventing himself in name, manner and consciousness, but is instead in some sense, a projected second self, a döppelganger, an adrift double of V. Sebastian Knight, the gloomy maladroit émigré, whose successful literary conquests of the English language, driven in part by his unsuccessful attempts to ‘out-England England’ as V observes, was the ‘other’ – a phantasmagoric illusion of sorts, who had walked the path before him. The path of course, is no clear or easy one; it is instead chancy and treacherous; it is at times, labyrinthine and inscrutable, but as V discovers in ‘following the bends of his life’: “I daresay Sebastian and I also had some kind of common rhythm”. A sense of déjà vu, of an ‘it-happening-before’ twinship, persistently accosts V as he journeys on to trace Sebastian’s meandering and desolate path, leading ultimately, to the circumstances of his death.