Luzhin was indeed tired. Lately he had been playing too frequently and too unsystematically: he was particularly fatigued by playing blind, a rather well-paid performance that he willingly gave. He found therein deep enjoyment: one did not have to deal with visible, audible, palpable pieces whose quaint shape and wooden materiality always disturbed him and always seemed to him but the crude, mortal shell of exquisite, invisible chess forces. When playing blind he was able to sense these diverse forces in their original purity.

The Luzhin Defense by Vladimir Nabokov, first published in Russian in 1930, translated to English in 1964 by Michael Scammell in collaboration with the author. Quote from the Vintage Books edition, 1990, p. 91. Google Books, Powell’s Books, Amazon.

When I first read this excerpt from Nabokov’s novel about ten years ago, I thought it was an appropriate parable for the pleasures and the dangers associated with abstract thinking: i.e. thinking without the constraints nor the guidance of empirical evidence.

Here’s the same quote in its French translation:

Loujine était réellement très las. Ces derniers temps il avait beaucoup joué, de manière irrégulière, et, en particulier, le jeu à l’aveugle, performance assez bien payée et qu’il pratiquait volontiers, l’avait fatigué. Il y goûtait une jouissance profonde : on n’avait pas à faire à des pièces visibles, audibles, palpables, dont la ciselure précieuse et la matérialité le gênaient toujours et qui lui semblaient être la grossière enveloppe terrestre de forces invisibles et merveilleuses. C’est quand il jouait à l’aveugle qu’il ressentait ces forces diverses dans leur pureté originelle. (tr. from Russian by Genia et René Cannac, Gallimard, Folio coll., Paris, [1964]1991, p.102)


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