"In 1856 Dr. Jobard of Paris declared to a startled press: "I hold a discovery which frightens me. There are two kinds of electricity; one, brute and blind is produced by the contact of metals and acids; the other is intelligent and clairvoyant. The brute (one) ...has followed Jacobii, Bonelli, and Moncal, while the intellectual one was following Bois-Robert, Thilorier, and Chevalier Duplanty. The electrical ball or globular electricity (ball lightning?) contains a thought which disobeys Newton (gravity?) and Mariotte (?) to follow its own freaks.... we have in the annals of the academy thousands of proofs of the intelligence of the electric bolt...but I remark that I am permitting myself to become indiscreet. A little more and I would have disclosed to you the key which is about to discover to us the universal spirit."This odd pronouncement on the true nature of electricity by the mysterious Dr. Jobard immediately reminded me of Vladimir Nabokov's story "Time and Ebb", which is set in the year 2024:
"Elementary allobiotic phenomena led their so-called spiritualists to the silliest forms of transcendental surmise and made so-called common sense shrug its broad shoulders in equally silly ignorance. Our denominations of time would have seemed to them "telephone" numbers. They played with electricity in various ways without having the slightest notion of what it really was-- and no wonder the chance revelation of its true nature came as a most hideous surprise (I was a man by that time and can well remember old Professor Andrews sobbing his heart out on the campus in the midst of a dumbfounded crowd)."Similar is the alternate world in Nabokov’s novel Ada, in which, for reasons only hinted at, there has been something related to electricity called the 'L' disaster, and electricity (even the word itself) is banned:
"The unmentionable magnetic power denounced by evil lawmakers in this our shabby country—oh, everywhere - Part 1, Ch.3"There is non-electric technology:
"I want to ask you," she said quite distinctly, but also quite beside herself because his ramping palm had now worked its way through at the armpit, and his thumb on a nipplet made her palate tingle: ringing for the maid in Georgian novels—inconceivable without the presence of elettricità—I protest. You cannot. It is banned even in Lithuanian and Latin. Ada's note.) - Part 1, Ch.19"
"..the extremely elaborate and still very expensive hydrodynamic telephones and miserable gadgets that were to replace those that had gone k chertyam sobach'im (Russian "to the devil") with the banning of an unmentionable "lammer." - Part 1, Ch.13 ["lammer: amber (Fr: l'ambre), allusion to electricity]"Is it possible Nabokov was aware Dr. Jobard’s experiment? This world’s most obsessive Nabokovian (which is saying something) Brian Boyd has annotated all mentions of electricity (and the related ‘L’disaster (and everything else)) in Ada, but as far as I can tell he is unaware of Jobard. While I have been unable to determine even Jobard’s first name, that same quote is cited by the 19th century occultist and originator of a considerable amount of the New Age nonsense that is around today Madame Blavatsky (and it is most likely from Blavatsky where the author of the Anomalist essay originally read it). Blatvasky, as you may recall, was admired by Yeats (and others). But is there a connection between Blavatsky and Nabokov? In Nabokov's Otherworld (a book I have never read), Vladimir E. Alexandrov argues that Nabokov was not only aware of but profoundly inspired by (oh dear) the nonsense of Blavatsky and other similar mystics:
"Alexandrov's is clearly a revolutionary study, an important landmark which points students of Nabokov toward a group of late-nineteenth-and early-twentieth-century mystics and visionaries such as Mme. Blavatsky, P.D. Oustinov, Nikolai Evrainov, and Nikolai Gumilev."That quote is from an exchange between Boyd and Robert M. Adams. In the same exchange Adams says:
"But both my original point of view, and Professor Boyd's, seem likely to undergo major modification as a result of a new, important study entitled Nabokov's Otherworld by Vladimir E. Alexandrov (Princeton University Press, 1991). This book, which did not appear in time for Boyd to take notice of it in his biography or bibliographies, proposes a radical revaluation of Nabokov's thought."I will leave the debate on the degree and nature of Blavatsky’s influence on V.N. to the experts. But I am now convinced that the Jobard quote was the source for the electricity motif in Ada and "Time and Ebb". I wonder if this connection has been made by Alexandrov? If not, then I believe I am the first to do so.