NABOKV-L post 0018112, Wed, 1 Apr 2009 00:48:20 -0300

Re: the meaning of preterist
M.Roth [to Carolyn] I think Shade uses preterist in the sense of "one whose chief interest or pleasure is in the past." This is the first definition in Webster's 2nd[...].It seems to me that Shade is here asserting that one can be resurrected before physical death, just as one can die before the body dies. Notice that he doesn't ask, as we might expect, what moment Death chooses; rather he asks when, during the process of decay-in-life, might one "escape"? Escape into what? [...] I'd be interested to hear what others think Shade means in lines 209-212.[ to Jansy] you said that you thought VN read Freud in the German. I was under the impression VN intentionally refused to learn German while living in Berlin.

JM:Thanks for bringing up the Webster's 2nd definition of a "preterist".
I thought the word had been a neologism that was created by VN ( ie: that it carried a different meaning from the religious sect's "preterist" in his relationship to past and future events). So, it may not have been a "neologism" after all.
( See, I had the impression that Nabokov had been referring, under preterists, to people whose chief interest lies not only in the past as "past", but also in how the past is or may be experienced in the present, or set in relation to other past, present and future events. This would serve to promote a new re-experience of the past as it takes shape in the present).

If VN based his use of "preterist" on the definition you quoted, then his choice favored a definite past, a discarded and useless "cold nest".

When I first read your comment I thought you were describing an intuition of Shade's, something concerning a "parallel universe" ( ie: indicating that the "escape" would lead him into an atemporal bubble, while he remained physically living in an objective, linear, historic dimension). Then I realized you were speaking about those actual, physical near-death experiences, like those Shade had described in his poem.

Indeed, your interpretation matches the Webster 2nd definition of a "preterist". Should we follow it, then the past will be taken as an experience that belongs to memory and to reminiscences, only. Therefore, it would be totally unrelated to any Proustian "involuntary memory" or to Freud's original definition of "transference" as " a re-edition of the past, in the present"
(btrw: my preterist mood rejects this very objective admission, but it may be only a passing mood, not a conviction).

I'm sure Dmitri can shed more light concerning the extent of Nabokov's familiarity with German - but I think you are right and, therefore, Nabokov must have read Strachey's translation (perhaps while he studied in England). I kinda hoped he'd read Freud in the original...

Search archive with Google:

Contact the Editors:,
Visit Zembla:
View Nabokv-L policies:
Visit "Nabokov Online Journal:"

Manage subscription options: