NABOKV-L post 0016633, Wed, 2 Jul 2008 09:53:46 -0700

Re: THOUGHTS: artists don't have to be consistent...or do

Nabokv-L <nabokv-l@UTK.EDU> wrote:

LH: I don't agree!
Great artists are great precisely because they are able to build
fictionnaly, aesthetically, philosophically... coherent and consistent
And it is the critic's task to unravel, explain, bring to light the deep
coherence of the artist's work.What makes an artist like VN seem
inconsistent is that the coherence of his work lies deeper than the
ordinary coherence of ordinary thought: this is what makes it so intriguing
and fascinating.
For example, VN's attitude toward Darwinism (a subject which has been
discussed recently) is NOT prisoner of the present day alternative:
evolutionism versus intelligent design.I think it might be more interesting
to consider it in the light of Nietzsche's criticism of utilitarianism.
Another example is VN's lifelong denounciation of Freud's psychoanalysis:
I've read countless comments to the effect that his views were some kind of
whim, as great artists are wont to have and which can therefore be
generously forgiven and henceforth disregarded by the "serious" critic.
But no ! VN's opposition to psychoanalysis is grounded and deeply
consistent with the rest of his work and is even instrumental in the very
structure of many of his stories.
Of course, a critic or a reader, even one who loves VN's fiction, is
entirely free to disagree with VN's view of psychoanalysis or any other
subject provided he fights it with arguments instead of being content with
dismissing it as "inconsistent".

J.Aisenberg: considering that if you're human then you're simply going to be inconsistent, because humans are always inconsistent no matter how great they are as artists, it's kind of a that's all she wrote sort of deal. Nabokov was just as prey to human foibles and mental lack as the next fellow who whistles while he puts on his shoes after sex. His art's not always deep either; in fact it can be quite strange how shallow some of his observations are. For instance Nabokov often seems to equate poor physical hygiene with an innate philistinism--not until he entered the well-soaped world of America did he realize that baths might only be skin deep. In Laughter in the dark, characterizing Margot, the narrator suggests that just because she's spiritually lacking there must be a corresponding lack in her physical appearance as well (this silly idea crops up again in his story Conversation Piece, where the narrator finds the fascist girls rather homely); I don't think I've
ever read one Marxist character in N. who had any dimensionality to them at all, unless we count Hermann Karlovich, not exactly a model communist, because if N. doesn't agree with people than they're wrong: period. What about the characterization of the Toad in Bend Sinister? Because he's a loathsome tyrant it turns out that in school, as a child, he was also a geeky weirdo loner whom the main character, the briliant philospher (????) used to torment on the playground--here Nabokov has suggested a nice formula for how to tell tyrants from the rest of us--they're mega-nerds!--thus neatly undoing so much of his touting of individualists against the common-hordes of the common-sensical; its not unlike those depictions we come across in "decadent" art films of the seventies and popular pot-boilers of Nazi soldiers as homosexual sado-masochists. In any case questions of "consistency" are always relative; I completely disagree with you that if a reader can't see the coherence
then they're necessarily the ones with the problem, who should just look even deeper until the contradictions are resolved. Though I might agree with you that there is not a simple, "evolutionism" versus "intelligent design" dichotomy in Nabokov's work, clearly as a scientist he knows that adaptive evolution is going on, or at least he referred to it once or twice, there's no way you can argue that he didn't believe in Intelligent Design, and I think he dissed Darwinism based more on social implications people associated with the theory than the theory itself, but he doesn't want to say so, and that's why it's so confusing. Why? Why doesn't he precisely want to talk about his spiritual beliefs either instead of distributing little implications? And the reason many people think his lifelong denunciation of Freud was weird and can't take it at face value is probably for two reasons: 1. its quite odd for someone to bitch so much so often so vociferously about something they
think is so damned wrong; 2. the Freud he brings up in things like Lolita don't seem that much deeper than what you'd pick up in a couple of film criticism classes--his Freud is a cartoon Freud, because he thought Freud was a cartoon, not that I'm all that sympathetic to Freud myself, but then I don't feel compelled to talk about him all the time and design everything I write to deliberately repel those who do. I just don't care what a Freudian would make of my stuff. Nabokov comes off like the fat kid who who yells that he isn't fat while he stuffs another heaping spoon of ice cream in his pie-hole, and you can be made a little uncomfortable by it.

Laurence Hochard

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