NABOKV-L post 0006889, Tue, 8 Oct 2002 09:57:04 -0700

Fw: Kafka, Freud, VN
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> As a garden variety non-Freudian, I've usually read Nabokov's
> against the "Viennese witch-doctor" with a more or less sympathetic ear.
> Several recent close re-readings of Kafka's "Metamorphosis," and Nabokov's
> lecture on it, however, raise questions as to whether our professor's
> knee-jerk anti-Freudian prejudice always paid off.
> Nabokov dismisses biographical critics who insist on seeing the
> between Gregor and Samsa pere' as symbolic of his own relationship with
> father. Nabokov rejects this as "nonsense," offering as a defense only
> Kafka was "extremely critical" of Freud's ideas himself. Nabokov tells his
> class: "I should like to dismiss the Freudian approach and concentrate,
> instead, upon the artistic moment," which he proceeds to do, brilliantly.
> What struck me about the story, though, is that this great story has
> too many Freudian/Oedipal signals to ignore. I will cite only the most
> obvious.
> * Gregor has a certain affection for an advertisement he has framed on his
> wall of a woman covered in fur: a woman who is, perhaps, becoming a
> When Grete and Mrs. Samsa clean Gregor's room, Gregor has crawled onto the
> portrait. Note Kafka's rather erotic description -- "he┘ quickly crawled
up to
> it and pressed himself to the glass, which was a good surface to hold on
> and comforted his hot belly." Nabokov observes this as a mere
> detail, but I think there is something else going on here. When Gregor's
> mother sees him in this position she is, I think, witnessing a primal
scene in
> reverse: her son's own consmmaton with another.
> * This leads to a real primal scene, it seems to me: Gregor, pelted with
> apples by his Pa, watches as he reunites with the near-naked Ma: "With his
> last conscious look he saw the door of his room being torn open and his
> rushing out ahead of his screaming sister, in her underbodice, for her
> daughter had loosened her clothing to let her breathe more freely and
> from her swoon, he saw his mother rushing towards his father, leaving one
> after another behind her on the floor her loosened petticoats, stumbling
> her petticoats straight to his father and embracing him, in complete union
> with him-but here Gregor's sight began to fail-with her hands clasped
> his father's neck as she begged for her son's life."
> * And then, of course, there is Gregor's relationship with his sister, a
> where the incestual urge is all too clear. As Gregor listens to her play
> violin, he "was determined to push forward till he reached his sister, to
> at her skirt and so let her know that she was to come into his room with
> violin, for no one here appreciated her playing as he would appreciate it.
> would never let her out of his room, at least, not so long as he lived;
> frightful appearance would become, for the first time, useful to him; he
> watch all the doors of his room at once and spit at intruders; but his
> should need no constraint, she should stay with him of her own free will;
> should sit beside him on the sofa, bend down her ear to him and hear him
> confide that he had had the firm intention of sending her to the
> Conservatorium, and that, but for his mishap, last Christmas-surely
> was long past?-he would have announced it to everybody without allowing a
> single objection. After this confession his sister would be so touched
> she would burst into tears, and Gregor would then raise himself to her
> shoulder and kiss her on the neck, which, now that she went to business,
> kept free of any ribbon or collar."
> That image, of Gregor the three-foot dung beetle nuzzling the ripe neck of
> sister, is unforgettable. This very passage is cited in Lectures on
> Literature, but Nabokov seems almost willfully blind to its more
> implications -- possibly because it would upset his general idea of Gregor
> hero and Grete as villain.
> As I said, I'm rather indifferent toward Freud, and for what it's worth,
> not an academic. Nabokov's lectures are valuable at least in part for
> individuality and their biases; but I don't see, in this case, how a
> of "The Metamorphosis" is well-served by ignoring Freud altogether.

> Rodney Welch
> Columbia, SC