NABOKV-L post 0021316, Wed, 9 Feb 2011 10:42:01 -0800

Re: Nabokov and Freud
Sorry if this repeats stuff, I've only been intermittently following this strand. I just wanted to point these things out.

I think I would agree with Twiggs that Nabokov's understanding of Freud is about as deep as mine, which amounts to taking a quick dip in a few of the more famous texts--The Interpretation of Dreams, Civilization and its Discontents--girdled by a great deal of distortive secondary literary and cinematic criticism. I remember somewhere an interviewer asking him specifically what he had read and Nabokov smoothly blithing past it. Therefore the Freud he derides seems really to be a pop Freud, with its vague use of jargon used to confidently pour even the most complex or the rawest elements of experience into a one- size-fits-all mold. I've just been rereading Lolita, which contains perhaps N.'s best send up of this type of Freudianism, not only in terms of the way it plays with notions about childhood trauma and recurrent fetishized deviance but especially in Miss Pratt's--the Beardsly school's headmistress--parent-teacher conference with Humbert
(pp.180-185, American Library Edition) in which she amusingly asserts with innocent hygienic bluster that Lolita is "still shuttling...between the anal and genital zones of development." (p.181). Even though she uses such sexualized terminology it seems totally divorced from the allure of either orifice. Almost inadvertently she has put her Freudian finger on the problem with the girl but instead comes to the conclusion that little Dolly Haze is a repressed prig!

Therefore I would argue against Twiggs' thoughtful idea that N.'s prob with Freud was with its lack of an Otherworld. Nor do I think, as has also been suggested, that he was afraid or "resisting" in a psychological sense ugly truths he could not face (though he was clearly put off by the dirty interpretations of things he wanted to be "innocent"). I myself am no otherworlder; what I objected to in the Freud I was always hearing about (long before I read Nabokov) was the way in which it seemed to be being claimed that human behavior was either a mask for unacknowledged sexual impulses or a tenuous game of "Mother May I" used to socially to navigate the ID. Not to mention the idea that dreams could somehow be cataloged into a series of images whose meaning somehow existed objectively external to the dreamer divorced of any kind of individual mental context. Or that behaviors could be reduced to titled types culled from classical literature. All of which
seemed a kind of crude bourgeois attempt to fit people into deterministic cookie-cut slots intended to justify an unjust society, and saying that anyone who didn't conform was just somehow neurotically at odds with the way people had very clearly been designed (sexuality and genderness became two of the biggest billy clubs to beat people with, see Edmund White or Betty Friedan; or left handedness; or Asthma, see Proust). It's the distortions of Darwinism all over again, which Nabokov so famously railed against, explaining why he always referred to Freud as a philistine. And actually that article Twiggs suggested, in its description of how Freud dealt with Da Vinci, rather confirmed Nabokov's take, even if he never made mention of it.

--- On Wed, 2/9/11, Jansy <jansy@AETERN.US> wrote:

From: Jansy <jansy@AETERN.US>
Subject: Re: [NABOKV-L] Nabokov and Freud
Date: Wednesday, February 9, 2011, 9:54 AM

Jim Twiggs: "Concerning
Nabokov and Freud, I’ve enjoyed the lively and instructive contributions by
Jerry Friedman, Anthony Stadlen, and Jansy Mello...According to Jenefer
Shute..."it was not merely Freud but this "whole climate of opinion" that VN was
railing against."...Freud is Nabokov's tar baby...VN’s attempt to laugh Freud
out of existence fails, according to Shute:" ...Nabokov's claims to a pure
textuality, a discourse  somehow impervious to vulgar constraints such as
"history" or "ideas," can be taken no more seriously than his claim to have
banished Freud. Indeed, the very methods employed to assert the text's
independence are those that undermine it; parody and polemic point insistently
to the hors-texte they are designed to deny. Far from articulating an absolute
freedom, they inscribe instead the horizons of a particular historical moment
and the limits of authorial power." (p. 419).  My own view is that VN's
attacks on Freud are... ill-informed and overly general ...most of the attacks,
many of which amount to little more than adolescent name-calling, are not up to
the standard of comedy that we expect from VN... when he tries to be serious
(e.g., in characterizing Freud as promoting totalitarianism), things are even
worse--he is so obviously wrongheaded...On psychobabble in general (most of
which is only loosely connected to Freud), he fares better...The history of
psychoanalysis and psychotherapy contains much to be laughed at and appalled by,
but VN seems not to know or care about the particulars. ...his fear and
hatred of Freud was very narrowly based and that Jansy...may have hit on the
crucial detail: “There’s no ‘hereafter’, no transmigrating souls and no
‘metempsychosis’ to be read in Freud and his dire vision of ‘eternity.” What I'm
suggesting is that if Freud's basic world view--a from-the-bottom-up
naturalistic view--is correct, then VN's "metaphysics" is exposed as a quaint
piece of wishful thinking...The fact that VN himself sometimes doubted what he
so dearly, almost desperately hoped for--a life beyond this one--would only
strengthen his resistance to Freud’s naturalism. It’s worth noting, though, that under the pressure of
neuroscience, the medical model of mental illness...the teachings of Freud,
Jung, Lacan, et al. have themselves been steadily crumbling away, at least in
this country.In fifty years’ time, rightly or wrongly, a very different
vocabulary of psychobabble will have taken over, at which point Freud himself
will likely seem as quaint as VN’s hopes for an Otherworld."
JM: Just before Jim
Twiggs' message reached me, mentioning the word "psychobabble"
twice, Alexey Sklyarenko warned me that he "meant Isaak Babel
(1894-1940), the author Konarmia ("Red Cavalry")..." in his
posting about boredom and a "Freud list." I should have made it more
explicit when I jumped from  Isaak Babel onto a towering Babel
of psychobabels. 
Jim's thoughtful (and often funny and
informed) posting almost tempted me a return to Freud but, in my view, he has
already stressed the most important points in connection to Nabokov's Freud
("adolescent name-calling," "wrongheadedness"..) and
its often contagious quality. Fyodor ("Father's butterflies") remembers that
he'd overheard a snippet of his father's words: "Yes, of course it was in
vain that I said 'by chance,' and by chance that I said 'in vain'. " It's a pity
that we'll never learn what came next.
Jim's suggestion that Freud's vision of
eternity exposes "VN's 'metaphysics' as a quaint piece of wishful
thinking," and that Nabokov, himself, was uncertain about his
hopes in a hereafter, is confirmed when we return to Nabokov's
explanation ( in a recently quoted  Jan.1966 interview) about "why he
detests Freud": "the creative artist is an exile in his
study...He's quite alone there...As soon as he's together with somebody else he
shares his secret, he shares his mystery, he shares his God with somebody
else." The problem lies in that language, even when it's used in the
solitary confinement of a barred cell, also entails in communication.
It engenders meaning or, as in art, the endlessly driving power
of significations.  
Nabokov probably didn't read Freud's later works
( as for example, "Beyond the Pleasure Principle", where traumas, the death
drive and the compulsion to repeat are introduced), but he intuited something of
the same when, already in "Pale Fire,"he toyed with a lapidar inscription: "Et
in Arcadia Ego" (Even in Paradise we find "death" or "dementia"...).

Plato, Freud, Shade, Derrida, Lacan
- and all that crowd - shall probably seem extremely "quaint"
in the near-future when other, even simpler, hopes are
equally dashed, such as "authorial
voice," "individuality," "freedom." 
* No need to bother about any open forums...what
for?  Besides..."WHAT is Truth?
said jesting Pilate; and would not stay for an answer. "

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