Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0020334, Fri, 16 Jul 2010 11:47:25 EDT

Re: [NABOKOV-L] To Stan's helpful comments on mathematical
It is perhaps worth noting that Freud's original theory, in the first
edition of "The Interpretation of Dreams" (de facto published 4 November 1899,
pro forma published 1900), was revolutionary precisely in that Freud made a
point of not having a "dictionary of symbols" from which one could read
off the "meaning" of a dream. His method was based on the hypothesis that
only the dreamer himself was in a position to discover and divulge the meaning
of his dream, through the method of "freier Einfall" (mistranslated as
"free association"). Symbolism retained a minor significance, but there was no
a priori register of symbols.

Unfortunately, by the time of the second edition of the book (1909), Stekel
had brought out his own book on dreams, which made much of symbols. Freud
was tempted to compete, and so produced his own quasi-universal dictionary
of symbols in his second edition. His primary method remained "freier
Einfall". Symbols were still supposed to be secondary. But, as on so many other
occasions, by trying to eat his cake and have it, Freud gave a hostage to
fortune which had very regrettable consequences, in this case that for a
century now people (including Nabokov) have felt free to categorise Freudian
interpretation as "drab, middle-class" phallic symbols and the like. And,
of course, that is what it has all too often become.

By the way, Jansy errs in writing that Freud was on a train when he had the
"Signorelli" conversation. He was in a hired horse-and-carriage on a day
trip from Ragusa to Trebinje (in Herzegovina) when he had the famous
conversation with the "stranger" Freyhan, a Berlin lawyer. (See Swales, P. J.
(2003) "Freud, Death and Sexual Pleasures: On the Psychical Mechanism of Dr.
Sigm. Freud". Arc de Cercle, Vol. 1, No. 1., 4-74.)

Anthony Stadlen
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In a message dated 16/07/2010 13:31:19 GMT Daylight Time, jansy@AETERN.US

Stan Kelly-Bootle sent: _http://lib.ru/NABOKOW/Rowe.txt_
(http://lib.ru/NABOKOW/Rowe.txt) "One may wonder if it was worth Mr. Rowe's time to
exhibit erotic bits picked out of
Lolita and Ada-- a process rather like looking for allusions to aquatic
mammals in Moby Dick..."* Stan added: "I'm not sure, Anthony, that the
Greek etymology syn+ballein (to throw together) really helps in clarifying
exactly which meaning of SYMBOL VN found abhorrent ...The Middle English, via
Latin symbolum, meaning Creed ... has already drifted away from the everyday,
uncontroversial, mathematical usage: we use SYMBOLS as convenient,
short-hand marks for variables, constants, operators etc., making sure that the
reader is fully pre-informed of our intentions. ..Mathematical
ymbols...although arbitrarily chosen...must be pre-defined...when combined they can
produce equations surpassing Keatsian Beauty (with provable Truth as an added
bonus).Perhaps Jansy can tell us if this excursion into 'symbolism' helps her
with Farmer's observations. It does seem a tortuous road, littered with
semantic land-mines: of course, both Lolita and HH are fictional, so to
distinguish between Lolita, the idealized nymphet lusted after by HH, an
imaginary paedo, and a real incarnation, Dolores, shagged realistically from
realistic school to realistic motel in a realistic first-person, stretches our
analysis of meta-symbolist-narrative beyond usefulness. Perhaps this
warning applies only to Rowe's excessive hunt for Freudian sexual 'symbols,'
which certainly match Anthony's definition as the prefabricated symbol as
reductive, deadening cliche..."

JM: One has to distinguish symbols related to indexes, signs and
notations, from the various other uses of the word.
Nabokov's satire of Freud introduces "arbitrarily chosen" (conscious and
willed) symbols, which he applies in a playful way,often related to puns and
to his pleasure with sounds. Freudian "symbols" are as ancient as mankind
(the contrived ones are found all over literature and Freud often quoted
Goethe's images of "jewel box" and its fitting "key") - but their interest
lies in their effectiveness to express repressed ideas (even a supposedly
innocent young girl, fingering the lock of a purse, may be ellaborating under
the force of these hidden, but obvious, spontaneous connections) and as
revealing mental mechanisms of distorting reality to avoid mental pain. It is
true that, in a general way, Freudian symbols are of the kind Nabokov
abhors in poetry. But Freud was not intent on being a poet. If, in a dream, a
snake or a staff stand for the phallus, what is of interest to the
psychoanalyst is to discover what that person, in particular, is trying to express
in relation to his sexual experience. When Freud discovers that a
statistically significant number of people distort their sexual unconfessable sins
using the same kind of image as the one that is favored by the poets, he is
still not intent on poetic metaphors as they are made to resound and rebound
in a verse.

Nabokov's accusation towards the "Viennese school" is unfair because he
imagines that Freudian symbols, by being "generic" (A stands for B), imply
a "generic view" of language, communication, individual qualms. Freudian
replicators (like Rowe) make this mistake (several psychoanalysts, too,
particularly the Kleinian-school). However, Freud always stressed the
importance of listening to every individual's one and only "voice" and his
"subjective kernel of truth" ( a distant cry from obtaining a "universal truth").

Yesterday I took the trouble to leaf through "The Oxford Dictionary of
Euphemisms" ** (when, in common usage, a word A stands for an unnameable
object, or verb, B). A tedious procedure. There was only one entry that reminded
me of something Nabokovian (and I discarded it for Clare Bishop didn't
shake hands with V, only held a bunch of keys that belonged to Sebastian with
her "blind fingers"). Here it is - Shake Hands with a Bishop: to urinate (
Of a male, whose uncircumsided penis may resemble the chessman..." (citing
Theroux, 1979, quoting Borges). That's some bishop "symbol", eh?

* - VN: * "What I object to is Mr. Rowe's manipulating my most innocent
words so as to introduce sexual "symbols" into them. The notion of symbol
itself has always been abhorrent to me The symbolism racket ...
destroys plain intelligence as well as poetical sense... It numbs all capacity to
enjoy the fun and enchantment of art.... Pencil licking is always a
reference to you know what. A soccer goal hints at the vulval orifice
(which Mr.Rowe evidently sees as square). I wish to share with him the following
secret: In the case of a certain type of writer it often happens that
a whole paragraph or sinuous sentence exists as a discrete organism,
with its own imagery, its own invocations, its own bloom, and then it is
especially precious, and also vulnerable, so that if an outsider, immune to
poetry and common sense, injects spurious symbols into it, or
actually tampers with its wording ...its magic is replaced by maggots...The
fatal flaw in Mr. Rowe's treatment of recurrent
words, such as "garden" or "water," is his regarding them as abstractions,
and not realizing that the sound of a bath being filled, say, in the
world of Laughter in the Dark, is as different from the limes rustling in
the rain of Speak, Memory as the Garden of Delights in Ada is from
the lawns in Lolita....(and) make every chapter a veritable compote
of female organs... what I find unpardonable, and indeed unworthy of a
scholar, is Mr. Rowe's twisting my discussion of prosody (as
appended to my translation of Eugene Onegin) into a torrent of Freudian
drivel, which allows him to construe "metrical length" as an erection and
"rhyme" as a sexual climax...Mr. Rowe's preposterous and nasty
interpretations. William Woodin Rowe: Nabokov's Deceptive World.(August 28, 1971,
published in The New York Review on October 7 of the same year.)

** - "A Dictionary of Euphemisms (How not to say what you mean),
R.W.Holder, Oxford U.P.,1995, p.330.
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