Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0020646, Wed, 1 Sep 2010 09:23:31 EDT

Re: [Fwd: Re: Botkin]

JF wrote: "Kinbote's sporadic awareness that he's somehow connected to
Botkin may be psychologically strange, but I think it's fine for fiction."

Matthew Roth wrote:
<< Jerry's observation (the psychological strangeness of Botkin's
condition) has been too rarely acknowledged. The Index, written by Kinbote, seems
to reveal not only that Kinbote actually is Botkin, but that Kinbote knows
that he actually is Botkin. While a lot of critical ink has been spilled
investigating the first revelation, it seem to me that the latter revelation
is the more complex and interesting one. Unfortunately, I think it does some
damage to the novel. If Kinbote knows that he is a delusion--knows it to
the extent that he can reveal the truth in his Index--then he is not a
delusion at all. Instead, he is nothing but a brilliant indulgence, a daydream
of V. Botkin, who may be strange, but is not insane. For in order to be
considered an alternate personality, the personality must believe in its own
reality; personalities may be acquainted with other personalities, but they do
not, to my knowledge, consider themselves less real than those other
personalities. I don'!
t think we can get away with saying that Kinbote knows he is "somehow
connected" to Botkin. The Index makes it very clear that he IS Botkin, and
Kinbote must have known it when he wrote the entry. I suppose one could argue
that he only came to the revelation while he was writing the Index, but
there isn't any internal evidence to support that conclusion. Instead, we are
left with the uncomfortable notion that Kinbote is just a pseudonym and
Botkin is, as Shade is made to hint, a fellow poet, rather than VN's "madman."
So here I think the logic of the novel departs from VN's intention. How,
then, should we interpret the text--according to VN's intention (Botkin really
is insane and Kinbote really believes in Zembla) or according to the text
alone (Botkin knows, wishful thinking aside, that he is real and Kinbote is
a fantasy). My readerly principles tell me I should stick to the text
alone, but in practice I find myself acceding to the former choice, while
considering the Botkin/Kinbote relationship a flaw in the overall design of the

But -- and I speak as a psychotherapist who has been practising for more
than forty years -- that is what "delusion" is, for the most part: "brilliant
indulgence". It is, to be sure, not the same as a daydream where one
openly acknowledges that one is daydreaming; but it still entails
intentionality, now disowned, however, by means of what Sartre calls "bad faith".
Similarly with so-called "multiple personality". If a "delusion" really were a
mere inert fact, afflicting or enthusing the person from outside, as it were,
of what conceivable moral or literary interest would it be? How could VN
write of Kinbote (or Botkin -- it is a matter of indifference here -- or
Hermann, or Humbert) as a "nasty" person, if he were the mere passive and
innocent victim of a "delusion". The whole point, it seems to me, is Nabokov's
brilliant understanding of what "madness" is, namely: action, praxis,
intentionality, self-indulgence, self-deception; self indulgence in
self-deception (but, as Sartre points out, one cannot truly deceive oneself:
psychoanalysis tries to pretend there can be a lie without a liar, but this is

Anthony Stadlen

Anthony Stadlen
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GB - London N22 7XE
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Founder (in 1996) and convenor of the Inner Circle Seminars: an ethical,
existential, phenomenological search for truth in psychotherapy
"Existential Psychotherapy & Inner Circle Seminars" at
_http://anthonystadlen.blogspot.com/_ (http://anthonystadlen.blogspot.com/) for programme of
future Inner Circle Seminars and complete archive of past seminars

In a message dated 01/09/2010 12:35:33 GMT Daylight Time, nabokv-l@UTK.EDU

-------- Original Message -------- Subject: Re: Botkin Date: Tue, 31
Aug 2010 23:03:06 -0400 From: Matthew Roth _<mroth@messiah.edu>_

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