NABOKV-L post 0019222, Sat, 23 Jan 2010 22:27:00 -0200

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Re: [Fwd: [NABOKV-L] Chronesthesia]
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Victor Fet: A *real* news item below seems to be relevant both to Vadim's affliction in LaTH and to Van Veen's professional studies..."Although we can't technically travel through time (yet), when we think of the past or the future we engage in a sort of mental time travel. This uniquely human ability to psychologically travel through time arguably sets us apart from other species. Researchers have recently looked at how mental time travel is represented in the sensorimotor systems that regulate human movement. It turns out our perceptions of space and time are tightly coupled...These findings ...suggest that chronesthesia may be grounded in processes that link spatial and temporal metaphors (e.g., future= forward, past= backward) to our systems of perception and action.
Provided by Association for Psychological Science http://www.physorg.com/news183297421.html ."

JM: Interesting report about chronesthesia in its relation to Vadim, Van Veen and, perhaps, Nabokov's own "chronophobia," as it has been described in Speak Memory's opening chapter. Space-time, evolution, human history and consciousness, for Nabokov, can also be apprehended from another perspective, following the exchanges and reports presented below.

In Nov.15, 1948, p;238, E.Wilson writes to Volodya:
"I have never been able to understand how you manage, on the one hand, to study butterflies from the point of view of their habitat and, on the other, to pretend that it is possible to write about human beings and leave out of account all question of society and environment."
Wilson hasn't described another curious approximation between the individual and his "environment," as we read in one of Nabokov's comments about firemen. For VN, firemen must not only save a child from the blaze but also his/her favorite toy... Perhaps Wilson is not considering the nature of VN's "holistic" vision, which led him to oppose the dominance of theories based on "causality" (in their historical, economic and psychic dimensions) and limited to empirical data.

The outline of Nabokov's artistic project, unlike Wilson's assumption that linked VN to "Ars gratia Artis," or his puzzlement in relation to Nabokov's indifference to sociological or historical projects, was brought up in their correspondence in Nov.18, 1950, when VN writes (p.282): "In discussing Bleak House, I completely ignored all sociological and historical implications, and unravelled a number of fascinating thematic lines ( the "fog theme," the "bird theme," etc.) and the three main props of the structure..."

Even in art, Nabokov is ever the "morphologist" and this characteristic is ingeniously brought up by Stephen Blackwell, in his chapter about Nabokov and Science ("The Quill and the Scalpel'). For him, pattern, structure and correspondences, both in science and in art reveal, for Nabokov, that which underlies and guarantees our comprehension of social and natural history: a "holistic vision," related to an unfanthomable external eye (or consciousness) and "evolution".

At least, this is how I interpret Blackwell's elegant demonstration, when he links VN's "scientific fancies", "scientific discoveries," to what happens in his novels and... in life! Unfortunately for me I cannot render the "sensuous movement of life" through Nabokov's instantaneous vision of its continuity, as demonstrated and rendered by S.Blackwell, using my own words. I must rely on excerpts ( parts of which I've underlined).

Here are some excerpts from "The Quill and the Scalpel: Nabokov and the Worlds of Science" ( Chapter Two: Nabokov as a Scientist):

"Nabokov challenges his readers...to re-think the very nature of the scientist's work and the possibility of the marvelous even within a scientific life,... secret loopholes in the norms of scientific practice ... Nabokov denied the primacy of "biological" definition, which relies upon real or theoretically interbreeding individuals, as too restrictive and dismissive of what to him was the true test of an organism's identity: morphology."

According to SB " Nabokov's emphasis on form, or what he called 'the morphological moment,' is telling [in contrast to the "biological" criterion of interbreeding] ... For him, "Morphological features themselves are amenable to one of the distinguishing traits of the human mind: the ability to collect and systematize perceptible details...Nabokov seems most delighted of all when he can detect what looks like a continuous movement of variation across an entire group of species, with all the intermediate forms preserved, because it creates a simulacrum of nature in flux across time. What most intrigues Nabokov is the development of change itself, the fluid sweep of species variation. He writes of one creature "becoming" another, as if such a metamorphosis actually takes place when an insect crosses a particular geographical boundary. His picture of intergraded species represents also a kind of play with the interaction of time, space, and the progress of life. We imagine a series of forms that look as if they move chronologically, progressing from one extreme to the other as time advances-and in fact they might have evolved that way, although in reality Nabokov is talking about simultaneously existing species, not about a proposed evolutionary sequence... Nabokov draws attention to the dangers of such metaphors, which create the illusion of grasping the mysteries of time by means of spatial variations: "This scheme is of course is not a phylogenetic tree but merely its shadow on a plane surface, since a sequence in time is not really deducible from a synchronous series" [Cf."The Nearctic Forms of Lycaeides Hüb. (Lycaenidae, Lepidoptera). Psyche 50; NB 280] ...These intergradations-almost like the frames of a film-between forms among living organisms become an emblem of the processes of life as they continue beyond our efforts to describe them in the shape of individual species. In contrast, the traditional species description based on a single individual leads to a deceptively static picture of nature."

For Nabokov, quoted by SB , "if [species] do exist they do so taxonomically as abstract conceptions, mummified ideas severed from and uninfluenced by the continuous evolution of data-perception, some historical stage of which may have endowed them at one time with a fugitive sense. To adopt them as logical realities in classification would be much the same as conceiving a journey in terms of stopping places" [NB,302] For SB, "Nabokov's scientific work always reached out to consider the breadth of nature's motion. . The evolution of forms. compressed in time as if viewed by the narrators of Transparent Things,* becomes the sensuous movement of life itself." He believes that it is possible to find "a blend of different aspects of consciousness brought to bear upon the perception of the natural object..." Therefore Nabokov, "from an early age...began to see things like mimicry as emblematic of special and mysterious powers behind nature's ebullience...he was clearly persuaded that life was evolving."

For SB, in "The Gift" there are "passages describing extraordinary or even unlikely feats of mimicry are connected to the idea of design in nature and indeed in human life, and to the relationship between such design and the perceptive abilities of human consciousness... These "miracles" of nature, or of life, do seem to indicate a designing presence, but that they seem to do so is, as Kant demonstrated, a necessary part of the way human beings perceive the world... Part of Nabokov's effort to suggest that nature was not purely mechanistic and driven by causality. There must be, he felt, alongside or even above selection and competition, another force behind nature: one that drives the development of life and its intricacies in the first place."...

"And so when Nabokov, through Godunov-Cherdyntsev, comes to offer a vision of evolution-the diversification of life-he focuses not on the forces that drive the elimination of species but rather on those that drive the generation of new forms. Hence his "spherical" theory, according to which forms of life arise in bubble-like groups from some unknown generative source behind all of nature, the "wind" that "animates the dance of the planets." This process, as he describes it, has certain self-reinforcing traits (feedback) inherent to it, which contribute to its development and its complexity. What is especially curious is that he does not, in this proposal, deny natural selection in all its forms, but he does refuse to give it central attention in a story that is, to him, really about the generation of nature's immense variety and of consciousness itself. The fact that nature, life, and consciousness seem intertwined and mutually reinforcing produces a vision of the world that attempts to comprehend it as a whole. It is not scientific in the Newtonian sense: it is not amenable to quantification because it does not break down the object under study (the natural world [universe] as embraced by consciousness), but rather attempts to view it and understand it as a whole."

* - The narrators of Transparent Things see in four dimensions; that is, they see in an object the complete history or all its constituent parts as well as its current physical situation...

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