Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0027457, Sun, 13 Aug 2017 15:46:43 -0700

WIP: Pale Fire = Cryptomnesia?
From my thesis "Art, Alchemy and Failed Transcendence, Jungian Influences in Nabokov's Pale Fire":

The major theme of Pale Fire, announced in the title, is "stealing from the source", like the moon from the sun. It seems to have been Nabokov's answer to some criticism of literary theft and self-plagiarism. He has stuffed it nearly to bursting, "like a sponge-bag containing a small furious devil" (SM P.290) with as many allusions to other writers and thinkers and sources as the work could contain, demonstrating that he could take pale fire of the greats and so-called greats and create his own magnificent bonfire. Many literary sources, overt or hidden are used. All are ratcheted up on the spiral of Nabokov’s art. My contention is that Carl Jung is an important and pervasive source, beginning, even, with the notion of literary appropriation.

Jung was interested in “cryptomnesia”, a term first used by the psychologist Flournoy. The word is derived from “kruptos’ (hidden) and “mneme” (memory), two of Nabokov’s favorite themes. The word means an unconscious memory that surfaces as an original thought. Jung thought it was the basis of much art and genius, and that it also had a relationship to insanity. The commonality was a mind that sought new combinations.

“What kind of people seek new combinations? They are the men of thought, who have finely differentiated brains coupled with the sensitivity of a woman and the emotionality of a child. They are the slenderest, most delicate branches on the great tree of humanity: they bear the flower and the fruit. Many become brittle too soon, many break off. Differentiation creates in its progress the fit as well as the unfit; wits are mingled with nitwits – there are fools with genius and geniuses with follies…” (Jung 1905/1957: 99)

If Nabokov read this, would he not be delighted with this astute characterization? Nabokov, the poet/genius/madman, often spoke of his "combinational" mode of creativity.

Jung's views on the fluidity of past/future, and acausal space/time relationships (synchronicity) square nicely with Nabokov's.

“For, in the last resort, we are conditioned not only by the past, but by the future, which is sketched out in us long beforehand and gradually evolves out of us. This is especially the case with a creative person who does not at first see the wealth of possibilities within him, although they are all lying there already.” (Ibid: 110)

“What poet or composer has not been so beguiled by certain of his ideas as to believe in their novelty? We believe what we wish to believe. Even the greatest and most original genius is not free from human wishes and their all-too-human consequences” (ibid: 99)

Interestingly, it was discovered in 2004 that there had been a short story written in 1915 titled “Lolita” by a German author named Heinz von Eschwege, about a middle-aged man obsessed with a young girl. Nabokov never acknowledged this. Some say it was a case of cryptomnesia.

Perhaps it was; he could have read it as a very young man and forgotten. Is that the case with Pale Fire? Hardly – he is clearly playing with the whole motif, beginning with the title. His many allusions in Pale Fire to lesser artists slyly demonstrate his superiority. In response to criticism from Edmund Wilson, he had this to say:

“Finally – Mr. Wilson is horrified by my ‘instinct to take digs at great reputations’. Well, it cannot be helped; Mr. Wilson must accept my instinct, and wait for the crash.” (VN, Strong Opinions, P. 266)

Had he read Jung’s several writings on the subject of cryptomnesia? Most likely, I would say, the influence is pervasive, and yet Jung will remain the most hidden and most essential source for this most abstruse work. This using the work of (often lesser) writers also suggests Jung’s study of alchemy, for Nabokov is taking the prima materia of other works and turning them into his own literary gold.

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