Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0019514, Thu, 25 Feb 2010 09:46:18 -0500

Re: QUERY: Bergson
Here's a link between VN and Bergson of which most people are unaware. In his previously-discussed 1957 notes on Donald West's book, Psychical Research Today, (these notes are housed in the Berg library collection), VN copied down several passages related to ESP (extra-sensory perception). What follows is the part of a paragraph from West, with the sections VN copied out in BOLD.

In the process of ESP, and especially in cases of clairvoyance, THE MIND SEEMS TO SHORT-CIRCUIT ALL SENSORY MECHANISMS AND TO APPREHEND EXTERNAL THINGS DIRECTLY. One bold theory is that this is happening all the time, in ordinary sensory impressions as well as in ESP. The orthodox notion is that sensory impressions are generated by brain activity as a result of impulses from the sense organs, but on this theory the sensory apparatus is really no more than a focussing [sic] device to fix attention upon some particular area, which is then apprehended directly by means of clairvoyance. The theory is only a special instance of the more comprehensive conception of the French philosopher Henri Bergson, who maintained that THE FUNCTION OF THE NERVOUS SYSTEM IS NOT TO GENERATE SENSATIONS AND MEMORIES BUT TO BLOT OUT IRRELEVANT MATERIAL. The mind is potentially capable of perceiving anything that is happening anywhere and remembering all its own experiences.

VN copied these sentences, by the way, on the same notecard where, while reading the West's section on Ansel Bourne and Sally Beauchamp, he wrote: "a victim of mental dissociation, he developed a secondary personality / wearing a radiant crown (the king as lecturer in Zembla)." I put the line break there because it is unclear to me whether VN intended this to be one continuous sentence, as SB suggests in his recent book, or separate thoughts on separate lines, as Tiffany DeRewal and I suggested in our article on PF. Anyway, I would be interested to hear what others know about Bergson's theory. I'm also interested in how this relates to 1) VN's synaesthesia, 2) Pale Fire, and/or 3) TOOL, where, in light of this passage, the erasure may be seen as a blotting out of perception rather than the actual disappearance of matter.

Matt Roth

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