Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0027543, Mon, 2 Oct 2017 14:19:08 -0700

Sybil = Anima = Conflict =Murderess?? Part II
Continuing from my post of 09/30/17:

A synthetic level must necessarily bring together all the various motifs for a truly satisfying solution. On a synthetic level, through Jungian psychology, we arrive at a more abstract, but more resolving conclusion of the roles of the various characters. This synthetic level has also aided the discovery and meaning of the treasure, the crown jewels. The “several lines of play” are “blended” into a complete solution.

Thus, we have the thesis, the antithesis and the synthesis, and out of that comes a wholeness, or a “fourth as One”. The “One” in this case is Pale Fire, the work of Art. Jung writes about the axiom of alchemy, the saying of Maria Prophetissa:

“One becomes two, two becomes three and out of the third comes one as the fourth”. (Jung, Psychology and Alchemy, CW, Vol.12, P.23)

This ancient axiom is the original concept of thetic spirals. The synthesis, because it resolves, brings with it a fourth level which becomes a new One. On this even more abstract level, none of this fiction is “real”, or “true”. It is Art and an artfully arranged game. This does not mean that it is devoid of meaning or great ideas (and certainly not of strong opinions). It is just that they are subservient to artistic creation. Neither does it mean that the other levels are false; the novel can be read and interpreted on each arc of the spiral. The triumph and transcendence of Art is the overarching theme, or, as Ovid titled the Atalanta myth, “The Marriage of Art and Nature”. This is the One, the Unity, the fourth out of the third.

On the synthetic level, it all makes sense in the end. To recap and sum up:

Shade, Kinbote, and Gradus represent three aspects of the Self: Higher Conscious, Ego, and Lower Conscious. As in the riddle of the Sphinx, this is a story of three men in one (and that one is Nabokov –or as he would have it, Botkin).

“Never shall we put any face on the world other than our own, and we have to do this precisely in order to find ourselves. For higher than science or art as an end in itself stands man, the creator of his instruments.” (Jung, "Analytical Psychology and Weltanschauung" (1928). In CW 8: The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche. P.737)

Looking at the novel as a mystery, alchemy and the Jungian anima lead us to Sybil as the real murderer. Recall that Jung claimed that, more than dealing with the Shadow, coming to terms with the Anima was the “masterpiece” work of Individuation. Perhaps Kinbote alludes to this in his foreword: “...one’s attachment to a masterpiece may be utterly overwhelming…” Kinbote is anima-identified, i.e. “attached”. Jung felt that until the Anima became conscious, it behaved more often like the Shadow – disowned and contrary to the desires of the Ego, and therefore perceived as alien and dangerous.

“Woman always stands just where the man's shadow falls, so that he is only too liable to confuse the two.” (Jung, "Women In Europe" (1927). In CW 10: Civilization in Transition)

Using this motif, then, Sybil is of primary importance. Sybil, as John Shade sees her, is an idealized anima, parallel to John Shade as an idealized self-image (Persona) and higher functioning aspect. However, it is not really Sybil who is parallel to Shade, but the beautiful melancholy Disa. Sybil, as she is presented in her ego-personality is actually the antagonistic anima, not to Shade, but to Kinbote as Ego. She, not Gradus, has been his major threat all along. She is the black widow spider at the center of a web of intrigue. Yet, she is associated with “red”; Red Queen, ruby ring, crimson barred Red Admiral. She is only the “black” widow, because she is the widow of the black King. It is not Kinbote, but Shade who is the black king, as his name “Shade” connotes. Kinbote, through his “disguises” is thus the Red King, and is thus allied with Sybil. They are both on the ego personality level. John Shade and Disa are ego-ideals, on the level of Persona. Gradus has his match in Sybil-as-Cybele on the unconscious level.

The Ego wants to be “king”, the most important person. The ego wants to hide all of its dark, ugly shameful side and is thus afraid of being annihilated by its Shadow. The Ego is also afraid of showing its emotional, vulnerable side, the Anima, and sees it also as a threat. At the same time the Ego wants to be seen in its ideal aspect, the Persona, but resents not being seen for oneself.

Kinbote has been on a Jungian “Hero’s Journey” of “individuation”, but he has ignored all the opportunities to learn from it, thus has failed at incorporating his unconscious projections. He has remained grandiose and egocentric. His shadow contents have erupted and destroyed his self-image. He remains at odds with his anima, who has now left and is in hiding (repressed back into the unconscious). He is now truly a “Solus Rex”, alone and on the run.

“Projections change the world into the replica of one’s own unknown face. In the last analysis, therefore, they lead to an autoerotic or autistic condition in which one dreams a world whose reality remains forever unattainable. The resultant sentiment d’incompletude and the still worse feeling of sterility are in their turn explained by projection as the malevolence of the environment and by means of this vicious circle the isolation is intensified.” (C.G.Jung, Aion P.293)

Jung writes of the type of person who aspires to higher consciousness without acknowledging the lower:

”…a consciousness heightened by an inevitable one-sidedness gets so far out of touch with the primordial images that a breakdown ensues. Long before the actual catastrophe, the signs of error announce themselves in atrophy of instinct, nervousness, disorientation, entanglement in impossible situations and problems.” (Jung, Vol.13 CW, P.13)

“If the supreme value (Christ) and the supreme negation (sin) are outside, then the soul is void: its highest and lowest are missing.” Jung, P&A, Vol.12, P.8)

Even though Kinbote was “saved” by the positive “divine” aspect of the unconscious (the gardener), he doesn’t recognize the dual aspect of the chthonic being.

Jung quotes the alchemist Paracelsus, who calls the higher consciousness “divine numen” and the lower, instinct consciousness “natural lumen”:

“And as little as aught can exist in man without the divine numen, so little can aught exist in man without the natural lumen. A man is made perfect by these two alone. Everything springs from these two, and these two are in man, but without them, man is nothing.” (Jung Vol.8 CW P.191)

Kinbote cries, “God will help me, I trust, to rid myself of any desire to follow the example of the two other characters in this work. I shall continue to exist.” (i.e. the ego will not die) Now, more than ever, he is threatened by an even more repressed unconscious, a “bigger, more respectable, more competent Gradus”.

At this point in the novel, Nabokov lowers the mask. It is clearly his (caricatured) ego that is speaking. What would he do, who would he be, without his higher and lower aspects, without his Muse? Change his persona? Remain as he is – an unknown but happy heterosexual college professor? a hack writer and write trite Hollywood movies or a pointless play (an imaginary autobiography)? Return to Russia? Who would he be, in other words, without his Art? It would appear the "bigger more competent Gradus" might perhaps be the fame and fortune, the critics and photographers now stalking Nabokov?

Kinbote’s final outburst is more than ironic, it is facetious, outright burlesque. It would seem to aim directly at these Jungian ideas. I can almost hear it as a comic mincing “Oh, woe is me! Whatever will I do without my higher and lower selves!” This brings into question again, did Nabokov like Jung, or hate him? (I have no question that he has used Jungian themes and tropes, if only to parody, as he does other writers, poets and thinkers throughout the work). I hope I have demonstrated that the two men actually had much in common, so I would guess that he probably did not hate him, but like much of the tropes and allusions in Pale Fire he intended to show how he could “borrow” and transmute the “pale fire” of the greats and near-greats and create a most original, resplendent and dazzling work of art.

Nabokov was certain of his genius, used it as a foil to maintain his arch and arrogant distance, and would likely take umbrage with Jung’s leveling idea of a “collective unconscious”. Such quotes as the one below might cause him a sardonic twinge:

Aesthetic or intellectual flirtations with life and fate come to an abrupt halt here; the step to higher consciousness leaves us without a rearguard and without shelter.” (Vol.13, CW, P.18)

There may be another poet Nabokov covertly referenced as major trope: Rainer Maria Rilke. Asked why he did not submit to psychoanalysis Rilke said:

“If my devils are to leave me, I'm afraid my angels will take flight as well.”

Is this what Nabokov feared would happen if he were to fully confront his unconscious? The effort to “kill the Ego” would result in the obliteration of the sources of his creativity. If the mysteries of self could actually be solved, then where is the magic? The delight of curiosity? The “magic of artistic discovery”, as Brian Boyd fittingly put it.

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