Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0018155, Thu, 9 Apr 2009 09:40:40 -0400

Re: THOUGHTS: Sally Beauchamp & Alexandrov
Matt Roth responding to Jerry Friedman and others:

Thanks for pointing out that I was probably assuming too much when I said that Beauchamp was Oleg's tutor. As for Sally Beauchamp, I realize that she is not an exact model of the Shade/Kinbote/Gradus personality, but she does give validity to the notion that personalities can, to some degree, interact with one another. Also that Personality A can be aware of Personality B, while the opposite is not true. As for conversations and the like, I don't think we need to assume that Kinbote's personality ever directly had a conversation with Shade's personality in real time. Regarding the gunshot, I did not mean to suggest that there was an actual gunshot; rather, I meant that Shade's final mental break could have sounded like a gunshot in his head, just as Ansel Bourne's return to his original personality was accompanied by that same auditory illusion.

I should also point out that if we are going to insist that VN's theory of multiple personalities must strictly adhere to what was known about them at the time, then we should also place under scrutiny the Botkin-Kinbote personality. It seems clear that Kinbote, when he is not fooling himself, knows that he is really Botkin. But I have not found any case studies where one personality doesn't really believe in its own existence and acknowledges that the primary personality is the real one, as Kinbote seems to do in his Index. Someone recently suggested that Kinbote doesn't really believe his Zembla tale, which might solve this problem, but in that case he isn't insane at all--just a con man or a jester who, for no apparent reason, has decided to make himself look like a fool. Does that make sense?

On another subject, Alexandrov says: "there is an unresolvable paradox in Nabokov’s art and in his world view: although on a number of occasions he professed faith in freedom and contingency, he did not in fact dramatize or embody them in his fictions or his autobiography." And "if one pays attention to the hermeneutic guides in his novels, which should serve as models for how to seek and construct the works’ meanings, it becomes impossible to find room in Nabokov’s world for freedom of any kind."

I think this is overstated. I see Nabokov's vision of freedom vs. determinism as analogous to that branch of Christian theology known as Classical Arminianism, which posits a view that all people have free will within the limits of God's sovereignty. People (characters) have the freedom to make choices but that does not mean that God (author) is powerless to intervene, nor does it follow that such an intervention negates or subverts a person's basic right to free will. It may be interesting, however, to study those moments where VN the author/god penetrates into the plane of his characters' fictional reality. Both Krug and, arguably, VV (in LATH) are driven insane by that collapsing of levels. Pnin, on the other hand, manages to escape. In Lolita, this meeting of creator and created occurs within the book, with Humbert playing the god-like role and Lolita (as opposed to Dolores) his creation. Lolita reveals that VN may have used incest as a model signifying the forbidden penetration of an author-father into his character-child's plane of existence. I happen to think that this partly explains Pnin's identification with Cinderella; at the end of the book he is enacting the traditional "flight from the incestuous father" which we see in many versions of that tale. I haven't talked about Pale Fire, but some of you know that I think incest makes its mark there, too.

Matt Roth

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