Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0026115, Thu, 9 Apr 2015 17:20:19 -0300

Identical twins?
Yesterday we got various quotes from V.Nabokov's "Despair" and I isolated
two, because I wanted to compare them with something I posted on the same
day. Both mention certain "similarities" that arise between unconnected
objects. The comparison itself between the two groups of sentences suggests
another type of similarity. I hope that my bringing them up once again to
set them side by side will provoke the same "ripply-grayish" surprise as the
one I felt by the germinative power of words, similes, metaphors.

1. ". The truth is that a really living life should never repeat itself.
Wherever there is repetition or complete similarity, we always suspect some
mechanism at work behind the living. Analyze the impression you get from two
faces that are too much alike, and you will find that you are thinking of
two copies cast in the same mold, or two impressions of the same seal, or
two reproductions of the same negative,--in a word, of some manufacturing
process or other. This deflection of life towards the mechanical is here the
real cause of laughter." (Chapter Four);
2. "...It even seems to me sometimes that my basic theme, the resemblance
between two persons, has a profound allegorical meaning. This remarkable
physical likeness probably appealed to me (subconsciously!) as the promise
of that ideal sameness which is to unite people in the classless society of
the future." (Chapter Nine)

And, from "Father's Butterflies":

"A crawling root, the extremity of a tropical creeper vivified by the wind,
turned into a snake solely because nature, noticing movement, wished to
reproduce it, as a child amused by the flight of a forest leaf picks it up
and tosses it back up [.] At times nature found it amusing, or artistically
valid, to retain, near a selected species, an elegant corollary, generically
quite unrelated, but simply picked up from the ground simultaneously back in
the times when a dragonfly might simultaneously be a butterfly. Or else it
pained nature to disjoin two of its initial creations, which, despite the
abyss of differences separating them, nonetheless modulated between one
another. From one angle, you see a lichen; from another, an inchworm moth.
Whatever subsequent alterations this plant and this insect underwent, the
ripply-grayish something that, in the depths of ages, corresponded to them
was conserved by nature (which had not given up mythogenesis for the sake of
scientific system, but had cunningly united them)..."

In this chapter, V. Nabokov discusses the concept of "species" and describes
a time when "the specimen reigned supreme" contending that most of the
observable similarities cannot be linked to evolution:

"However, in that most remote of times that we must now imagine, none of
this had yet been conceived. Nature was ignorant of genera and species; the
specimen reigned supreme. As a crude illustration of the position it
occupied one might say that a squirrel that mated with a goose would give
birth to a giraffe, a sturgeon, and a garden spider[.] numerous accumulated
observations had persuaded [my father], in the first place, of the absolute
impossibility that given similarities were attained through evolution,
through the gradual accumulation of resemblance, or through the fixation of
magical mutations (the very thing that caused him to reexamine and reject
the more "logical" theory of the origin of species); and, secondly, of the
utter uselessness (which incidentally disproves the obtuse lex parsimoniae
of the old-time naturalists) of such resplendent masks for the well-being of
mimetic forms..."

Not content with that, I made an attempt to retrieve a controversial idea
proposed by Ernst Gombrich in his book "Art and Illusion" to explore the
artistic point of view related to "individuals," "schools" and "concepts,"
from what I could still recollect from his writings. I mean that, for
Gombrich, the sculpted or painted panels by the ancient Egyptian artists
represented strangers and slaves frontally whereas Pharaohs and their
entourage were shown in profile because the latter were immortal and could
exhibit no transient individual traits. Unfortunately, my google search was
not very successful. What I could recuperate were the opening lines of his
"The Story of Art": "There really is no such thing as art. There are only
-Josef.html#ixzz3WplEuc7y ]

(and to think that this line of associations started with Lake's
"comparison" ('Pnin') between Salvador Dali and Norman Rockwell!)

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