Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0026118, Sun, 12 Apr 2015 14:23:47 -0300

A play with similarities: a correction on a misquoted
Bergson/Nabokov paragraph
In Speak, Memory Nabokov produces what seems to be an illustrative example
of "looking like the same": "My brother Sergey and I, aged one and two
respectively (and looking like the same infant, wigless and wigged)" (SM,
129). Nevertheless, when we look at the photograph the physical difference
between the two siblings makes itself felt: wigless and babyish Sergey
appears rounder and even larger than his older brother.* This kind of
"play" on Nabokov's part has been sufficiently studied but, sometimes,
particular examples may still illustrate how often even a "good reader"
fails to be a "good observer" by an automatic trust in the written word.

Michael Glynn asserts that "Nabokov's and Bergson's intellectual frameworks
were contiguous" and he focuses "on Bergson's engagement with delusion, with
his notion of the automatized mind that does not apprehend reality" to
"examine his [VN] conception of art as a counter to automatism." (Vladimir
Nabokov, Bergsonian and Russian Formalist Influences in his novels, Michael
Glynn, 54). He is emphatic in his view of V.Nabokov as an "anti-symbolist"
because he finds that "Nabokov values the world for its own sake and he
makes that world strange by detailing it with hyper-realistic clarity,"
since he thinks that Nabokov's "comments are eloquent of an artistic
consciousness that rejected Symbolist abstraction in favor of direct
apprehension of the world." However, the irrational (in opposition to a
putative "direct apprehension of the world") is not synonymous to the
ineffable nor, as I see it, to Freud's unconscious processes (Freud's theory
of the unconscious is not the only one in existence, a fact that many
scholars seem to forget). Nabokov's employ of metaphors, analogies and
similes may often vivify a poetic intuition, operating in a manner that
conforms to the Freudian characterization of unconscious dream processes,
or express his vision of an underlying unity - but they also serve to jolt
the reader's attention to incongruities and equivocal perceptions as amply
demonstrated by M.Glynn.

An interesting point about V.N's character Krug as an "image-maker" ("the
idea is the image")was brought to me thanks to the google (unfortunately, I
don't have a copy of V.Alexandrov's edition A Garland Companion to Vladimir
Nabokov, and John Burt Forster, Jr's chapter on "Nabokov and Tolstoy" for a
fair reading of it):
"Krug, who is not a novelist but a philosopher, regains his inspiration when
he compares life to a stocking being turned inside out (BS 193). This image
reworks a famous Tolstoyan simile in the work Nabokov called "the greatest
of great short stories" (LRL 140), the fearsome black sack of death in "The
Death of Ivan Ilyich"(17). For Bend Sinister's invented thinker, clearly,
the idea is the image.[ .] "Within Bend Sinister, in fact, the first
example of Krug's image-making abilities is a "simile of the snowball and
the snowman's broom" (BS46). This image comes from the French philosopher
Bergson's Creative Evolution, where it is used to define the key concept of
duration (18) Since in Nabokov's view Bergson was Proust's counterpart as an
image-maker,(19) Krug's gift for philosophical tropes derives from a broadly
Proustian French tradition as well as from Tolstoy.(p.524). And V.Nabokov
advances further than pensive Krug because he never abandons his authorial
faith in the racionality of a "material word" ( and this is not the same as
rejecting symbolism or embracing animism) to escape from the frame of his
image-ideas (perhaps his visual puns also operate in this sense?).


* - a correction concerning one of the passages in my former posting on
"Identical Twins?": I inadvertently attributed to Nabokov (in "Despair") a
direct quote from Henri Bergson which had been presented by A. Sklyarenko's
"Pascal and Laughter in Despair": ". 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." "Laughter: An Essay on the Meaning of Comic" by Henri Bergson,
chapter IV. Cf. http://www.authorama.com/laughter-5.htm

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