Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0026124, Fri, 17 Apr 2015 18:06:24 -0300

[THOUGHTS] Nabokov's Art, Bergson's "Ă©lan vital", Freudian "Todestrieb"...
Jansy Mello: In one of my former postings (March 22) there was a sentence
that, on a second reading, made me uncertain about the meaning IÂ’d been
striving to express: “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.” (I had just quoted Michael
Glynn in Vladimir Nabokov, Bergsonian and Russian Formalist Influences in
his novels). Namely, why oppose the possibility of a “direct apprehension of
the world” to “irrationality” when my intention had simply been an
exploration of different representational resources allied to conscious
perception (For example, would a visual pun only become fully intelligible
after being described in words?)

Although I still cannot formulate my query in a more precise way, I
discovered why the term “irrational” presented itself to me so readily. I’d
been exploring snippets related to “the meaning of life” and “scientific
thought”: Alvin Toffler’s question to Vladimir Nabokov had brought the
“irrational” up in confrontation with the “exact knowledge of science,” (it
was quoted by S.BlackwellÂ’s reviewer) and IÂ’d recently separated his review
to read it with leisure:

“Interviewing Vladimir Nabokov for a 1964 edition of Playboy magazine, the
American futurist Alvin Toffler raised the question of the place of the
‘irrational’ in what he described as ‘an age when the exact knowledge of
science has begun to plumb the most profound mysteries of existence’. ‘In
point of fact,’ Nabokov responded, ‘the greater one’s science, the deeper
the sense of mystery. [Â…] We shall never know the origin of life, or the
meaning of life, or the nature of space and time, or the nature of nature,
or the nature of thought.Â’ Readers of that august publication unfamiliar
with the author of LolitaÂ’s parallel career in entomology might have been
forgiven for mistaking this verdict for a wholesale rejection of both the
scientific method and its more hubristic designs. On the contrary,
fascinated as he was by the fragile truth-directedness of scientific
rationality, and as the creator of fictional universes so resistant to
authoritative readings as are those depicted in such novels as Pale Fire,
The Gift and The Real Life of Sebastian Knight, NabokovÂ’s deeper reflections
on the issue are perhaps better encapsulated by the words of one of his many
fictional scientists: ‘Attainment and science, retainment and art,’ the
nameless narrator of his 1945 story ‘Time and Ebb’ muses, ‘the two couples
keep to themselves, but when they do meet, nothing else in the world
mattersÂ’. In the sense that it seeks to find the common ground upon which
such ‘meetings’ take place within Nabokov’s work, Stephen H. Blackwell’s The
Quill and the Scalpel: NabokovÂ’s Art and the Worlds of Science represents a
timely attempt to distil from the growing accumulation of scholarship in
this area a comprehensive and unified account of the terms through which it
might be plausible to assert, as Blackwell does from the outset, that the
‘inseparability of art and science is the core of Nabokov’s creative vision’
[…] Ultimately, Blackwell concludes, it is his ‘epistemological skepticism,
combined with a passion for discovering what can be known, that defines
Nabokov as an artist and a scientistÂ’ (169). As Blackwell himself
exemplifies, such a stance is also to be admired in the context of the
literary monograph, and particularly in one with such a large biographical
content as has The Quill and the Scalpel. Functioning as both an
intellectually agile response to existing scholarship and an imaginatively
contrived vehicle for locating discrete readings of individual novels within
a largely cohesive overall schematic, then, BlackwellÂ’s work succeeds both
as an introduction to a discourse evidently amenable to continued study and
an invaluable case study of a novelist who, as Blackwell puts it, ‘occupies
a unique place in modern intellectual history not only because of his dual
status as an artist and a scientist, but because his scientific work left
him skeptical about the ultimate ability of science to provide answers to
questions that most concern humanity’ (168).” Peter Johnston, Royal
Holloway, University of London reviewing Stephen H. Blackwell, The Quill and
the Scalpel: NabokovÂ’s Art and the Worlds of Science (Columbus: The Ohio
State University Press, 2009).

For V.Nabokov “We shall never know…the meaning of life” but, as also quoted
by P.Johnston, it is possible to explore “attainment and science, retainment
and art.” As we may also read in B.Boyd’s essay: “Art at its best offers us
the durability that became lifeÂ’s first purpose, the variety that became its
second, the appeal to the intelligence and the cooperative emotions that
took so much longer to evolve, and the creativity that keeps adding new
possibilities, including religion and science. We do not know a purpose
guaranteed from outside life, but we can add as much as we can to the
creativity of life. We do not know what other purposes life may eventually
generate, but creativity offers us our best chance of reaching them.”
Purpose-Driven Life Evolution does not rob life of meaning, but creates
meaning. It also makes possible our own capacity for creativity by Brian
Boyd, 2009;

I remembered Henri Bergson’s hypothesis about the Élan vital [coined by
<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/France> French
<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philosopher> philosopher
<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henri_Bergson> Henri Bergson in his 1907 book
<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Creative_Evolution_(book)> Creative Evolution,
in which he addresses the question of self-organisation and spontaneous
morphogenesis of things in an increasingly complex manner. Elan vital was
translated in the English edition as "vital impetus", but is usually
translated by his detractors as "vital force". It is a hypothetical
explanation for <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evolution> evolution and
<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Developmental_biology> development of
<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Organisms> organisms, which Bergson linked
closely with <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Consciousness> consciousness -
with the intuitive perception of experience and the flow of inner time, apud
wikipedia] and FreudÂ’s divergent paths (heÂ’d read Bergson) when, after
examining “Eros” (which he named “the Life Drive”), he added the “Death
Drive,” to adjust the balance. For him, if allowed to attribute to life a
purpose, its chief aim would be achieving repose in death butÂ… (and this is
an important theoretical admonishment) since every organism must strive
after the kind of death that belongs exclusively to its species, it was
thanks to the external obstacles that life and its variety was sustained
during the interval in which its specific road to death wasnÂ’t conquered
more directly. The outside world, for S.Freud, seems to play a role that is
similar to Art in the maintenance of life! [Since IÂ’m relying on my
recollections of past readings, for those who are interested in this
contrast and demand more serious research, please start with S.FreudÂ’s
“Beyond the Pleasure Principle.”(1922)].

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