Re: VN on allegory?
Joseph Aisenberg: [...] little statements N. sometimes made in interviews and forewords have to be understood in less than comprehensive terms[...] I would say that N.'s "general" stricture against allegory ... has something in common with Susan Sontag's essay Against Interpretation. For instance, a book and film like Invasion of The Body Snatchers is regularly understood to be an allegory about social paranoia of "The Other"; only it can also be seen as being a political allegory about having really good reasons to be afraid of subsversive groups [...] Amusingly, N. wanted us to keep in mind all the things his novels weren't about and didn't mean so that as readers we couldn't help but scratch our heads and say, hey Humbert really is like an ape trapped by his own obsessions, and his way of depicting things are kind of like the bars of a cage, symbolically that is. The critics are just too smart for these guys, if you ask me, pining for logical consistency when what they've got are showmen.
JM: Aisenberg's description of The Invasion of Body Snatchers, based on a novel by Jack Finney, reminded me of Ionesco's play "Rhinoceros" and Ira Levin's "The Stepford Wives"!. Perhaps in literature this kind of "invasion" is inevitable because language, in a way, is a "body-snatcher" ( or "a virus" as sung by Laurie Anderson).
I've been recently reading about Walt Disney, how he was born a Joe in Spain and adopted by an American family, before he became one of the most representative (albeit over-zealous) iconic manager of americana. In "Once upon a time: the sources of inspiration for the Disney studios" we see how Wilhelm Busch, Beatrix Potter and Honoré Daumier influenced some of the scenes, movements and captions. Disney hired many emigré artists with their nostalgia but the influences that interested me most came from German expressionism and movies. Not only do we feel Gustave Doré's illustration of Dante's Inferno ( in Snow-White!), or Arthur Rackham's or Blake's drawings, but the metamorphosis of the SW's cruel step-mother into a witch, inspired in a movie about "Dr.Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" and in Fritz Lang's "Metropolis."
I couldn't help finding, in retrospect, a connection between Van's "Mascodagama act" and the gigantic batlike monster in Mussorgsky's "A Night in Bald Mountain" (cf. Disney's "Fantasia".)
A. Sklyarenko: [...] Whatever happiness or grief/ Would sing in the past years,/ I have never shunned/ Metaphors, or even allegories.
The first stanza of a Russian poem (the fifth one in the cycle "Seven Poems") written in the nineteen fifties. There is an allegory (or metaphor?) of death in the second (and last) stanza. I apologize to Nabokov's shadow for my translation.
JM: Thank you for the translation of VN's poem and the additional interpretation of intrusive death in its last lines.
From: jansymello <jansy@AETERN.US>
Subject: Re: [NABOKV-L] VN on allegory?
Date: Thursday, November 27, 2008, 3:53 AM
L. Durantaye [ to J.Studdard): "I didn't mean to imply that the statements were identical. That said, the remarks in Strong Opinions tend to be quite thoughtful. In any event, they're both a little beside the point of "allegory as a literary mode" (as Nabokov is clearly not thinking of works like the Divine Comedy or the Faerie Queene)."
JM: In the novel Ada, Darkbloom's notes on "Carte du Tendre" explain that it constitutes "a sentimental allegory of the seventeenth century", in a sympathetic vein. In the same spirit, in the literary body of LATH, Botticelli's Primavera is brought up ( with no irony, it seems) as an allegory of Spring: "wear,in propitious sign, the Florentine hat that looks like a cluster of wild flowers. I want you to celebrate your resemblance to the fifth girl from left to right, the flower-decked blonde with the straight nose and serious gray eyes, in Botticelli's Primavera, an allegory of Spring, my love, my allegory." This mood invites us back to Lolita, for Lolita herself has also been compared to Boticelli's rust-colored Venus. As I see it, allegory is here being employed together with "a propitious sign".
Nevertheless, also in Lath, when dealing directly with literary modes we read:"I disliked him for his daring to question my teaching Ulysses, my way - in a purely textual light - without organic allegories and quasi-Greek myths and that sort of tripe."
Among the many definitions of "allegory" the one that VN seems to focus, when he objects to Freud's psychoanalytic theories or to standard literary interpretations, is not indicative of its more ancient meaning as "a veiling function of language". It relies mainly on allegory used as a deliberate "inversion of speech whereby, in saying one thing a person conveys or understands something else ( Isidore of Seville ,Etymologiae I, 47.22) or Saint Augustine's “a mode of speech in which one thing is understood by another,” (Cf.Angus Fletcher's online "The Dictionary of the History of Ideas.")
In his article "Nabokov and Freud, or a Particular Problem" L.Durantaye notes that Nabokov "saw Freud as standing for many things he did not like and, conversely, as representing what he most vehemently disliked: the generalizing of the rich particularities of which life is made up.[...]The seeker of symbols [...]will inevitably conflate the dissimilar and miss the distinctiveness of the detail." According to LD, Freudian theories, in the eyes of VN, "Like allegory and symbolism...granted conceptual license to interpret everything in terms of something else and this he could not stand."
Nevertheless, literary "symbolism" cannot be extented to encompass the normal process of "symbol-formation" and language, nor the rendering of a (forbidden or painful) thought, under the guise of a "symbol", stands for the entire process of a dream-formation. Besides, a dreamer's "allegories" cannot be produced by an act of will, as it happens in the ordinary artistic process of "allegorization" ( something gross or refined, following the artist's abilities) - and this is one of the problems!*
*As I understand it, in the strictly Freudian ( ie, not "Kleinian") interpretation of dreams, a particular image is only focused as a generic symbol in order that it may be re-inserted, through speech, as an expression of that particular dreamer's constellation of wishes, talents, history and forgotten experiences - in this case it recovers its lost status as a living metaphor and is now free to evolve in a healthy, now untrammeled process of abstract thinking and decision-making ( this is, of course, an oversimplified exposition).
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