Art and Wit: similarities and differences - quotes from Nabokov
, Freud, Boyd.
, Freud, Boyd.
Perceiving similarities and differences in art, life - and wit (successfully
applying them in literature and in a joke is another matter):
Vladimir Nabokov -"Despair"
"You'll say next that all Chinamen are alike. You forget, my good
man, that what the artist perceives is, primarily, the difference between
things. It is the vulgar who note their resemblance. Haven't we heard Lydia
exclaim at the talkies: 'Oo! Isn't she just like our maid?' "
"Ardy, dear, don't try to be funny," said Lydia.
"But you must concede," I went on, "that sometimes it is the
resemblance that matters."
"When buying a second candlestick," said Ardalion.
Sigmund Freud - "Wit and Its Relation to the Unconscious"
"Since time immemorial a favorite definition of wit has been the ability to
discover similarities in dissimilarities, i.e., to find hidden similarities.
[.] Vischer refutes this, however, by remarking that in some witticisms
there is no question of comparison or the discovery of similarities." [He]
"defines wit as the skill to combine with surprising quickness many ideas,
which through inner content and connections are foreign to one another. K.
Fischer then calls attention to the fact that in a large number of these
witty judgments one does not find similarities, but contrasts; and Lipps
further remarks that these definitions refer to the wit that the humorist
possesses and not to the wit that he produces."
Brian Boyd "Vladimir Nabokov the Russian Years":
"In his thesis 'The Aesthetic Relations of Art to Reality' Chernyshevsky
advanced the claim that art is only an inferior imitation of a prior
reality, material and obvious and commonplace. Fyodor proposes instead to
reverse priorities, to show that life follows art. He believes things
cannot be understood only in material terms: those who really attend to life
discover that the play of consciousness they must exercise to apprehend
their world seems to correspond in some mysterious way to a force of
conscious playfulness somehow concealed behind life. [.] Fyodor.loves to
accumulate, but he prefers the stray, disregarded detail to the accepted
commonplace[.] History for Fyodor will always surprise us. In retrospect,
though, we can trace its themes - which will not be shared generalizations,
but unique patterns of individuality. Life prizes the particular, allows
things to develop as differently as they can, but somehow traces its
patterns through the very differences between things, and leaves individual
imaginations to perceive these differences and patterns in their own way."
Other examples related to resemblances between people wittily explored by
Despair: "...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."
Pnin: "Pnin and I had long since accepted the disturbing but seldom
discussed fact that on any given college staff one could find not only a
person who was uncommonly like one's dentist or the local postmaster, but
also a person who had a twin within the same professional group, I know,
indeed, of a case of triplets at a comparatively small college where,
according to its sharp-eyed president, Frank Reade, the radix of the troika
was, absurdly enough, myself; and I recall the late Olga Krotki once telling
me that... there were as many as six Pnins, besides the genuine and, to me,
unique article. It should not be deemed surprising, therefore, that even
Pnin...could not help becoming aware ... that a lanky, bespectacled old
fellow... - a person whom Pnin knew as Professor Thomas Wynn, Head of the
Ornithology Department, having once talked to him at some party about gay
golden orioles, melancholy cuckoos, and other Russian countryside birds -
was not always Professor Wynn. At times he graded, as it were, into somebody
else, whom Pnin did not know by name but whom he classified, with a bright
foreigner's fondness for puns as 'Twynn' (or, in Pninian, 'Tvin').
Pale Fire: "Take my own case," continued [Shade] "I have been said to
resemble at least four people: Samuel Johnson; the lovingly reconstructed
ancestor of man in the Exton Museum; and two local characters, one being the
slapdash disheveled hag who ladles out the mash..."[...] "I would rather
say," remarked Mr. Pardon - American History - "that she looks like Judge
Goldsworth" ("One of us," interposed Shade inclining his head), "especially
when he is real mad at the whole world after a good dinner."
Pale Fire: "Don't you see [almost tugging at Shade's lapel] the astounding
similarity of features - of the upper part of the face, and the eyes, yes,
the eyes, and the nose bridge?"
"Nay, sir" [said Shade, refolding a leg and slightly rolling in his armchair
as wont to do when about to deliver a pronouncement] "there is no
resemblance at all. I have seen the King in newsreels, and there is no
resemblance. Resemblances are the shadows of differences. Different people
see different similarities and similar differences."(CK,line 894)
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