NABOKV-L post 0016189, Tue, 15 Apr 2008 12:32:06 +1200

Re: Boyd on Lolita, science, pattern
A couple of responses to this thread:

I agree with Stan Kelly-Bootle and am introducing next semester a cross-faculty course in Literature and Science partly to awaken those in the humanities to the glories of science (I hope Stan will point me, off-list, to something that can explain Lie Group E8). We will probably begin with Flatland (the 1884 novella) and Flatland: The Movie (2007).

VN certainly had as much respect for science as for art. When Jacob Bronowski asked him on 1963 “Do you think scientists are as deeply and personally involved in their work as the novelist is?” he answered: “I think it all depends on what scientists or novelists you have in view. Darwin or Gauss were as deeply and rapturously involved in their work as Browning or Joyce. On the other hand, in both camps we have those crowds of imitators, those technicians and administrators and career boys who cannot really be called scientists and artists. They, of course, dismiss their minds from their work after office hours.” (N's Butterflies 566)

I don't think E.O. Wilson (who by the way warmly recalls the lepidopterist’s occasional visits back to the MCZ in the 1950s when the hymenopterist was just beginning there) wants to colonize the humanities and arts. After all he draws on the arts with glee and gratitude to amplify many of his points about science, and he is perfectly aware that the arts offer a huge repository of information about human minds and interests that science can mine, and that science keeps on opening up new possibilities for the artistic imagination.

I have read and admired Raymond Tallis for decades and think he's right about A.S. Byatt on Donne. But on attack he can discharge very broad broadsides. Far from minimizing difference between author and author, as he claims of the approaches he critiques, I use my own evolutionary approaches to argue for the individuality of the artist, the uniqueness of art and of particular works of art, and the uniqueness of those in the audience, and their particular situation on, say, a first or an nth reading, in ways that supplement and extend common-sense suppositions. Like Tallis I want nothing to do with an approach that homogenizes literary works, as some moronic evolutionary work he has in mind has indeed done.

Better to judge by the best in an area, not the worst. Tallis critiques "overstanding" rather than "understanding": "The capacious frame of reference in which the work is located--evident to the critic but not the author--places the former in a position of knowing superiority vis-a-vis the latter. The work becomes a mere example of some historical, cultural, political, or other trend of which the author will have been dimly aware, if at all." I agree with his critique but challenge his reference to the kind of approach I take. The best critic working in a cognitive and evolutionary vein is film scholar David Bordwell. On the jacket of Brodwell’s latest book, The Poetics of Cinema, James Mangold, the director of Walk the Line and 3:10 to Yuma, writes: “Film Theory, rightly or wrongly, makes most filmmakers cringe. We rarely see processes, collaborations, technologies, or underlying motivations thoughtfully examined in such writings. David Bordwell’s work is radically different. Whether examining Hollywood cinema, Hong Kong, Independent, New Wave, silent or sound, high-grossing or unknown, he addresses film with a clear mission—to understand how a film works, how it’s made and why—and to discuss his findings in a direct style that embraces intellectuals and non-academic readers alike.” Deep understanding, not “overstanding.”

Brian Boyd

-----Original Message-----
From: Vladimir Nabokov Forum on behalf of James Twiggs
Sent: Mon 14/04/2008 8:12 AM
Subject: Re: [NABOKV-L] Boyd on Lolita, science, pattern

Stan Kelly-Bootle and others interested in the general topic of the relation of science to literature may want to read Raymond Tallis's essay in the new TLS. Although Tallis does not refer to Nabokov, much of what he says about A.S. Byatt's attempt to give a "scientific" reading of Donne is, I think, pertinent to Boyd's essay on Lolita in the American Scholar.

Here's the link to Tallis's essay:

Times Literary Supplement
Neuroaesthetics is wrong about our experience of literarure--and it is wrong about humanity
by Raymond Tallis


----- Original Message ----
From: Stan Kelly-Bootle <skb@BOOTLE.BIZ>
Sent: Saturday, April 12, 2008 1:56:15 PM
Subject: Re: [NABOKV-L] Boyd on Lolita, science, pattern

On 28/03/2008 23:00, "b.boyd@AUCKLAND.AC.NZ" <b.boyd@AUCKLAND.AC.NZ> wrote:

Dear All, or Some anyway:

You may be interested in this article in the latest American Scholar which links my interests in Nabokov and in evolutionary approaches to literature less unsuccessfully than I have managed previously:

Brian Boyd
I relish this thought-provoking essay as one more attempt to bring together the two 'rival' (but each 'unrivalled!') components in Nabokov's life and achievements. What we loosely call Science and the Humanities. Beyond C P Snow's Two Cultures, we have E O Wilson's plea for CONSILIENCE -- the Unity of Knowledge (Knopf, New York, 1998). Wilson urges us to

" ... view the boundary between scientific and literary cultures not as a territorial line but as a broad and mostly unexplored terrain awaiting cooperative entry from both sides."

But (the ever-present disconjunctive), as Jay Labinger* notes

"It would be hard to disagree with that sentiment, but Wilson's claim that 'the only way either to establish or to refute consilience is by methods developed in the natural sciences' seems to have more to do with COLONIZATION than ALLIANCE!" [my CAPS]

* Science (AAAS), 28 March, 2008, reviewing "Proust Was a Neuroscientist," Jonah Lehrer; and "Artscience -- Creativity in the Post-Google Generation."

As I've oft complained on NABOKOV-L, the Science/LitCrit 'dichotomy' is huge and skewed. We mathematicians, semanticists and scorpionologists really 'dig' VN's corpus as much as the non-scientific 'literary' reader. Yet there's little reciprocal understanding or sheer enjoyment by the latter for the vast achievements of science and mathematics. The 'patterns' and 'symmetries' gleefully discovered in VN's narratives are quite trivial compared with the recently published Lie Group E8!

Stan Kelly-Bootle

Searchthe Nabokv-L archive with Google
the Editors
All private editorial communications, without
exception, are
read by both co-editors.
Visit Zembla
View Nabokv-L Policies

Do You Yahoo!?
Tired of spam? Yahoo! Mail has the best spam protection around

Search the archive:
Search archive with Google:

Contact the Editors:,
Visit Zembla:
View Nabokv-L policies:

Search the archive:
Search archive with Google:

Contact the Editors:,
Visit Zembla:
View Nabokv-L policies: