NABOKV-L post 0005962, Thu, 10 May 2001 19:45:01 -0700

[Fwd: Nabokov week in Santa Fe, New Mexico]

A Transient Series

Sponsored by the
Santa Fe Institute and Art and Science Laboratory
14-16 May 2001, Santa Fe Institute

The Santa Fe Institute and the Art and Science Laboratory are pleased to
announce a series of events that cross the boundaries of science,
literature, and art:
Monday 6 PM (14 May):
Screening of Stanley Kubrick's "Lolita," based on the novel by Vladimir
Nabokov, with James Mason and Peter Sellers.

We will be showing the film from high-quality laserdisk. Gene Youngblood
Victoria Alexander will provide commentary. Youngblood is a Professor at
the College of Santa Fe in its Moving Image Department, where he teaches
film critcism. He is also well known for his pioneering book on film and
alternative media---"Expanded Cinema". Alexander is a Nabokov scholar
currently examining the influence of his scientific investigations of
pattern formation and evolution in butterflies on his theories of
literary aesthetics.

The screening will be held in SFI's main conference room.
Please RSVP to Jim Crutchfield ( so he
can estimate beverages and pizza.

Tuesday 3:30 PM (15 May):
"Neutral Evolution and Aesthetics: Vladimir Nabokov and Insect Mimicry"

Victoria Alexander
English Department, City University of New York,
Dactyl Foundation, New York, and the
Art and Science Laboratory, Santa Fe

See talk announcement to follow separately.

Wednesday 3:30 PM (16 May):
"Hobbies, Experiments, and Public Art---What Counts as

Natalie Jeremijenko
Center for Advanced Technology, New York University

See talk announcement to follow separately.

Jim Crutchfield is hosting the events. Please contact him
if there are questions.

All are welcome.


Neutral Evolution and Aesthetics: Vladimir Nabokov and Insect Mimicry

SFI Medium Conference Room
Tuesday 3:30 PM (15 May)

Victoria Alexander
Art and Science Laboratory
Santa Fe, New Mexico

Although Vladimir Nabokov may be more well-known for his
achievements, particularly as the author of the novel Lolita (1958), he
had an equally impressive genius for science. While acting as curator at
Harvard's Museum of Comparative Zoology in the 1940s, he became "the"
expert on a group of butterflies known as Blues. During this time, he
also developed a compelling theory of evolution. He argued, rather
heretically, that insect mimicry and some extreme instances of
camouflage did not result from Darwinian survival strategies. I will
have two main points to make during my talk: first of all, that it is
now possible to appeal to neutral evolutionary theories to support his
arguments, and secondly, that it was Nabokov's teleological leanings
that gave him the insight he needed to construct a theory of mimicry
that was quite progressive for his time.

Unbeknownst to most people, there are several radically
different kinds of teleology. Some of them have value, I argue, not for
the answers they provided but in the way they identified a particular
problem. If one traces the history of "non-mental" teleology through
Aristotle and the Kantian teleomechanists, one sees that it eventually
lead to an investigation of the laws of biological form and pattern
formation. True to his interests in teleology, much of Nabokov's work
focused on morphology and the ways in which butterfly wing patterns are
shaped, not by contingencies in the external environment, but by
internal chemical and mechanical constraints, processes which lend
themselves to rational description---not merely the etiological myths of
a pure adaptationist program. In this way, Nabokov investigated the
directional aspect of telos, the mechanisms for stasis. He also
investigated the intentional aspect, which focuses on the fact that the
function of a part wit!
hin a system is determined by an act of interpretation, that is, by the
way it is used, to use a pragmatist's definition of interpretation. In
this way, he investigated the mechanisms for change. In identifying
these two aspects of apparently teleological phenomenon, Nabokov
provided some useful insights that have yet to be fully appreciated.

Alexander is completing her Ph.D. in the English Department,
City University of New York. She is President and Co-founder of the
Dactyl Foundation for the Arts and Humanities in New York City. Recently
she was a visiting researcher at the Santa Fe Institute and is now
Novelist in Residence at the Art and Science Laboratory.

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