Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0025494, Sat, 28 Jun 2014 23:36:36 -0300

'Lolita' . . .
A tentative discussion in reply to J.Aisenberg:

Joseph Aisenberg: “…you are definitely right to make a connection between N.'s concept of literary parodies and the mimicry and parody of nature… in the way N.'s thinking seems to bleed concepts together back and forth (nature into art; art into nature) without quite letting us see how the machinery of the thinking works.” “art, as he makes it, is at the very least analogous to the ways and means of nature itself, a model for cosmic intelligence. In the end he gives us the impression that though he thinks that books are purely fictional and made up for fun, that nonetheless his books are realistic because they're premised on his ideas about the deceit inherent in nature.”

Jansy Mello: You expressed the matter very well and in a way that seems new to me: Nabokov’s fiction is “realistic” because it embodies the mechanisms of deceit in nature, in accordance to your initial assertion that art is (“as he,” VN, “makes it”) analogous, in some degrees, to the ways of nature and “a model for cosmic intelligence” (following VN’s explanation in SO about Darwinism, protective devices for survival and the fine excess of mimetism that might be addressing a non-human, “Intelligent Eye.”)

Joseph Aisenberg: “…Before the quotation you found in the obit, on page 199--200 of the Vintage International paperback edition we have this: Near the end of Chap 3. Fyodor explains to his girlfriend Zina his writing of his book on the 1800s historical figure Chernishevski and his compositional approach: "The image of his planned book had appeared to him extraordinarily distinctly in tone and outline, he had the feeling that for every detail he ran to earth there was already a place prepared and that even the work of hunting up material was already bathed in the light of the forthcoming book, just as the sea throws a blue light on a fishing boat, and the boat itself together with this light is reflected in the water." On page 204 he says that this means he has the "idea of composing his biography in the shape of a ring...so that the result would be not the form of a book, which by its finiteness is opposed to the circular nature of everything in existence, but a continuously curving, and thus infinite, sentence..."[ ] “…going into page 205, Zina listens to Fyodor's book as it's being written and thinks this: ".... [constructing Fyodor's biography in a circular manner] seemed at first to her to be incapable of embodiment on flat, rectangular paper--and so much the more was she overjoyed when she noticed that nevertheless a circle was being formed. She was completely unconcerned whether or not the author clung assiduously to historical truth--she took that on trust, for if it were not thus it would simply not have been worth writing the book. A deeper truth, on the other hand, for which he alone was responsible and which he alone could find, was for her so important that the least clumsiness or fogginess in his words seemed to be the germ of a falsehood, which had to be immediately exterminated."
What exactly Fyodor's truth is is never really stated, other than this circularity and linguistic precision, intended to be like the workings of the universe itself; the facts of history are only important insofar as they embody this metaphysical principal.”

Jansy Mello: Thanks for informing the passages I couldn’t locate (199—200) and the quotes from The Gift. Now I can understand that you weren’t “saying before that N. should keep parody at bay [ and that you] love it…it's fun, a tuning fork that brings his works back down to earth, a foil against which Humbert's and Lolita's exploits take on a texture of believability. What I was getting at is how much goes unsaid in the deeper regions of N.'s aesthetic thinking.”

Another wonderful formulation, now concerning what is silenced “in the deeper regions of N. aesthetic thinking,” because it allows us to conjecture about “the deeper regions” of “aesthetic thoughts,” without having to fall upon controversial issues involving, for example, the Freudian unconscious - but without precluding them. So, I’ll take the plunge…

In my opinion the Surrealists tried to tap into such “deeper regions” by making an aesthetic selection of dream-imaging and automatic writing as expressive means, deliberately employing the same mechanisms that Freud had described for dreams and the language of the unconscious. (symbol formation, condensation, displacement, reversion into images, aso). Nevertheless, and this differentiation is fundamental, Freud’s concepts rely on his observation that one’s unconscious processes are always automatic and also that they ignore “reality” and “common-sense laws” to follow the rules of the “primary process of thinking”( which brings about an immediate release of pent-up tensions). The Surrealists, on the contrary, purposefully (consciously) and artificially imitated the functioning of the “primary processes” to obtain their aesthetic results. That’s where, in my eyes, Nabokov excels over most other artists concerning the realization of “the deeper regions [of his] aesthetic thinking.” He courageously gives a free rein over what Freudians understand to be “primary thought processes” at various levels of his writings (style, structure…) to reach a “natural truth” that results from the way the mind works - at both levels, conscious and unconscious (or whatever words are being be used in the differentiation of two distinct principles of mental functioning, instead of only one).#

You raise an important question related to Fyodor (… “Why must he trick his audience about the serious emotional nature of his work”?) when you inquire whether
Nabokov’s arguments about deceit in nature, “with the implication that his writing merely copies the whimsical nature of nature,” might, or not be “merely a kind of backformation metaphysics coolly marshalled to post-justify his method of literary burlesque” or if “his ideas about tricks, mimicry and parody [are] really organic intuitions from his scientific pursuits as a naturalist?” I think that most of these options are valid. Besides, novelists are in a comfortable position when they intend to divulge their philosophies and pet theories by having their characters give them voice or engage in arguments that, in the end, may simultaneously present both sides of the same coin - with no need to justify their position academically. Nabokov makes ample use of this recourse when he opines against Einstein’s GR theories and develops Van Veen’s ideas about “Time.” Nevertheless I also think that “his ideas about… mimicry and parody” derive from his long experience of examining the world as a naturalist while intelligently living in it at the same time.

Sometimes I ask myself if VN was really sure about the greatness of his poem “Pale Fire” or if he used John Shade, “the greatest fictional poet,” as a mask. He lovingly described what I consider as “his mother’s wisdom” concerning religious inquiries (in SM), but I’m doubtful if he’d allow himself to emotionally give her a full credit for her influence over his primary system of beliefs. Concerning the latter, we only need to compare the first short-stories V.Sirin signed and where his mystical references were made very explicit, with his later writings.
But the constant mark remains the one you pointed out here* (together with S.B, SES and lots of others), namely the suspended answer, one that forces the reader into finding his own way out, or into accepting the impossibility of a “closure,” as it happens with his character in “The Word.”


*-“…he's toying with his readers the way the Wizard Of Oz did in the movie.” [ ] “It's this mixture of the prankster and the sage I think which gives his work its peculiar blend of goofiness and profundity, common sense, cynicism and frothy hopefulness; with ironic savoire faire his best novels cut away everything leaving only the merest thread to cling to.” “N.'s characters's only recourse is to tell us that what they felt before realizing they'd been tricked was almost as good as if not as good as the truly magical thing would have been…In books, this is simply right, because there's an author, but does this really work in our lives?... Figuring out what N. means precisely is virtually impossible because he's either deliberately, or through a jokey temperament, left holes for the reader to trip on.”

# - It is a pity that Nabokov scholars tend to favor certain clinical applications of Freud’s “sexual symbols” as their sole means to access Freudian theories, instead of entrusting their time to read more about how he and other psychoanalysts explored mental representations and the workings of the mind. A very early text by Freud is worth considering, even in our days: Cf. Freud, Sigmund. "Formulations Regarding the Two Principles in Mental Functioning." Papers on Metapsychology; Papers on Applied Psycho-Analysis. Vol. 4 of Collected Papers. 5 vols. London: Hogarth and Institute of Psycho-Analysis, 1924-1950. 13-21.


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