Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0025958, Wed, 21 Jan 2015 23:57:24 -0200

RES: [NABOKV-L] RES: [NABOKV-L] Darwin in Ada
Jansy Mello: For the first time I saw a clue about VN's insistence on Van's
(biological) sterility. What are the "profound modifications" you find in
them, probably enhanced by their parents close family ties?
Victor Fet: "Sterility is a possible biological consequence of
consanguineous inbreeding. See e.g.

Dear Victor,

I hope I'll not inconvenience you by preferring to continue my questions at
the VN-List, one of my most valued forums because it allows us to voice not
only candid, humoristic and informal opinions but also to engage in more
strict academic exchanges related to Nabokov which are often inaccessible to
some of the Nablers. Your contributions are always a joy to read - and to
know that they are shared by many of your admirers is, for me, an added

Here is a quote from your review of Chekhov's "Three Sisters":

"Anton Chekhov died of tuberculosis, aged 44, in 1904-the time of a rare,
precarious peaceful spell in European history. Ten years since, officers and
soldiers leaving town in the final scene of The Three Sisters will march
onto the fields of the senseless, bloodiest Great War. Those who survive
will see their dreams ruined again by the Russian revolution, civil war, and
communist terror and slavery for three generations. After we have lived
through the 20th century well into the 21st, there is less and less hope
that the humankind will heed the dreams of Colonel Vershinin (first played
by the great Stanislavsky himself). // Still, I value dreams as much as
Chekhov did, so I repeat after Vershinin: "In two or three hundred years
life on earth will be unimaginably beautiful, amazing, astonishing. Man has
need of that life and if it doesn't yet exist, he must sense it, wait for it
and dream of it, prepare to receive it, and to achieve that he must see and
know more than our grandfathers and fathers saw or knew."

At a time when we witness different kinds of wars expanding their
destructiveness all over our vulnerable planet and spirit, it is bracing to
hear of your dreams, some of them shared with Chekhov and with V.Nabokov.
When I decided to bring together your generous and heartening sentence and
one of Nabokov's, I refreshed my memory using a search machine that led me
to various articles and books ( several of which I wasn't familiar with).
I'd like to bring up the name of two: Ethics, Evil and Fiction (where the
author offers an elaboration about the phrase I'd been looking for and
connects it to the content of your message about Darwin indirectly), by
Colin McGinnsear, and the more familiar article by Richard Rorty on Cruelty
(available on line eb.princeton.edu/sites/english/NEH/RORTY.HTM )

The quote: "Lolita has no moral in tow. For me a work of fiction exists
only in so far as if affords me what I shall bluntly call aesthetic bliss,
that is a sense of being somehow, somewhere, connected with other states of
being where art (curiosity, tenderness, kindness, ecstasy) is the norm."

Just as a mathematical formula can be considered "beautiful", there are many
works of art that now question the standard parameters of "beauty" (without
the revolutionary excesses defended by, say, Artaud's Theatre of Cruelty,
when the road to beauty - the correct word now fails me - demands a passage
that progresses through various degrees of horror). Your article about
Chekhov's art and play emphasized the importance of individual emotions over
strategic action in a succinct manner. And, as I see it, the beauty and
ethics of V.Nabokov's art lies in the promise (the dream) hidden in the
lines quoted above because, for me they represent, among other things, an
exercise in the dangers and advantages in the emotions related to "empathy"
(can we connect them to Darwin at this point, without the need of invoking

Going back to the original subject. You were advocating the inclusion of
Darwin and evolution in "ADA"* before you noted that: Nabokov is both writer
and a natural scientist; he may not agree with mechanisms suggested by
Darwin entirely, but he never denies evolution and human nature," but it's
not clear to me if, by evolution, you mean a directionless rotation and
change, or if the concept of "progress" and an advance in complexity is
implied therein. You seem to value Van's and Ada's evolutionary acquisitions
relying on Darwin's evolutionary theory and based on "human nature" (
judging from: "not inherited, I'm afraid") - but your reference to an
article about "sterility" mainly offers examples of decadence and illness
resulting in the death of a lineage, as was the case of the Veens.

I fear I'm confusing different issues (art, beauty, cruelty, empathy,
evolution, progress) for I lack the necessary background to coherently
express the radiating associations you stimulated in me: perhaps you could
enlighten me, without silencing your vision at the VN-List?


* "Van and Ada thus are not just "children of Demon" but also descendants of
Darwin. "Descent with modification" is Darwin's original formula of
evolutionary change. Anybody would agree that, in the case of Van and Ada,
such modification, compared to direct ancestors, is profound. It will not be
inherited, I am afraid."

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