NABOKV-L post 0025978, Thu, 29 Jan 2015 16:09:42 -0200

Subject
RES: [NABOKV-L] James Joyce, Ada, Kafka and VN's LL
Date
Body
JM: “… Mine are, certainly, very idiosyncratic associations…about my former
blindness (or deafness) to VN’s wonderful and profound presentation of
Gogol’s and Kafka’s fantasies about an absurd world from which the pathetic
trembling living character tries to escape in order to ascess “the world of
humans.” I cannot explain in my own words what’s in this characterization
that touched me so deeply, but my dorsal spine responded to it…It is as if I
could finally realize that we inhabit several parallel worlds (are all of
them subjective?) and that our humanity is still a miracle to be conquered,
that it is not a given. “In Gogol and Kafka the absurd central character
belongs to the absurd world around him but, pathetically and tragically,
attempts to struggle out of it into the world of humans—and dies in despair.
In Stevenson the unreal central character belongs to a brand of unreality
different from that of the world around him. He is a Gothic character in a
Dickensian setting, and when he struggles and then dies, his fate possesses
only conventional pathos. I do not at all mean that Stevenson's story is a
failure. No, it is a minor masterpiece in its own conventional terms, but it
has only two dimensions, whereas the Gogol-Kafka stories have five or six.”
(LL,p.254)



JM: The observation I sketched out above resulted from a train of details
presented in VN’s paragraph about “reality” and “fantasy” and their mutual
relations: he described the different “realities” of a botanist, a tourist
and a farmer when looking at the same landscape, and the different meaning
the words “grass”, “tree”, “water” would acquire for them following their
experience and expectations*. However, in his exposition of Gregor Samsa’s
predicament when trying to cope with his philistine oppressors (his parents
and his sister), Nabokov often described Gregor’s “human traits” - in
contrast to his insect’s body - and referred to his “human nature.” These
elements seem to undermine my strong feeling that, for VN, humanity is
still a miracle to be conquered, that it is not a given…Nevertheless, before
his transformation into an insect, Gregor’s flesh and spirit were vulnerable
and sick [The pathetic urge to find some protection from betrayal, cruelty,
and filth is the factor that went to form his carapace, his beetle shell,
which at first seems hard and secure but eventually is seen to be as
vulnerable as his sick human flesh and spirit had been. Who of the three
parasites—father, mother, sister—is the most cruel? (262)] and this implies
a particular metamorphosis into a particular sort of “humaneness,” when
innate goodness (unselfishness, empathy, sweetness) gets a chance to
flourish to constitute a new species of humanity (that will “transcend the
cloak or the carapace”) **.

A quote from Goethe’s “Faust” (part I, Night), often cited by S.Freud, came
to my mind: „Was du ererbt von Deinen Vätern hast, erwirb es, um es zu
besitzen.“ But I don’t think VN had neither Goethe nor Freud in mind when he
included his “evolutionary” views in the Kafka lecture or in his afterword
to “Lolita”: “For me a work of fiction exists only insofar as it 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.” In his Kafka lecture V.Nabokov
is remonstrating against R.L.Stevenson’s “conventional” artistic views of
good and evil. It seems to me that he is confirming his vision of Art as a
means of reaching a novel kind of goodness, a newborn “humanity”…



John Updike’s conclusions in his introduction to LL refer to what he named
“Nabokov’s credo.” This designation suggests to me that JU has isolated VN’s
artistic credo as shown in his lectures from VN’s achievements as an artist.
I cannot agree with him in that aspect: for me, VN’s artistic “credo” is a
subtle thread that crosses most of his works. However, I appreciate his
point about VN’s failure to deal with Gregor’s needs and love of his family,
or his reactions to his role in “objective” society (an indispensable
complication).



Cf. John Updike (V.N Lectures on Literature, xxvi, Fredson Bowers,HBJ,1980):


“In his passionate reading of ‘The Metamorphosis,’ Nabokov deprecates as
‘mediocrity surrounding genius’ Gregor Samsa’s philistine and bourgeois
family without acknowledging, at the very heart of Kafka’s poignance, how
much Gregor needs and adores these possibly crass, but also vital and
definite, inhabitants of the mundane. The ambivalence omnipresent in Kafka’s
rich tragi-comedy has no place in Nabokov’s credo, though in artistic
practice a work like Lolita brims with it, and with a formidable density of
observed detail - …”

…………………………………………..

*From my point of view, any outstanding work of art is a fantasy insofar as
it reflects the unique world of a unique individual. But when people call
these three stories fantasies, they merely imply that the stories depart in
their subject matter from what is commonly called reality (252) …So when we
say reality, we are really thinking of all this—in one drop—an average
sample of a mixture of a million individual realities. And it is in this
sense (of human reality) that I use the term reality when placing it against
a backdrop, such as the worlds of "The Carrick," "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,"
and "The Metamorphosis," which are specific fantasies. (253)

**The beauty of Kafka's and Gogol's private nightmares is that their central
human characters belong to the same private fantastic world as the inhuman
characters around them, but the central one tries to get out of that world,
to cast off the mask, to transcend the cloak or the carapace. (254) The
pathetic urge to find some protection from betrayal, cruelty, and filth is
the factor that went to form his carapace, his beetle shell, which at first
seems hard and secure but eventually is seen to be as vulnerable as his sick
human flesh and spirit had been. Who of the three parasites—father, mother,
sister—is the most cruel? (262) His sister does not understand that Gregor
has retained a human heart, human sensitivity, a human sense of decorum, of
shame, of humility and pathetic pride. (269) It should be noted how kind,
how good our poor little monster is. His beetlehood, while distorting and
degrading his body, seems to bring out in him all his human sweetness. His
utter unselfishness, his constant preoccupation with the needs of
others—this, against the backdrop of his hideous plight comes out in strong
relief. Kafka's art consists in accumulating on the one hand, Gregor's
insect features, all the sad detail of his insect disguise, and on the other
hand, in keeping vivid and limpid before the reader's eyes Gregor's sweet
and subtle human nature.(270)






Search archive with Google:
http://www.google.com/advanced_search?q=site:listserv.ucsb.edu&HL=en

Contact the Editors: mailto:nabokv-l@utk.edu,nabokv-l@holycross.edu
Zembla: http://www.libraries.psu.edu/nabokov/zembla.htm
Nabokv-L policies: http://web.utk.edu/~sblackwe/EDNote.htm
Nabokov Online Journal:" http://www.nabokovonline.com
AdaOnline: "http://www.ada.auckland.ac.nz/
The Nabokov Society of Japan's Annotations to Ada: http://vnjapan.org/main/ada/index.html
The VN Bibliography Blog: http://vnbiblio.com/
Search the archive with L-Soft: https://listserv.ucsb.edu/lsv-cgi-bin/wa?A0=NABOKV-L

Manage subscription options :http://listserv.ucsb.edu/lsv-cgi-bin/wa?SUBED1=NABOKV-L