Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0024604, Thu, 19 Sep 2013 08:46:58 -0400

Re: [Thoughts] Art's higher level
[Dear host--previous message got away from me. please ignore.]
Jansy--Masterful response!
I think this whole issue is supremely important with regard to Nabokov. Memory is regularly a central subject. When I read literature I am always wondering about the who the author is in order to feel that I really understand what the author wrote. You seem to be saying that he, like all of us, distorts his memories, especially unhappy ones. This leads one to the conclusion that he was an unreliable author! With so much talk of Wayne Booth's unreliable narrator, I wonder if anyone has tackled the rhetoric of the unreliable author. In Nabokov's work, the author seems, generally, like God, hardly unreliable. And in LATH in particular, if I remember correctly, even Vadim learns to visualize backward clearly. Also I'm wondering if your observation of Nabokov's evasions of unhappy memories is generally shared by students of Nabokov.

Date: Wed, 18 Sep 2013 16:22:14 -0300
From: jansy.nabokv-L@AETERN.US
Subject: Re: [NABOKV-L] [Thoughts] Art's higher level

Assa:"... concerning Vadim's
inability to "visualize a certain path backwards" I find your statement
that relates this inability to the fact that Nabokov's recollections of his
past are artistically doctored" very thought provoking. Is it your
thesis that Nabokov wants us to see that Vadim's path is a metaphor for his
(Vadim's) thinking about his past? Is Vadim's conundrum a peek into
Nabokov's own psychology? If he wants us to think that about Vadim how
does that relate to the work overall?"

Jansy Mello:
Perspicatious questions which, in great part, I'm unable to answer!. Your
wording suggests that I'd have a thesis addressed to
something that Nabokov had wanted the reader to see, or related
to an intention of his to offer a "peek into his own psychology."
I don't know whether Nabokov, at that stage (LATH), was trying to
"communicate" with his readership, or even with himself. Personally, I
doubt it. My interpretation refers to one's general tendency to distort almost
all of our recollections and, therefore, to Nabokov's
observable difficulty to cope with a host of disagreable
remembrances, something that, in his case, was happily allied to his
genius to explore and develop his paramnesias (emotionally charged
screen-memories) in different ways.

In "Speak,Memory" the feeling of witnessing an idyllic
childhood, only slightly marred by insomnia and tedious tutors, seems to
be the prevalent after-effect. Nabokov's "confessions" in LATH, though, are
of a different order (the term "confessions" is inappropriate). Although
Vadim's conundrum might serve as "a metaphor for his thinking about his
past," ( & that's what I intended to suggest), I have no idea if
it was intended as such by Nabokov and to what purpose. If it in
fact "relates to the work overall" the result would be
the demonstration of Vadim's relative success in evading, or feeling guilty
about, his past actions (he is unable to remember them correctly and,
therefore, he is now condemned to repeat them - should you accept
the Freudian view*) .

However, long before Freud developped his theories about a repressed
unconscious (and its layerings, like different cities or everyday
objects encountered in archeological escavations) and its effects over
the personality, Thomas de Quincey produced an even richer image about
memory, when he compared it to a palimpsest. When I tried to retrieve his text
online I came to a fascinating study that expresses almost everything I'd
like to write and with greater precision. I'll be quoting only a few
paragraphs, more directly related to de Quincey. I suggest that you read it in full (it's related to modern ideas
about intertextuality), should the subject be of interest to
you. http://lucian.uchicago.edu/blogs/mediatheory/keywords/palimpsest/.

A palimpsest is “a parchment or other writing surface on which the
original text has been effaced or partially erased, and then overwritten by
another; a manuscript in which later writing has been superimposed on earlier
(effaced) writing.” In other words, a palimpsest is a “multi-layered record.”
[ ]In his 1845 essay titled ‘The Palimpsest’, Thomas De Quincey
refers to the structure as an “involuted” phenomenon where otherwise unrelated
texts are interwoven, competing with, and infiltrating each other.[
] The palimpsest is also often likened to the human brain and to memory.
Freud’s mystic writing pad is metaphor for the palimpsest and for the
functioning of memory. Thomas de Quincey also writes about the human brain
in a similar vein:
"What else than a natural and mighty palimpsest is the
human brain? [...] Everlasting layers of ideas, images and feelings, have fallen
upon your brain softly as light. Each succession has seemed to bury all that
went before. And yet in reality not one has been extinguished. [...] They are
not dead but sleeping [...] there is none of passion or disease that can scorch
away these immortal impulses."

* Sigmund Freud (1914).
Remembering, Repeating and Working-Through (Further
Recommendations on the Technique of Psycho-Analysis II). The Standard Edition of
the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Volume XII (1911-1913): The
Case of Schreber, Papers on Technique and Other Works, pp.

See also: http://www.magma.ca/~mfonda/freud06.html
Psychopathology of Everyday Life. Volume VI. Translated By James
Strachey. London: The Hogarth Press, 1960. Chapter 4: Childhood Memories and
Screen Memories. "The indifferent memories of childhood own their existence to
the mechanism of displacement: that is, they operate as substitutes in mnemic
reproductions of other, significant impressions. Such significant impressions
can be brought out through analysis but a resistance prevents them from being
directly reproduced in the everyday situation. Types of displacement: regressive
displacement: in this case the content of a screen memory belongs to earliest
childhood (which has been repressed since its origination) and the mental
experiences it replaces usually occurred in the subject's later
opposite relation: this appears more frequently than regressive
displacement. In this case an indifferent impression of recent occurrence
establishes itself as a screen memory but owes its existence to associations
from an earlier experience which is prevented from direct reproduction by one's
resistances--i.e., they are said to be displaced forward [ ]Freud
leaps to the conclusion that early childhood memories are in fact revisions of
such experiences. They are revisions which may have been subject to the various
influences of one's psychical processes. Hence, infantile memories become, in
general, to acquire the significance of screen memories. Still, Freud notes, it
is vary difficult to analytically determine which memories are screens and which
are not. "

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