Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0024692, Mon, 14 Oct 2013 00:18:15 -0300

Re: LRL - commentary n.59- I, to the Tolstoy lecture
JM: Nabokov added several commentary notes to his lecture on Tolstoy (cf.p.210- ) [ ] Nabokov presents Plato's "Symposium" dialogues about love "culled from an old edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica." I find it hard to believe that his students would need such a vague introduction to Plato to be able to follow Tolstoy's Anna Karenin. Did Nabokov plan any special project about the different kinds of "love," at that time, of the kind that inspired "Lolita," or "Ada", so that his brief "Plato" commentary serves as a hint about his novelistic ambitions?

Exploring this theme a little more:

I've already quoted Nabokov's observations about Anna Karenin's two themes: "the Oblonski family disaster" and the "Kitty-Lyovin-Vronski triangle." and that, according to him, the " 'message' Tolstoy has conveyed in his novel" by drawing "a comparison between the Lyovin-Kitty story and the Vronski-Anna story" illustrates how "Lyovin's marriage is based on a metaphysical, not only physical, concept of love, on willingness for self-sacrifice, on mutual respect," whereas the "Anna-Vronski alliance was founded only in carnal love and therein lay its doom." (p.146-7). It seems to me that Nabokov was sympathetic to the plights of the Anna-Vronski alliance and to the artistic treatment for the recurrent beats announcing their doom, and bored by Lyovin's "metaphysical...concept of love".

In his brief note about Plato (LRL.p.223), Nabokov mentions the ideas of two banqueters about "earthly and heavenly love," and the "signs of love and Love's works" and Socrates' "two kinds of love: "one (being in love") which desires beauty for a peculiar end, and the other enjoyed by creative souls that bring into being not children of their body but good deeds." (unfortunately I don't have the copy of Tolstoy's novel to check the p.51 reference that stimulated VN's commentary - I'd be thankful if any Nabler could find the corresponding lines for me). He glosses over the arguments by Phaedrus concerning two forms of love: "erastes" and "eromenos." or Aristophanes' explanation using the myth about the split hermaphrodites but, perhaps, these and other omissions result from his source (an old edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica") and not from his lack of familiarity with Plato's "Symposium" nor any deliberate exclusion. To dismiss Plato so often (once treated like Pluto, Disney's dumb dog) he must have read him extensively (as I suppose happened with his readings of S.Freud and his "school of fish"). To bring Plato up only to dismiss him in his lecture on Tolstoy continues to intrigue me.

However, I found a very thorough article online dealing with VN's so-called "neo-platonism" or, perhaps, mainly, with VN's conflictual admiration of Platonic ideas and the subject of death and the afterlife. Plato's "Symposium" isn't mentioned, though, but the author's arguments proved to be very stimulating and rich, as also his bibliographical references.

Two snippets:
"Nabokov's persistent but notably inconsistent adaptation of Platonic references appears to symbolize the writer's conflicted attitude toward the philosopher. At times, Nabokov clearly satirizes Plato-often simplifying and actually misreading his ideas the way he did it with Freud. At other times, however, in this novel and elsewhere, we can discern clear signs of "a conscious Platonism" in this and other works, particularly when in one of his essays he compared an artist to "the enchanter in his cave," both partaking "in the same sacred danger" ("Art of Literature" 372). Such an inconsistency of Platonic references bespeaks some fundamental and yet unexplained tensions in Nabokov's prose ..."

"One cannot, therefore, reduce Nabokov's tribute to this themes to a manageable subject of a discussion. We are warned against concluding that Cincinnatus' ghost,
whatever it may be, survived his execution. Strange as Nabokov's world is, we can find a ghost, but no immortality. The ghost can tell us a story of his life, but nothing about death. Nabokov's readers are habitually cheated of a chance to glimpse at afterlife the way his dead characters, no matter how imaginative they may be, are cheated of immortality altogether"

NOJ / ???: Nabokov Online Journal, Vol. I/ 2007
Alexander Moudrov

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