Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0023385, Thu, 11 Oct 2012 13:53:06 -0300

Re: THOUGHT: VN's ghosts . . . and PNIN

Tatiana Ponomareva: "It could be that the answer to many ghost-related riddles in Nabokov (including PF) is in "Pnin": "He did not believe in an autocratic God. He did believe, dimly, in a democracy of ghosts. The souls of the dead, perhaps, formed committees, and these, in continuous session, attended to the destinies of the quick." It is the interaction and struggle between ghosts, each protecting his or her own "quick", much like Greek gods, that can explain the incosistencies...."

Jansy Mello: It was with relief that I read a reference to the Greek gods in T.Ponomareva"s post about Pnin's "democracy of ghosts," because I'd brought in the "Time machine" that Venus handed to Vasco da Gama while discussing ghosts. I didn't clarify what exactly I had in mind when I made a comment to RS Gwynn's query ("I am trying to think of other writers (Homer, Vergil, and Shakespeare, of course) who employ prophetic ghosts").

Nabokov derides spiritualistic beliefs quite often (as in the case of Alfred Russel Wallace, in "Pale Fire," as Priscilla Meyer has pointed out in her indispensable book "See what the sailor has hidden"), although he didn't remark (that I know of) on Conan Doyle's peculiar belief in the fairy hoax. However, at various other times, Nabokov seems to have taken more than a passing interest in spiritualistic beliefs*. In VN's case his attitude must have been similar to what is aptly said in a Spanish quip: "Yo no creo en brujas, pero que las hay, las hay" ("I don't believe in witches, but there's no doubt that they exist" in a very approximate translation).

I prefer to avoid conjecturing about "real" ghosts, except when they make themselves felt in literature. Therefore, in my eyes, ghosts, Greek gods or "time machines" are related, since they serve as literary artifacts, plot machinations. strategic whiffs of comedy. What Nabokov seems to take seriously, even extending it outside of his fictional works, are patterns and extraordinary coincidences (and their "poltergeist" qualities)

*As Tatiana Pomomareva has just pointed out: ""As for the tradition of ghosts in the Russian literature, it's huge but it seems that Nabokov's treatment of the theme was influenced more by spiritualistic and theosophical teachings immensely popular in Russia at the time of Nabokov's youth."

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