Former posting (excerpts): For V.Nabokov “We shall never know…the meaning of life” but, as also quoted by P.Johnston, it is possible to explore “attainment and science, retainment and art.” As we may also read in B.Boyd’s essay: “Art at its best offers us the durability that became life’s first purpose, the variety that became its second …We do not know a purpose guaranteed from outside life, but we can add as much as we can to the creativity of life.” Purpose-Driven Life,  by Brian Boyd, 2009;[…]  I remembered Henri Bergson’s hypothesis about the Élan vital and Freud’s divergent paths [… ] For him…since every organism must strive after the kind of death that belongs exclusively to its species, it was thanks to the external obstacles that life and its variety was sustained during the interval in which its specific road to death wasn’t conquered more directly. The outside world, for S.Freud, seems to play a role that is similar to Art in the maintenance of life…”

Jansy Mello: A correction - Freud didn’t use the word “species”  (besides, for him sex wasn’t only an “ancilla of art” – but let’s not enter into that tangle of thorns now!*)  

Quoting from “Beyond the Pleasure Principle” (from
 If then all organic instincts are conservative, historically acquired, and are directed towards regression, towards reinstatement of something earlier, we are obliged to place all the results of organic development to the credit of external, disturbing and distracting influences. The rudimentary creature would from its very beginning not have wanted to change, would, if circumstances had remained the same, have always merely repeated the same course of existence[…] It would be counter to the conservative nature of instinct if the goal of life were a state never hitherto reached[… ] If we may assume as an experience admitting of no exception that everything living dies from causes within itself, and returns to the inorganic, we can only say ‘The goal of all life is death’, and, casting back, ‘The inanimate was there before the animate.’ […]  It remains to be added that the organism is resolved to die only in its own way; even these watchmen of life [instincts of self-preservation, power, self-assertion] were originally the myrmidons of death.” 

Freud wrote his article in 1925 and, at that time, his ideas follow Haeckel’s “theory of recapitulation”, i.e. that  “ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny.”** I cannot remember any invective against S.Freud, on Nabokov’s part, that was not restricted to Freud’s “The Interpretation of Dreams” and his “Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality.” Although V.N insistently depreciated Freud there seems to be no exact reference to any of the works he despised: quite probably he didn’t even bother to read Freud’s different theoretical writings and research. It would have been wonderful to find his critical opinions concerning Freud’s “death drive”, “the compulsion to repeat” or his refusal to accept that there could be in nature a drive (commonly translated as an  “instinct”) towards perfection.


*For Freud, of course, the artistic urge sublimates the sexual. Nabokov reverses the relationship. As a biologist and a keen reader of Bergson, he felt that in evolutionary terms sex shows nature at its most create, its most imaginative.It is not the artistic aptitudes that are secondary sexual characters as some shams and shamans have said,” he writes in Lolita; “it is the other way around: sex is but the ancilla of art.” (138). Cf. Brian Boyd, Vladimir Nabokov: The Russian Years, p.109.  [Btw: the quoted lines were written by H.Humbert (Lolita, part 2,ch.26)].

** As registered in the wiki:The Austrian pioneer in psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud, also favored Haeckel's doctrine. He was trained as a biologist under the influence of recapitulation theory at the time of its domination, and retained a Lamarckian outlook with justification from the recapitulation theory. He also distinguished between physical and mental recapitulation, in which the differences would become an essential argument for his theory of neuroses.” (cf. S. Jay Gould, 1977).


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