NABOKV-L post 0021392, Fri, 25 Feb 2011 12:09:42 -0700

Re: VN and Freud
On Thu, Feb 24, 2011 at 11:42 AM, James Twiggs <> wrote:

> *JT:* One thing I’m especially curious about is how TK, and also JF and
> anyone else who cares to comment, might connect Shade’s “text not texture”
> insight with his stated belief at the end of the poem that Hazel “somewhere
> is alive.” In most of the examples given of the game players in action (ll.
> 820-829), these “gods” don’t seem much different from the wanton boys in *King
> Lear*. And anyhow, what started off as thoughts about “life everlasting”
> has turned into thoughts about design (and the possibility of poetry).
> Unless I’ve missed or forgotten something, it’s not till the end of the poem
> that immortality re-enters the picture. Once again, what’s the connection?

JF: The connection I see isn't very explicit in the book. But I suspect
Shade tacitly assumes that in the scientific worldview that might have been
the default or the "least hypothesis" for educated people in the 1950s (and
might still be), no afterlife is possible. The soul, whatever you mean by
that, appears to be something that the brain does, so when the brain stops
working, the soul can't live on. Aristotle, as I understand him, made a
form of this argument. A hint of it might appear in the hint that Kinbote's
insanity was caused by cerebral sclerosis (and maybe even in the
will-o-the-wisp's aphasia).

Thus I take it Shade thinks that to believe in an afterlife, one must
believe that the scientific worldview is incomplete, that there's
a supernatural way for something else to continue what the brain did. When
he finds what he considers to be evidence for the supernatural, he can have
a faint hope that Hazel survives.

Most of this isn't in the text; it just makes sense of the connection Shade
apparently sees between the game-players' higher world and an
afterlife. Kinbote suggests a related idea when he says that without
Providence, there can't be any afterlife worth hoping for. And Shade's
description of those players "promoting pawns / To ebon unicorns and ivory
fauns" could refer to them merely causing unexpected good things happening
in people's lives, but as it's a transformation of the pawns and even the
rules at the destined end of their journey, it could refer to an
afterlife. Brian Boyd found "i8"s in Kinbote's escape and saw that as the
nonexistest square next to the chessboard square h8; one could compare
that to Shade's image of promotion, which could also happen at h8. (I'm
away from my books and Amazon's search isn't working, so I can't see what
Brian said.) In keeping with my prejudices, I think Shade is on the right
track and Kinbote gives a distorted and mundane reflection.

I'd add that at the ends of both *Invitation to a Beheading* and *Bend
Sinister*, the connection between the author's higher world and a
character's afterlife is visible ("a good night for mothing").

On the comparison to "wanton boys", I can see that in Shade's speculative
list, only the promotion of the pawns and the kindling of long lives are
welcome. But the game-players also gave him that "faint hope" and inspired
his poem.

> **
> *JT:* As for Yeats and VN, the question of VN’s own beliefs is of some
> importance because Brian Boyd has made it so:
> *[D. Barton Johnson] asks if it would make any difference whether
> Nabokov’s otherworldly philosophy were shopworn. To me it certainly would.
> Eliot’s craving for the authority of tradition, Yeats’s refuge in the
> irrational, to me seriously diminish their art. Nabokov is of such interest
> partly because he is such a clear and independent thinker, and his style is
> the way it is because he has such clarity and independence of thought.
> --Johnson and Boyd, “Prologue: The Otherworld,” in Nabokov’s World, Vol. 1:
> The Shape of Nabokov’s World (Palgrave-Macmillan, 2002), p. 23.*

JF: I'm going to take it for granted that suggestions of otherworldly
philosophy show up in Nabokov's fiction and non-fiction, even if he didn't
believe it. I can see four questions: 1) whether that philosophy is
"shopworn" or "independent", 2) whether he believed it or not, 3) whether
it's "irrational", and 4) if so, whether that irrationality diminishes his

1) I don't feel Nabokov's otherworldliness was very original, though I can't
support that feeling (certainly not right now).

2) I'm still skipping that.

3) By not being "overexplicit", a word Jansy reminded us of, Nabokov avoids
a judgement on rationality. What little we can see doesn't strike me as any
more rational than Yeats, though.

4) To my taste, it doesn't diminish Nabokov's art, Yeats's, Dante's (thanks
again to Jansy) at all. This is a matter of taste, and I'm a longtime
reader of fantasy and science fiction who likes the fantasy in *Gulliver's
Travels* better than the satire. I get along fine without objective
correlatives (not a phrase Brian Boyd used), and the way I enjoy good ghost
stories is not as kitsch.

Incidentally, I care that Bach believed in the religion of his Passions but
not that of his Masses, or that Gene Wolfe worships the God who appears
briefly in his *Sun* books and believes that the Greek gods he depicts in
his *Soldier* books were something real, but it doesn't matter to how good I
think these works are.

Jerry Friedman
wouldn't want to give the impression that he appreciates the genius of Bach
or many others.

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