Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0021902, Thu, 4 Aug 2011 19:17:36 EDT

Nabokov's "prenatal abyss"
I was reading to my wife Nabokov's opening of "Speak Memory", when she
spoke the obvious: "But he's a bloke." I had thought what she thought, but not
bothered to articulate it before. But surely it is crucial.

Nabokov's account of the "identical twin" "abysses" (posthumous and
"pre-natal" [sic]) may be phenomenologically true to the particular defective and
distorted experience of the young "chronophobiac" who is frightened by
seeing film of a few weeks before his birth when, supposedly, he did not
"exist". But it is certainly not true to my experience, for example. And my wife
was speaking as a mother. To her it was absurd that a baby (foetus) in the
womb should be thought not to exist, either by the mother or the baby. And
indeed it is to me, too. Even without the explicit memories of the womb
which some people have, there is surely for many people a more general feeling
of having been there: it is certainly not an "abyss". Once this has been
pointed out, Nabokov's description seems as incompetent because as
inaccurate as Henry James's description of the lighted "tip" of a cigar or
innumerable poets' descriptions of single nightingales seemed to Nabokov.

Heidegger, in a lecture course a year or so after he published Sein und
Zeit (1927), mentioned that many people had asked him why, since he had made
so much of death in that work, he did not deal with birth also. He replied
that birth and death were not a symmetric pair in the way implied. Surely
he was right.

Anthony Stadlen

Anthony Stadlen
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