Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0026817, Wed, 20 Jan 2016 00:30:30 -0200

RES: [NABOKV-L] {NABOKV-L] The work of memory: The Circle, Pnin,
Firsr Love, The Reunion

Jansy Mello: In my latest posting I used quotes to illustrate how a
character in Nabokov's short-story "The Circle" used (fiction's) real, or
spurious, recollections of past encounters with another character to gain
some kind of ascendancy over him. An almost similar attempt can be found in
his novel "Pnin," when the narrator declares that he had plans to "amuse him
(Pnin) and other people around us with the unusual lucidity and strength of
my memory" by offering a detailed account of the experiences he shared with
thirteen-year old Pnin - who denied having encountered him before: "He said
he vaguely recalled my grand-aunt but had never met me. He said that his
marks in algebra had always been poor and that, anyway, his father never
displayed him to patients; he said that in Zabava (Liebelei) he had only
acted the part of Christine's father. He repeated that we had never seen
each other before." The narrator adds somewhat mischievously that after
"noticing how reluctant he was to recognize his own past, I switched to
another, less personal, topic."
The reader is allowed to perceive that the narrator is taking advantage of
his position as a narrator by stressing the fact that Pnin denies their
encounter not only one, but two times (the "he doth protest too much" kind
of suggestion) and that Pnin tries to avoid to "recognize his own past" as
if he (the narrator) were the only person entitled to know the actual facts
- just like psychoanalysts who had been popularly accused of trying to
establish his patient's unconscious truths at all costs.

Was it V.Nabokov's intention in "Pnin" to criticize Freud's writings about
the "unconscious repressed" and the mechanisms of "denial," was it his plan
to illustrate the dangerous fun of "mnemic gossip" or the control even an
unreliable narrator can exercise over the veracity of the story he presents?
I chose to return to this theme after I came across the news of a conference
in Warsaw with the theme "Vladimir Nabokov and the Fictions of memory" in
the internet: although it has been announced at the VN-L in Dec.02,2015* I
must have missed it. Today one of the presented queries caught my attention:
"Does the past control us, as in Freud's theories, detested and summarily
dismissed by Nabokov, or is it possible to control the workings of memory
and manipulate it in literary discourse?" (I wonder if it's possible to
answer it as it has been formulated!)

Another query (Is Nabokov really interested in objectively recalling the
past or would it be more apt to say that he artfully constructs remembrance
in order to deal with trauma, loss and disappointment?) gave my ideas a new
push after I compared two descriptions of forgetfulness in association to
names (the name of two dogs, actually!) and how the lost word could be
finally retrieved.

In "The Reunion" the process is mentioned in detail: . "What was the
poodle's name?"/"Wait a minute," said Lev. "Wait a minute. Yes, that's
right. I'll remember in a moment." [ ] "It really is absurd that we
can't... Remember how it got lost once, and you and Tikhotski's girl
wandered for hours in the woods searching for it. I'm sure there was a k and
perhaps an r somewhere."[ ]"It was something like Turk.... Trick... No, it
won't come. It's hopeless."[ ] Serafim gave a wave of his spread hand [
] Suddenly he stopped short. Somewhere in his memory there was a hint of
motion, as if something very small had awakened and begun to stir. The word
was still invisible, but its shadow had already crept out as from behind a
corner, and he wanted to step on that shadow to keep it from retreating and
disappearing again. Alas, he was too late. Everything vanished, but, at the
instant his brain ceased straining, the thing stirred again, more
perceptibly this time, and like a mouse emerging from a crack when the room
is quiet, there appeared, lightly, silently, mysteriously, the live
corpuscle of a word.... 'Give me your paw, Joker.' Joker! How simple it was.

In "First Love" ".a delightful thing happens. The process of re-creating
that penholder and the microcosm in its eyelet stimulates my memory to a
last effort. I try again to recall the name of Colette's dog-and, sure
enough, along those remote beaches, over the glossy evening sands of the
past, where each footprint slowly fills up with sunset water, here it comes,
here it comes, echoing and vibrating: Floss, Floss, Floss!"

The delight or the relief of recollecting the forgotten name in both stories
hint at the hypothesis that, for VN, this kind of lapsus hides no dangerous
traumatic experiences and that words are as capricious as little "live
corpuscles" dancing in their associative mesh. And yet.


*Irena Księżopolska wrote to the VN-L forum last December to "cordially
invite you all to a Nabokov-themed conference to take place in Warsaw,
Poland, in September 2016." The theme is VLADIMIR NABOKOV AND THE FICTIONS

"Almost 40 years after Nabokov's death his texts continue to function as
literary Fabergé eggs in which scholars keep finding hidden surprises and
previously overlooked details. As Nabokov wrote in Conclusive Evidence, "the
unravelling of a riddle is the purest and most basic act of the human
mind."[ ]One of the greatest riddles of Nabokov's art is memory. From his
very first poems and his first novel Mary to the unfinished manuscript of
The Original of Laura, Nabokov's writings abound in characters haunted by
their past. This preoccupation is not simply a feature of loss and nostalgia
characteristic of emigrant experience in general, but an attempt to examine
the mechanisms which control the functions of human consciousness. While
Nabokov explores his own remembrances, transferring his experiences to the
characters of his fictions, it is never entirely clear how much of what is
being recalled is in fact a construct of the imagination.[ ] What is the
function of memory in Nabokov's texts? Is Nabokov really interested in
objectively recalling the past or would it be more apt to say that he
artfully constructs remembrance in order to deal with trauma, loss and
disappointment? To what extent is the past reshaped through literary models
and intertextual props? Does the past control us, as in Freud's theories,
detested and summarily dismissed by Nabokov, or is it possible to control
the workings of memory and manipulate it in literary discourse?"

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