NABOKV-L post 0011321, Thu, 14 Apr 2005 19:58:51 -0700

Mick Glynn: Dissertation-A novelist of Delusion: Vladimir
Nabokov's Bergsonian and Russian Formalist Affinities
EDNOTE. I commend Dr. Glynn for sending NABOKV-L for his postoing and would
like to urge others to follow his example re dissertations and articles.
----- Original Message -----
From: "MIck Glynn" <>
To: <>
Sent: Thursday, April 14, 2005 5:54 AM
Subject: N and Formalism

Dear Sir,

I would like to pass on a brief snippet concerning the following recent
posting re N and Formalism :

(Date: Wed, 12 Jan 2005 10:17:11 -0800 Subject: Fwd: Query:
Formalism,Hansen-Löve, Merleau-Ponty).

My recently completed PhD dissertation which investigates Nabokov's
epistemological affinities with Bergson and Shklovsky, available from the
British Library, might be useful to consult. Although the essentialist
philosopher and the materialist critic would appear to be epistemologically
antithetical, I argue that their influence upon N was complementary. Part
of the diss is to be published in a forthcoming issue of the European
Journal of American Culture. The diss is entitled ' A novelist of Delusion:
Vladimir Nabokov's Bergsonian and Russian Formalist Affinities. The
introduction to the diss is indicative. I include it below in the hope that
it might prove helpful to the original enquirer. Incidentally, I would
like to extend my thanks to yourself and all contributors to Nabokv-L for
providing me with intellectual succour and a sense of community during the
six years of PhD research. Thanks, Dr Michael Glynn


"Alas, I am not one to provide much sport for influence
hunters." (Strong Opinions 152)

This dissertation argues for the importance of delusion as a theme within
Nabokov's novels. Nabokov repeatedly presents us with characters and entire
societies that seek to distort reality or to efface it altogether and I
shall suggest that this thematic preoccupation was informed by Nabokov's
familiarity with the ideas of the philosopher Henri Bergson and those of the
Russian Formalist critic, Viktor Shklovsky. I shall argue that both Bergson
and Shklovsky were in effect philosophers of delusion who in their different
ways engaged with an epistemological problematic, with the notion that man
does not fully perceive the material world. Nabokov shared this
Bergsonian/Shklovskyite concern with the problem of seeing, shared a sense
that man should seek to know material reality directly. I shall preface my
discussion of Nabokov's Bergsonian and Shklovskyite affinities by countering
the idea, now something of a critical orthodoxy, that Nabokov was in effect
a Symbolist writer concerned with a transcendent, extra-mundane reality. I
shall seek to demonstrate that Nabokov's epistemology was in fact
anti-Symbolist and that this aligned him with both Bergsonism and Russian
Formalism which intellectual systems were themselves hostile to a Symbolist
mode of cognition. A Symbolist epistemology may be seen to devalue material
reality by positing it as a mere adumbration of a higher realm. Nabokov's
own epistemology was antithetical to this. Nabokov valued the immediate
material world and was creatively engaged by the pernicious tendency of the
deluded mind to manifest a degree of obliviousness to material reality or
even to efface that reality altogether. Having discussed his
anti-Symbolism, I shall proceed to examine, in separate chapters, Nabokov's
broad affinities with Russian Formalism and Bergsonism respectively. This
shall include an exploration of Nabokov's approach to literary criticism,
his views on the mind matter dichotomy, his attitude to Freud and Darwin and
his conception of scientific knowledge.
I shall then focus on the specific elements in Bergson's and Shklovsky's
thought that present man as a deluded creature. These elements, I suggest,
resonated particularly strongly with Nabokov and helped shape his creative
imagination. Both Bergson and Shklovsky held that the mind tends to
delusiveness because perception becomes automatic. Bergson argued that the
mind is deluded in that it fails to apprehend "duration," the flux, the
ceaseless becoming that is reality. Instead, the mind tends towards
automatism, towards a rigid, mechanical and falsifying apprehension of
reality. In this automatised state, the mind seeks to immobilise duration,
seeks to carve it up into a concatenation of discrete states, thereby
falsifying it. Shklovsky also held that perception becomes dulled and
automatic with the result that the individual mind simply ceases to notice
material reality. Both Bergson and Shklovsky held that art acts to
deautomatise perception. The artist performs a special function in that he
or she may effect an epistemological reawakening, may counter the mind's
tendency towards delusion. In Nabokov's fiction we shall see that many
characters are artists or quasi-artists and that Nabokov sometimes playfully
subverts the Bergsonian/Shklovskyite paradigm by presenting the reader with
artist figures who use art not to dispel but to foster delusion.
Having discussed Nabokov's Bergsonian/Shklovskyite affinities, I shall
proceed to examine the ways in which those affinities manifest themselves in
the fiction. I shall focus on the following: Nabokov's fundamental sense
that man is deluded because the mind tends to automatism, to a conventional
and rigid apprehension of people and things; his reverence for the
"maddening details" of the material world, the world to which the
automatised mind is oblivious; his sense that the artist may dispel
delusion, may refresh automatised perception of reality; his suspicion of a
Symbolist epistemology that effectively devalues the material world by
conceiving of it as a token of a more veridical reality. I shall provide a
detailed discussion of those novels in which Nabokov engages most closely
and most fruitfully with elements of a Bergsonian/Shklovskyite epistemology.
I conceive of this grouping of novels as a bipartite one. In Lolita, Pale
Fire and Despair, we are presented with deluded minds. In these narratives,
individual artist figures actively distort reality. In Bend Sinister,
Invitation to a Beheading and King Queen Knave we are presented with deluded
worlds. In each of these novels, an undeluded artist figure is situated in
a deluded realm, in a world peopled by automata. My intention throughout is
not to seek to reduce the work to an assemblage of Bergsonian/Shklovskyite
motifs. As I shall demonstrate, Nabokov engaged with the paradigm of
delusion offered by Bergson and Shklovsky and transformed it via art into
something distinctively, pungently Nabokovian.
In the light of the thematic preoccupations discussed, I shall, in a
concluding chapter, go on to examine what kind of writer Nabokov was. I
shall consider the extent to which Nabokov's engagement with the broad theme
of delusion may be seen to articulate a moral viewpoint.

Thank You

Michael Glynn