Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0005572, Fri, 27 Oct 2000 13:26:55 -0700

Nabokov's views on evolution, mimicry, & his Metaphysics
RE: for Nabokov ForumEDITOR's NOTE. Kurt Johnson, author of the posting below, is co-author (with Steve Coates) of NABOKOV's BLUES, a fascinating reassessment of VN's work as a lepidopterist.

----- Original Message -----
From: Johnson, Kurt
For Nabokov-on-line

Regarding my short posts on the Harvard (Oct. 24th) Nabokov event and subsequent NPR program (Oct. 25, see www.theconnection.org [archives, last ten shows, "Nabokov's Butterflies"]:

You'll remember that, at the event, the speakers Bob Pyle, Kurt Johnson and Steve Coates were introduced by Dr. Charles Remington (Nabokov's friend while at Harvard, professor emeritus of genetics at Yale and author of a piece on Nabokov in the Garland Companion).

At supper after the Harvard event I took the opportunity, warning him in advance that he would be quoted, to ask Dr. Remington that vital question that has come up in so many venues: "in your personal experience of Nabokov, do you think his metaphysical commitments would have made it impossible for him to understand/agree with the natural selection-related explanation that populations genetics provides for the exactness of biological mimicry?".

Dr. Remington said, "Yes", he thought it was quite likely that Nabokov would have not accepted that explanation. He said he knew Nabokov "well" on that point-- that is, his leanings toward metaphysics-- and feels he was quite committed to those views. Brian and I brought this up in our discussion the next day on NPR. I must dash now, but wanted to get this posted since I have promised a number of people for some time that I would put this question directly to Dr. Remington. As many of you know, Dr. Remington voiced this opinion obliquely in his Garland Companion commentary but in a context that made is questionable whether it was an "aside" or a very strongly held observation.

Of course, as Steve Coates and I continue to note; we really can't know what reaction Nabokov would have had to a good study of population genetics. As we said in Nabokov's Blues, there was no biological concept of his day that Nabokov did not understand well and judiciously attend to. We offer the counter suggestion that Nabokov would have seen that population genetics' explanation was indeed adequate and uttered a great "aha!". As Brian Boyd suggested obliquely in the Oct. 25, "The Connection" interview, Nabokov could have uttered that "aha" and still held onto his belief in the "magical" aspects of reality.

Kurt Johnson