Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0004581, Wed, 17 Nov 1999 09:52:44 -0800

Paris-Magdalena Medaric (fwd)
Magalena Medaric (University of Zagreb)


The paper discusses the possibility of adopting the concept of
"mimicry," a term generally accepted in the natural sciences, as a concept
in the history of culture as well. As such, this notion has served a
number of twentieth century authors as the basis of many illumintive
metaphors with which they brightened their image of the world.
The paper opens with a discussion of the term "mimicy" in VN's
writings. Particular attention is devoted to the views of Vladimir
Alexandrov, the scholar who pointed out the role of the concept of mimicry
in Nabokov's explicit and implicit poetics. Alexandrov also associates
this notion, so relevant for Nabokokv, with the literature of Russia's
Silver Age, in which he noted a similar treatment of the
word-concept-image in the works of Nikolai Evreinov and Petr Uspenskii.
Inspired by Alexandrov's work, I investigated in greater detail
the work of Evreinov and Uspenskii, possible predecessors on VN in the
Russian intellectual tradition, but discovered the word-image-concept
in question had currency in Western European culture of the time,
specifically in the work of some of Nabokov's contemporaries, i.e., R.
Cailois, J. Lacan, and Thomas Mann.
"The world as mimicry" is an illuminative metaphor and is, I
think, one of a series of similar metaphors that paint a symbolic picture
of the world. Other such metaphors include the labyrinth, the mirror, the
enigma, etc. (cited, for example, by G.R. Kocke as contemporary
culturological concepts).
My paper aims at defining the general semantic range of the notion
of mimicry in present-day culture and for this reason distinguishes and
compares the terminological and associative fields of the word in the
natural sciences and the humanities. With its semantic core, i.e., its
properties that suggested mimesis, the neologism "mimicry" (which
originally appeared as a 19th century biological term) inspired
interpreters in humanistic circles. The notion that nature can imitate
something or someone else is the central point of the interpretations of
this phenomenon and concept in the work of these authors. This means that
nature itself has mimetic abilities or even inclinations.
Particular attention is given to how the theme of mimicry is
confronted is the works of two leading European novelists of the 20th
century: Nabokov & Mann. these two writers--whose similarity has been
noted by critics, but also disputed, especially in the statements of the
younger artist -- turn up in relation to mimicry as two co-travellers in
literature. The paper analyses Mann's _Doktor Faustus_, especially the
function of the motif of mimicry at the level of character, plot,
composition, and image of the world. Next, conclusions from this novel are
compared to conclusions about the role of mimicry in Nabokov's texts.
These two writers present themselves as similar, not only in the way they
construct prose (leitmotifs as a means of structuring ornamental wholes of
prose), but also in aspects of their picture of the world ("art as
illusion": "mimicry as a cryptogram of a higher, unreachable, metaphyical
realisty"). However, they are also different. For Nabokov, mimicry bears
witness to the harmony of the inherent world, ethics and aesthetics are
not in conflict with one another; for Mann, mimicry is part of the
demonic, diabolical aspect of the world, ethics and aesthetics are found
in tragic conflict.