Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0001473, Thu, 21 Nov 1996 13:48:48 -0800

Still more on poshlost' (fwd)
From: A BenAmos <abenam@essex.ac.uk>

>From: DDolinov@aol.com

>Regarding the definition of Poshlost' and Cynizm. I don't want to start
a >philosophical discussion about what those terms mean to me. But from
>Nabokov's writings it seems that Poshlost' is a concrete object in
reality, >or a specific quality of that object (the postcard described in
VN s Gogol >book for instance). When we say "kakaja poshlost'" or "bozhe,
kak eto >poshlost'", we refer to the object or act upon which we comment.
I really do >not think that the reference is to a more general attitude
behind the act, or >a reference to the state of mind of the "artist" who
produced a work of >poshlost'. Before I am body slammed for the inability
to subsume concrete >instances into a general abstraction by a bunch of
Objectivists, I will >quickly add that there certainly must be an
underlying human attitude and/or >disposition that drives people to
produce Poshlost' (the word suggests the >attitude of posh lust, but that
is just an aside). Nevertheless, the >attitude is not equivalent to what
it produces (cruelty is not the same thing >as murder), and the motivation
described in the posting to which I am >responding... it simply does not
follow -- why the belief in the limits of >man's capabilities produces
hideous postcards? I think it is the other way >around, instances of
poshlost' may make one believe in the limits of man s >capabilities. >
>Daniel Dolinov
ANAT BEN-AMOS response
When Nabokov writes about poshlost' he describes concrete objects,
exactly as he uses concrete objects to describe the imagination (the
Max Lux van in Dar) or vulnerability (Pnin's glass bowl from Victor), for
example. In fact it is not surprising, this is what a good writer is
supposed to do, to create the general by the concrete otherwise, he is
more of a philosopher than a writer. This does not mean that the reader
cannot construct the motivation behind the creation of the concrete (see
examples above).
Moreover, poshlost' in the wider, not necessarily Nabokovian, sense
has to relate to the attitude behind the act, as the creator of a poshlyi
thing/act assumes that those around him, addressed by his act, are
worthy of it - that is, that they are limited to poshlost'. Thus the relation
to cynicism, which seems to suggest that you cannot expect more from
human beings than poshlost'.

Anat Ben-Amos
Department of Literature
University of Essex
Colchester CO4 3SQ
United Kingdom
E-mail: abenam@essex.ac.uk