Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0025911, Sat, 27 Dec 2014 19:15:14 -0200

Christmas and Memory - correction
I noticed V.Nabokov's peculiar wording (in translation) of the first
paragraph of "Christmas": "AFTER walking back from the village to his manor
across the dimming snows, Sleptsov sat down in a corner, on a plush-covered
chair which he never remembered using before. It was the kind of thing that
happens after some great calamity." It is impossible to realize that youÂ’ve
"never remembered before" a particular thing or moment. You either remember
it or you don't. The "never" in the sentence quoted above has been placed in
a peculiar position and itÂ’s followed by: "it was the kind of thing that
happens after some great calamity," indicating the occurrence of some kind
of uncomfortable thought or emotion.

In "A Disturbance of Memory on the Acropolis," written as a birthday-letter
addressed to Romain Rolland, Freud describes the strange feeling he
experienced when he first visited the Acropolis in Athens. He was so filled
with wonderment to have made it there, at last, that a thought crossed his
mind: "So the Acropolis does, in fact, exist," as if heÂ’d never pored over
the maps of Athens and explored its historical sites without having to
question their reality. He named his disturbance as a "derealization."*

It is my impression that V.Nabokov himself wasnÂ’t unfamiliar with the
“Unheimlich”, with “derealizations” or “depersonalizations” and this is why
I wonder if, in “Christmas” ( we find other instances in “The Eye”,
“Despair” and perhaps even in “Lolita”), he wasn’t indicating a similar
disturbing “calamity” associated to death of a loved relative and a return
to his birthplace.


* - quoting Freud "so I will conclude by saying briefly that the whole
psychical situation, which seems so confused and is so difficult to
describe, can be satisfactorily cleared up by assuming that at the time I
had (or might have had) a momentary feeling: ‘What I see here is not real.’
Such a feeling is known as a ‘feeling of derealization’. I made an attempt
to ward that feeling off, and I succeeded, at the cost of making a false
pronouncement about the past. These derealizations are remarkable phenomena
which are still little understood. They are spoken of as ‘sensations’, but
they are obviously complicated processes, attached to particular mental
contents and bound up with decisions made about those contents. They arise
very frequently in certain mental diseases, but they are not unknown among
normal people, just as hallucinations occasionally occur in the healthy.
Nevertheless they are certainly failures in functioning and, like dreams,
which, in spite of their regular occurrence in healthy people, serve us as
models of psychological disorder, they are abnormal structures. These
phenomena are to be observed in two forms: the subject feels either that a
piece of reality or that a piece of his own self is strange to him. In the
latter case we speak of ‘depersonalizations’; derealizations and
depersonalizations are intimately connected. There is another set of
phenomena which may b eregarded as their positive counterparts - what are
known as ‘ fausse reconnaissance ’, ‘déià vu’,‘déjà raconté’ etc., illusions
in which we seek to accept something as belonging to our ego, just as in the
derealizations we are anxious to keep something out of us. A naĂŻvely
mystical and unpsychological attempt at explaining the phenomena of ‘ déjà
vu Â’ endeavours to find evidence in it of a former existence of our mental
self. Depersonalization leads us on to the extraordinary condition of ‘
double conscience ’, which is more correctly described as ‘split
personalityÂ’. But all of this is so obscure and has been so little mastered
scientifically that I must refrain from talking about it any more to you. It
will be enough for my purposes if I return to two general characteristics of
the phenomena of derealization. The first is that they all serve the purpose
of defence; they aim at keeping something away from the ego, at disavowing
it. Now, new elements, which may give occasion for defensive measures,
approach the ego from two directions - from the real external world and from
the internal world of thoughts and impulses that emerge in the ego. It is
possible that this alternative coincides with the choice between
derealizations proper and depersonalizations. There are an extraordinarily
large number of methods (or mechanisms, as we say) used by our ego in the
discharge of its defensive functions.” (S.Freud)

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