Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0027005, Thu, 19 May 2016 19:52:21 -0300

Manual whisper: Kinbote and Freud
" How obtuse of me! He is one of us! The fingers of his left hand
involuntarily started to twitch as if he were pulling a kikapoo puppet over
it [ ] "All right, I am ready. Give me the sign," he avidly said./
Gradus, deciding to risk it, glanced at the hand in Bretwit's
lap:unperceived by its owner, it seemed to be prompting Gradus in a manual
whisper. He tried to copy what it was doing its best to convey - mere
rudiments of the required sign./ "No, no," said Bretwit with an indulgent
smile for the awkward novice. "The other hand, my friend. His Majesty is
left-handed, you know." V. Nabokov, Pale Fire. C.Kinbote's notes to Line 286
(A jet's pink trail above the sunset fire).

While discussing the lines I just quoted with a friend I stopped again at
the marvellous image ("a manual whisper") to describe events that were
taking place during Gradus' interview with Bretwit. Suddenly I realized that
I'd been long familiar with this kind of unconscious chatter: "He that has
eyes to see and ears to hear may convince himself that no mortal can keep a
secret. If his lips are silent, he chatters with his finger-tips; betrayal
oozes out of him at every pore." SE vii:77-78, S.Freud, 1905. Fragment of
an Analysis of a Case of Hysteria ("Dora").

During the Gradus/Bretwit exchange we witness a sort of communication that
happens without one of the participants being aware of it - and yet, this
occurrence is not an expression of the Freudian "repressed unconscious".
Closer to the Freudian idea are V. Nabokov's words in his biography of
Gogol when he remarks remarks that "The crudest curriculum vitae crows and
flaps its wings in a style peculiar to the undersigner. I doubt whether you
can even give your telephone number without giving something of yourself".

Richard Rorty once observed that the obsessive and strident animosity that
Nabokov felt towards Freud was "the resentment of a precursor who may
already have written all one's best lines." The confrontation of the two
Nabokov quotes with Freud's words on his patient Dora's anxious fingering
her handbag undoubtedly presents various shared points - but I don't think
that I'd endorse Richard Rorty's conclusion because, at least in these
examples, he'd be giving prevalence to Freud's and Nabokov's shared
observations over their aims and style.

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