Friday, December 11, 2009

"As usual, I wish to observe..."

Speaking of Freud, as I was below, I was looking at the author forewards to the three Nabokov books I picked up in last week's library sale (about which, decent bounty, but: utter pandemonium) and was delighted to find our man upholding certain expectations, as noted in my little tweak of him in my recent post on Coetzee's Diary of a Bad Year.

Here's a passage from the foreward to King, Queen, Knave:
As usual, I wish to observe, as usual (and as usual several sensitive people I like will look huffy), the Viennese delegation has not been invited. If, however, a resolute Freudian manages to slip in, he or she should be warned that a number of cruel traps have been set here and there in the novel.
And The Eye:
As is well known (to employ a famous Russian phrase), my books are not only blessed by a total lack of significance, but are also mythproof: Freudians flutter around them avidly, approach with itching oviducts, stop, sniff, and recoil.
And Nabokov's Quartet:
Kafka and Kafkaesque shall not be dragged in by the student in connection with "The Visit to the Museum," and as usual Freudians should keep out.
The two novels originally appeared in Russian, as did "The Visit to the Museum"; that is, he was, again, framing these works for the (apparently quite dim) American reader of the 1960s. Just for kicks, then, indulge me as I belabor the point by reproducing certain often amusing passages from Nabokov's forewards to his other Russian novels (other than Mary and Laughter in the Dark, which are now the only Russian ones I lack a copies of; while Bend Sinister is the only novel originally written in English that I'm missing, and haven't yet read, not counting the abomination that is the recent posthumous publication of The Original of Laura). Ok, to the novels.

The Defense:
In the Prefaces I have been writing of late for the English-language editions of my Russian novels [...] I have made it a rule to address a few words of encouragement to the Viennese delegation. The present Foreward shall not be an exception. Analysts and analyzed will enjoy, I hope, certain details of the treatment Luzhin is subjected to after his breakdown (such is the curative insinuation that a chess player see Mom in his Queen and Pop in his opponent's King), and the little Freudian who mistakes a Pixlok set for the key to a novel will no doubt continue continue to identify my characters with his comic-book notion of my parents, sweethearts and serial selves. For the benefit of such sleuths I may as well confess that I gave Luzhin my French governess, my pocket chess set, my sweet temper, and the stone of the peach I plucked in my own walled garden.
Nowadays, when Freudism is discredited, the author recalls with a whistle of wonder that not so long ago--say before 1959 (i.e., before the publication of the first of the seven forewards to his Englished novels)--a child's personality was supposed to split automatically in sympathetic consequence of parental divorce. His parents' separation has no such effect on Martin's mind, and only a desperate saphead in the throes of a nightmare examination may be excused for connecting Martin's plunge into his fatherland with his having been deprived of his father. No less reckless would it be to point out, with womby wonder, that the girl Martin loves and his mother bear the same name.
Despair (which I believe was more drastically revised than the others, to the point of being almost a different novel entirely):
. . .in kinship with the rest of my books, has no social comment to make, no message to bring in its teeth. It does not uplift the spiritual organ of man, nor does it show humanity the right exit. It contains far fewer "ideas" than do those rich vulgar novels that are acclaimed so hysterically in the short echo-walk between the ballyhoo and the hoot. The attractively shaped object or Wiener-schnitzel dream that the eager Freudian may think he distinguishes in the remoteness of my wastes will turn out to be on closer inspection a derisive mirage organized by my agents. Let me add, just in case, that experts on literary "schools" should wisely refrain this time from casually dragging in "the influence of German Impressionists": I do not know German, have never read the Impressionists--whoever they are. On the other hand, I do know French and shall be interested to see if anyone calls my Hermann "the father of existentialism."
Invitation to a Beheading:
. . . is a violin in a void. The worldling will deem it a trick. Old men will hurriedly turn from it to regional romances and the lives of public figures. No clubwoman will thrill. The evil-minded will perceive in little Emmie a sister of Lolita, and the disciples of the Viennese witch-doctor will snigger over it in their grotesque world of communal guilt and progresivnoe education.
Only, alas, in his foreward to The Gift, his longest, and last, novel written in Russian, does Nabokov manage to refrain from poking at Freud or Freudians, nor any other figure, though he does take the time to steer the reader away from the crime of identifying the author with the main character in the book ("I had been living in Berlin since 1922, thus synchronously with the young man of the book; but neither this fact, nor my sharing some of his interests, such as literature and lepidoptera, should make one say 'aha' and identify the designer with the design.").

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