restricted access Freud and Nabokov, and: Understanding Vladimir Nabokov, and: Desperate Storytelling: Post-Romantic Elaborations of the Mock-Heroic Mode, and: Worlds in Regression: Some Novels of Vladimir Nabokov, and: Nabokov's "Ada": The Place of Consciousness (review)
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Reviewed by
Geoffrey Green. Freud and Nabokov. Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 1988. 128 pp. $15.95.
Stephen Jan Parker. Understanding Vladimir Nabokov. Columbia: U of South Carolina P, 1987. 160 pp. No price given.
Roger B. Salomon. Desperate Storytelling: Post-Romantic Elaborations of the Mock-Heroic Mode. Athens: U of Georgia P, 1987. 302 pp. $32.50.
D. Barton Johnson. Worlds in Regression: Some Novels of Vladimir Nabokov. Ann Arbor: Ardis, 1985. 223 pp. $25.00.
Brian Boyd. Nabokov's "Ada": The Place of Consciousness. Ann Arbor: Ardis, 1985. 245 pp. pb. $7.50.

Geoffrey Green, the author of Nabokov and Freud, rightly declares that in interviews and prefaces, Nabokov consciously and cleverly represents, or imitates, himself. Memory was Nabokov's medium. For example, Nabokov invented and reinvented—rewriting, reworking—his memory of the 1962 opening night of the film of Lolita. For Freud as well, exploring memory was the heart of analysis, and in his penultimate section, titled "An Attempt at Recovery," Green cites Freud's "Screen Memories" where Freud doubted that "we have any memories at all from our childhood: memories relating to our childhood may be all that we possess." Having conflated Nabokov and Freud as two exemplary creators of narrative, Green explains Nabokov's famous derogatory references to the "Viennese quack" as Nabokov's attempt to turn Freud into a fictional character of Nabokov's own making.

These two themes give coherence to the series of twenty vignettes, four or five pages on the average, that structure Green's book and undergird what might otherwise be taken as a series of chiasmatic insanities, for the logic of most of the paragraphs (which may have only two or three sentences) is juxtaposition, a passage from Nabokov and one from Freud, often with a maddeningly vague connection. There seems to be some sort of postmodern fragmentation at work for which tastes will vary but which holds up on rereading. [End Page 295]

Yet, the larger questions remain of Nabokov's belligerent formalism, the exile's rejection of the social value or social determination of art. It is easy enough to identify Nabokov as his own literary persona now that there is no danger of his changing his self-portrait, but Andrew Field's work, hardly mentioned here, testifies to the extreme difficulty of describing the man in the flesh. Green's book has been as historically determined by the death of Nabokov as by revaluations of Freud.

Although his Don Quixote lectures make clear that Nabokov did not object to general ideas—for example, he went on record in opposition to the deliberate infliction of pain—he did object to general ideas in art. Nabokovians might object that the book relies overly on Nabokov's Strong Opinons to the exclusion of much of his fiction, his published lectures, and a great deal of important secondary criticism. It is saying something that one comes away from Green's generally convincing essay without any new deeper readings of Nabokov's fiction.

Freudians, on the other hand, will be familiar with the current reduction of much of psychoanalysis to narrative forms. Nabokov boasted of analyzing his own dreams without reference to Greek stories because he was amused by the blindness of the psychoanalytic community to the way culture determines the values that are attached to symbols. I am no expert on Freud, but I wonder if Green could not have examined the viciousness of Nabokov's attack as prompted by what he perceived as Freud's cultural distortion of myth (and here the Gogol book would be a key witness).

If Stephen Jan Parker's book Understanding Vladimir Nabokov does not, like Green's, contribute to literary theory, this introductory survey nonetheless offers a satisfying totality, an old-fashioned feeling of responses inductively derived, virtues often missing from more thesis-oriented studies. Parker, who knew Nabokov, and who as editor of The Nabokovian has the languages and range to know the entire oeuvre, contributes to the illusory portrait Nabokov constructed of himself. The importance of that portrait is ultimately its unimportance, a caveat to those who take Strong Opinions too seriously. Nabokov's imitation of himself fascinates us...