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Varieties of Determinism: Nabokov among Rorty, Freud, and Sartre

From: Nabokov Studies
Volume 6, 2000/2001
pp. 1-33 | 10.1353/nab.2011.0036

Abstract

Abstract:

In 1989, Richard Rorty published an important, philosophically astute essay on Vladimir Nabokov entitled "The Barber of Kasbeam: Nabokov on Cruelty." Despite this essay's general excellence, however, it makes the curious mistake of all but dismissing Nabokov's notorious antipathy for Sigmund Freud as symptomatic of a jealousy borne of similarity. Though the author of the following essay has learned much from Rorty, he disputes Rorty's conflation of Nabokov, an optimist, with Freud, a pessimist. To this end, "Varieties of Determinism" explores the intellectual divide separating Nabokov from Freud by contrasting their divergent attitudes on determinism as said attitudes relate to art and science. The essay also seeks to explain why, in the context of his own project, Rorty makes the mistake of conflating two disparate figures in the first place. From there, the essay turns to a fourth writer, Jean-Paul Sartre. Another of Nabokov's bêtes-noires, Sartre is appropriate to this discussion insofar as his attitudes toward determinism resemble Nabokov's in key respects. In sum, "Varieties of Determinism" builds on "The Barber of Kasbeam" by placing its comments into sharper focus and by extending its discussion of Nabokov's metaphysical optimism into new areas: the scientism of Freud, the existentialism of Sartre, and the pragmatism of Rorty himself.



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