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De La Durantaye, L. (2005). Vladimir Nabokov and Sigmund Freud, or a Particular Problem. Am. Imago, 62(1):59-73.

(2005). American Imago, 62(1):59-73

Vladimir Nabokov and Sigmund Freud, or a Particular Problem

Leland De La Durantaye

“I said I always preferred the literal meaning of a description to the symbol behind it. She nodded thoughtfully but did not seem convinced.”

—Vladimir Nabokov, Look at the Harlequins!

One of Nabokov's students once related how, one day in 1957, as he was vehemently denouncing Freud, the heating pipes in his Cornell University classroom began to make a terrific clamor. Nabokov stopped still and exclaimed: “The Viennese quack is railing at me from his grave!” (Boyd 1991, 308). And cause he had to rail. Playing with the projections of a Freudian reader, Humbert relates: “sometimes I attempt to kill in my dreams. But do you know what happens? For instance I hold a gun. For instance I aim at a bland, quietly interested enemy. Oh, I press the trigger all right, but one bullet after another feebly drops on the floor from the sheepish muzzle. In those dreams, my only thought is to conceal the fiasco from my foe, who is slowly growing annoyed” (Nabokov 1955, 47). Later in the novel, Humbert admonishes, “we must remember that a pistol is the Freudian symbol of the Ur-father's central forelimb” (216). In this and many other moments, Lolita tends ever more energetically toward the Freudian grotesque. To choose a glaring instance, Humbert relates a plan for a proposed mural in The Enchanted Hunters Hotel (where he and Lolita become lovers) that would depict “a choking snake sheathing whole the flayed trunk of a shoat” (134).

In one of the more felicitous formulas cried from atop his favorite hobbyhorse, Nabokov (1998-99) denounced “the oneiromancy and mythogeny of psychoanalysis” (133).

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