YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

November 3, 2017

The American Dream?

Queen on top, RavePad.com

This blog is about the pursuit of unhappiness by three modernist writers: Melville, Freud, and Nabokov, all of whom doubted “the American Dream” while emphasizing subjectivity in their works.

 

 

The controversial modernist writer, Vladimir Nabokov, was famously anti-Freudian. Nevertheless, he emphasized subjectivity no less than other Romantic/”modern”/postmodern writers (including Melville). So why was Nabokov hostile to Sigmund Freud, a disdain recapitulated in 1970s feminism?
Nabokov, author of the “pornographic” novel LOLITA (1955), was greeted with derision for having written a dirty but widely read book. So was Freudian theory denounced for pan-sexualism in the early 20th C.

 

But would it not be puritanical (heaven forbid!) to denounce Freud (or Nabokov) for lasciviousness? Yet, even as a young writer, Nabokov (like his admired precursor “crazy” Herman Melville) was treating “Freudian” themes. I am referring to VN’s (updated) KING, QUEEN, KNAVE (1928) published in English after LOLITA, and translated from the Russian by his son Dmitri after Nabokov became both notorious and celebrated (1966). And, like LOLITA, the earlier novel was made into a movie (1972), suggesting that its triangle theme was acceptable to a popular audience, even as that popular audience was (seemingly) stigmatized by all three major moderns (VN, Melville, and Freud).

 
It is subjectivity that is the major focus of this posting. For it is rarely noted that dirty old Freud was advocating “the observing ego” at the same time that he was outlining the family romance. Thus, idealizations and all caricatures would be thrown out by the successful analysand (or even the unanalyzed reader of Freud), in favor of objectivity as the “Reality Principle” was finally attained. Out went the perfectly happy family (as limned by Melville in Pierre), in came modernism (as stoic?) adjustment to “everyday unhappiness,” and a fight that stills preoccupies me as it does the authors enumerated here.

More: I attended Cornell U. at the same time that Nabokov was lecturing there; I heard that Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina’s first paragraph was his constant emphasis: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” So both Freud and Nabokov were interested in families—happy and unhappy. But Pierre was ambiguous. So was Herman Melville, who, like Nabokov’s narrators, was similarly preoccupied and weird, and Melville, like Nabokov turned out to be an anti-bourgeois modernist/postmodernist, and as interested in decoding the unhappy Western family as Freud.

Full cast King, Queen, Knave (1972) Herzbube.com

[Blogs related to this posting: https://clarespark.com/2013/01/17/bondage-and-the-family/, https://clarespark.com/2011/10/01/updated-index-to-melville-blogs/, https://clarespark.com/2013/03/16/blogs-on-freud-and-anti-freudians/

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