O Window in the Dark!

The Early Career of Vladimir Nabokov

appendix E: Marx and Freud


Nabokov had complete disdain for Marxism but seemed to consider it to be so intellectually trivial that he wasted little ink in attacking or parodying it. His real bugbear was Freud; the Forewords to every one of his translated Russian novels contain barbed warnings to the “Viennese delegation.” The passages below are fairly typical of Nabokov’s attitudes toward these two principle shapers of “thought.” (The preceding quotation marks are added pace Nabokov.)


  • On Marxism (from a letter to Edmund Wilson, 15 December 1940): “Without its obscurities and abracadabra, without its pernicious reticences, shamanic incantations and magnetic trash, Marxism is not Marxism. The paradox which explodes Marxism and other dreams of the ideal state is that the first author is potentially the first tyrant of that state. . . . The individual whims of a ruler tell deeper truths about a corresponding period than the vulgar generalization of class war etc.; and the peculiar mathematical and historical howlers, in the Capital and capitaloids, are transfigured by the synthesis of Revolution into the beastly cruel stupidities it commits.” (Nabokov-Wilson Letters)


  • On Freudian psychology (from King, Queen, Knave’s foreword): “As usual, I wish to observe that, 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.”

    (from the Foreword to The Eye) “As is well known (to employ a famous Russian phrase), my books are not only blessed by a total lack of social significance, but are also mythproof: Freudians flutter around them avidly, approach with itching oviducts, stop, sniff, and recoil.”

    (from Speak, Memory): “I have ransacked my oldest dreams for keys and clues — and let me say at once that I reject completely the vulgar, shabby, fundamentally medieval world of Freud, with its crankish quest for sexual symbols (something like searching for Baconian acrostics in Shakespeare’s works) and its bitter little embryos spying, from their natural nooks, upon the love life of their parents.”

    (re. the “Viennese Quack”): “We will leave him and his fellow travelers to jog on, in their third-class carriage of thought, through the police state of sexual myth (incidentally, what a great mistake of the part of dictators to ignore psychoanalysis — a whole generation might be so easily corrupted that way!).”

    (re. Freudian analysis, from the Playboy interview): “The ordeal itself is much too silly and disgusting to be contemplated even as a joke. Freudism and all it has tainted with its grotesque implications and methods, appears to me to be one of the vilest deceits practiced by people on themselves and on others. I reject it utterly, along with a few other medieval items still adored by the ignorant, the conventional, or the very sick.”


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