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Nabokov’s Mnemosyne and the issue of expanding the boundaries of a personality

B.V. Averin
80,00 ₽


Averin Boris V.,

Doctor of Philology, Professor of the Department of History of Russian Literature

St. Petersburg State University



Mnemosyne’s role in Nabokov’s “Other Shores” (“Speak, Memory”) seems to be similar to the one of the Pushkin’s Muse in “Eugene Onegin”. But for Pushkin the appearance of the Muse as the second “I” of the author does not call into question the unity of author’s personality. Nabokov’s decisive difference lies in the fact that his Mnemosyne is able both to delineate and to violate the boundaries of the author’s “I”. And in this Nabokov appears to be the son of his age.

The question of how the nature of memory and the principle of individuation determine each other was already raised by Vyacheslav Ivanov and Andrei Bely. Tolstoy also appealed to this problem and solved it in close connection with the idea of unity. Coinciding with Vladimir Soloviev, Tolstoy interpreted unity as love. In his later diaries, he wrote: “Personality is what prevents the union of my soul with Everything”, and with joy he then noted how his senile memory weakened. With joy — because personal memory prevents dissolution in the unity of love. Russian apologists of “total-unity” often consorted with Bergson and his understanding of psychic life as a ceaseless continuous process. Nabokov clearly treated Bergson with sympathy, but the idea of love as a unity, abolishing the boundaries of the individual, was not close to him. Nevertheless, in the “Other Shores” the movement of memory tends to break all boundaries, to fuse fragments of reality with the author’s consciousness. The article shows how, through the imperceptible conjugation of the motives responding to each other, the course of memory in the “Other Shores” removes the boundary between the time intervals and does not allow us to partition indivisible flow of life.

In the same book Nabokov writes about the necessity of salutary return of the “exploding universe” of self-consciousness back to its “Newton's classical pattern”. And for that matter he is typologically close to Vyach. Ivanov, who used to write about the danger coming from Mnemosyne, and about the “Apollonian cover”, which can serve as a defense against it. The whole twentieth century culture passed through the temptation of the blurring of boundaries. To the Russian culture this idea, this aspiration was brought by symbolism. Nabokov took symbolisms legacy along with an antidote to it. An antidote that was also laid in Russian cultural tradition.

Keywords: Nabokov, Memory, the boundaries of a personality, L. Tolstoy, Vyach. Ivanov.



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