Between Psychology And Literature

For most of his writing career, Vladimir Nabokov was frustrated by both the Freudian and behavorialist schools of psychology that reigned in his day, seeking a richer and more complex view of the mind than either provided. In a long, incisive essay, Brian Boyd celebrates the psychological acuity of Nabokov's novels and the way he pointed forward to what we now know about human thought:

Nabokov values the multilevel awareness of the mind and works to develop it in himself and in his readers and rereaders, as he discusses most explicitly through his character Fyodor in The Gift. Fyodor deliberately sets himself exercises of observing, transforming, recollecting, and imagining through the eyes of others. Frustrated at earning his keep by foreign language instruction, he thinks: "What he should be really teaching was the mysterious thing which he alone–out of ten thousand, a hundred thousand, perhaps even a million men–knew how to teach: for example–multilevel thinking," which he then defines. The very idea of training the brain in this way, as Fyodor does for himself, as he imagines teaching others to do, as he learns to do for his readers, as Nabokov learned over many years to do for his readers, fits with neuroscience’s recent understanding of brain plasticity, the degree to which the brain can be retrained, fine-tuned, redeployed.