ASSOCIATION: doctoriales 2014 – BATTERSBY

Douglas J. M. BATTERSBY, University of York (1st year PhD candidate)
Thesis title: ‘Our Glassy Essence: metaphors of the mind in modernist literature’
Supervisors: Derek Attridge, John Bowen
Expected completion date: October 2016

Eroticism, Reality, and the Mind in Nabokov’s Ada or Ardor


My PhD thesis explores representations of the mind in modernist novels, focusing on rhetorical figures and descriptions of conscious experience. The nature of the mind and its representation in language is a central concern of Vladimir Nabokov’s fiction, and no more so than in Ada or Ardor.

In the first part of my paper, I discuss Brian Boyd’s seminal book, Nabokov’s Ada: The Place of Consciousness, which continues to exert a hegemonic influence on Nabokov studies. Boyd claims on the first page that for Nabokov ‘the world resists the mind so thoroughly because it is so real, because it exists so resolutely outside the mind.’[1] However, a cursory reading of Ada demonstrates that ‘reality’ in the novel is used to signify intense mental experience, rather than a mind-independent world. Boyd rushes to probe the metaphysical and ethical dimensions of the text, leaving unexamined the way Nabokov subtly problematizes philosophical ideas about the mind, carelessly reducing the novel’s representation to the generality of a dualist metaphysics. Further, Boyd’s resistance-solution method, in its focus on inter-textual allusion and authorial intention, neglects the descriptions of mental experience through which Ada depicts the mind’s relation to reality, imagination, and desire.

My reading of scenes of erotic fantasy in Ada suggests that Nabokov complicates traditional philosophy’s view of the distinction between sense perception and imagination. The derivation of metaphors for the mind from somatic stimulation and Van’s masturbatory intent further indicates the way Nabokov complicates the terms of mind, world, and reality in the text. The conclusion of my paper will argue that Ada represents the mind as contributing to the world in the act of perception in a post-Romantic mode.

By presenting my paper at the Doctoral Day on Nabokov at Strasbourg University, I hope to explore how my idiosyncratic interpretative strategy and philosophical view of Nabokov might complement or be in tension with other PhD scholars in the field.

[1] Brian Boyd, Nabokov’s Ada: The Place of Consciousness (Christchurch, New Zealand: Cybereditions, 2001), p. 19