Carbon Copy

Nabokov was most outspoken in his scorn for Sigmund Freud, but here is a satiric passage from Pnin that nicely skewers Jung.

Nothing of the slightest interest to therapists could Victor be made to discover in those beautiful, beautiful Rorschach ink blots, wherein children see, or should see, all kinds of things, seascapes, escapes, capes, the worms of imbecility, neurotic tree trunks, erotic galoshes, umbrellas, and dumb-bells. Nor did any of Victor’s casual sketches represent the so-called mandala–a term supposedly meaning (in Sanskrit) a magic ring, and applied by Dr. Jung and others to any doodle in the shape of a more or less fourfold spreading structure, such as a halved mangosteen, or a cross, or the wheel on which egos are broken like Morphos, or more exactly, the molecule of carbon, with its four valences–that main chemical component of the brain, automatically magnified and reflected on paper.

One of my pet peeves is with people who mistake spurious analogy for profound insight. The fact that some thing resembles some other thing is a wholly unsurprising consequence of our innate human tendency to make connections, and yet it too-often becomes the conduit through which much gibberish is allowed to pass. I’ve railed against this before with limited success, because the phenomenon is too complicated to be easily mocked. By the time you’ve got the beast in your sights, the audience is asleep. But then along comes the magician Nabokov to manage it while barely moving a muscle. The way the grand vagueness of “more or less fourfold” sets up the chipper inevitability of “automatically magnified and reflected on paper” had me laughing out loud for about five minutes the first time I read it because I could just hear the breathless mystic exclaiming over his flimsy carbon-atoms-and-crosses analogy, “You can’t tell me that’s a coincidence!” Yes, I can. And I will.

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One Response to Carbon Copy

  1. What? I got distracted by the erotic galoshes.

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