See That “Personal” Hidden in the “Impersonal”

For me, Dickinson gets it right. There is “no other way” or at least, no separate other way. Nabokov, while pleasantly avuncular, is right at first and then, poor doddering thing, he gets confused and contradicts himself:

“The mind, the brain, the top of the tingling spine, is, or should be the only instrument used upon a book.”


“So what is the authentic instrument to be used by the reader? It is impersonal imagination and artistic delight.”


“To be quite objective in these matters is of course impossible. Everything that is worthwhile is to some extent subjective.”

To be objective at all when it comes to literature is impossible. Everything is subjective. It is impossible for “impersonal imagination and artistic delight” to be anything other than subjective; the lowly personal response and the superior “impersonal” and “aloof” “scientific” one are so intricately bound that it’s impossible to tease them apart. This is why, in my opinion, male critics have historically tended to favour works by men — they have been able to respond more personally to them.

From a letter Nabokov wrote to Edmund Wilson: “I dislike Jane [Austen] and am prejudiced, in fact, against all women writers. They are in another class.”


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