Vladimir Nabokov's comic quest for reality
Nabokov once said that "reality" is "one of the few words which mean nothing without quotes." He has often expressed his scepticism as to whether it is ever possible to know a thing: all one can do is to collect as many facts and data about a thing as possible, accumulate information about it and thus try to get nearer its reality. But even though one may know a lot about an object, one can never know everything about it: "It's hopeless", Nabokov says and concludes, "... we live surrounded by more or less ghostly objects." What applies to things applies in an even higher degree to persons. More often than not the complexities of their souls and characters escape us and we see not real persons, but "phantoms": images of people that are the products of our own minds and that are shaped by our own interests and expectations. Nabokov's questioning enters the provinces of metaphysics when he inquires into the nature of space and time, when he asks whether life may not be an illusion, a dream; whether life is just a succession of meaningless coincidences, or whether it has some sensible and meaningful pattern. Finally he inquires into the nature of death and poses the question whether death is indeed the end of everything. According to Nabokov, it is only the artist who, through his art, can penetrate to the true reality of things and who can answer these philosophical questions, since it is he who approaches the world free from all preconceived ideas which are imposed upon ordinary minds by custom or science or even philosophy. By using comic devices, most notably parody, Nabokov frees the reader's mind from all conventional ideas and stock responses, making it possible for him to follow his depicted artists in their exploration of true reality.