Books, Uncategorized

Was Nabokov Autistic?

I am a mild old gentleman who loathes cruelty.

When we were post-toddlers, me and my little brother used to fold the half of a light bed, and wrap each other, taking turns, because we loved the pressure stimulation. The love of pressure stimulation is a common enough trait among Aspies. Yesterday, I read that the “toddler Nabokov would squirm in a snug tunnel fashioned with the divan’s bolsters and closed up at the ends with a couple of its cushions.”

Was Nabokov autistic? I feel so. I asked Tyler Cowen, and he said that he has long had the same feeling, and that he can think of more evidence to support this, though he cannot recall them offhand.

In an interview, Nabokov once said that he had tried to drive only twice. The first time he tried, he was a teen, and the next attempt was many decades later. He miserably failed in both the attempts. He once said that he thinks like a genius, writes like a distinguished author, but speaks like a child—and that what pains him the most is cruelty. He thinks in pictures, he claimed, and that he found it hard to recall names and numbers because it was harder to visualize them. Nabokov had a fascination with other species, like butterflies, which again is a common enough trait. Lepidoptera was his obsession. He was also in love with words, and languages.

Nabokov claimed that he always had to write the answers down, while giving interviews or lecturing. He also hated pornography, and four-letter words. Nabokov was also an amusic, but, of course, there are many Aspies who love music. I myself cannot read or write when I am not listening to music. Nabokov was a synesthete, and was a calculation prodigy, but lost the skill at 7, after a bout of delirium. He wrote in his memoir, This gift played a horrible part in tussles with quinsy or scarlet fever, when I felt enormous spheres and huge numbers swell relentlessly in my aching brain.” When I once fell ill, I too felt that the chain of arguments inside my mind were too hard to cope with. I could hear these sentences inside my head, which I often repeated to myself, for clarity in the writing process.

Post Script: I am of course, using the concept autistic in the sense Tyler Cowen uses it: “People with the cognitive strengths and weaknesses of autism.” If Nabokov was autistic, he, of course, was autistic in the sense Tyler himself is autistic, or Warren Buffet is autistic. Tyler’s is the best work on autism I have ever read. It is also one of the best works that celebrate human heterogeneity. Manu Joseph’s novel, The Illicit Happiness Of Other People, is again, an excellent defense of human heterogeneity, though he gets things in the reverse. Unfortunately, neither of these works are explicitly Szaszian.

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