Visual Agnosia in Nabokov: When One of the Senses Can’t Make Sense

  • Susan Elizabeth Sweeney


Nabokov’s fiction often elicits in readers a vicarious experience of visual agnosia, a neurological disorder in which one does not recognize objects as familiar or coherent visual shapes. People with the disorder cannot perceive what they are looking at; although their eyes see the image, their brains misinterpret it. Because visual agnosia results from injury to different areas of the brain, it manifests in different ways, including difficulties with comprehending faces (prosopagnosia); colors (color agnosia); relationships among objects (simultagnosia); objects that are partly obscured (visual object agnosia); and words as objects (alexia). Nabokov duplicates the effects of these distorted perceptions in his novels, especially in Laughter in the Dark, The Enchanter, and Lolita. Presumably, none of his characters has suffered the neurological damage that would produce such symptoms. Instead, each instance of visual agnosia, cunningly evoked by the novel’s narration, exemplifies the protagonist’s flawed thinking and mistaken conceptions of others.


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© The Author(s) 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  • Susan Elizabeth Sweeney
    • 1
  1. 1.College of the Holy CrossWorcesterUSA

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