“The incredible artistic wit of mimetic disguise seemed to have been invented by some waggish artist for the intelligent eyes of man.” ~ The Gift
Uncle Vlad considered Darwin a scientific pioneer of the first order. Yet there were certain phenomena he’d observed in nature in general and lepidoptera in particular, that natural selection did not explain to his satisfaction. Mimicry in butterflies and moths, it seemed, was often complex to the point of impracticality. No predator could ever appreciate the exquisite level of detail. This signified to him a higher level of design, intelligent design, at work.
Whatever guided the lobster moth to evolve waspish appendages and behaviour, or the brimstone butterfly to appear leaf-like complete with wing markings resembling grub-holes seemed more deliberate than the expression of a dominant gene within any given allele. Through mimicry, nature developed not merely a predatory deterrent, but living art.
According to Dr. Boyd (Or are we now calling him Brian?) later discoveries in evolutionary science explain the astonishing mimetic capability of these lepidoptera. He believes Nabokov would have deferred to this modern benchmark. I’m not so sure.
Uncle Vlad was atheist, in the sense that he was not religious and held no belief in any conventional deity. We also know that according to Véra, ‘the beyond’ was the main theme of the Nabokovian oeuvre. Brian(Dr. Boyd), holds that Véra was incorrect on this. What would she know about it anyway? She was only married to the man for decades, acting as his first reader, editor, transcriber, and trusted confidant. But I digress. Suffice it to say, Nabokov did not believe in ‘God’, but it would seem he believed in something.
For Nabokov, an overriding sentient force didn’t represent a conflict with hard science, but rather a compliment. The two went together, like peas and carrots, biscuits and honey…or brother and sister. Perhaps that’s the reason he was able to convey his belief without coming off as a creationist wackadoo.
“I discovered in nature the nonutilitatian delights that I sought in art. Both were a form of magic, both were a game of intricate enchantment and deception.” ~ Speak Memory
How wonderful to live in a world where evolution is not a matter of mere physical survival, but of intellectual and spiritual enlightenment? I won’t delve into where I land in terms of my own convictions, but the appeal here is undeniable. Perhaps because it brings to mind summers at Ardis, climbing trees with Van, and swimming with Lucette. A magical time, bursting with unfettered glee at the winks and nods of the natural world. To me, this is the Nabokovian theory of evolution.