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Nabokov and the blues
January 26, 2011 6:35 AM   Subscribe

Nabokov Butterfly Theory Is Vindicated "Nabokov came up with a sweeping hypothesis for the evolution of the butterflies he studied, a group known as the Polyommatus blues. He envisioned them coming to the New World from Asia over millions of years in a series of waves. Few professional lepidopterists took these ideas seriously during Nabokov’s lifetime. But in the years since his death in 1977, his scientific reputation has grown. And over the past 10 years, a team of scientists has been applying gene-sequencing technology to his hypothesis about how Polyommatus blues evolved. On Tuesday in the Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, they reported that Nabokov was absolutely right."
posted by dhruva (27 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite

 
The paper goes much further than confirming Nabokov's suspicions about the origin of the species.

and find that climatic conditions in Beringia acted as a decisive filter in determining which taxa crossed into the New World during five separate invasions over the past 11 Myr.

Undoubtedly, whether or not the Bering Strait was frozen solid or not acted as an effective filter to the migration of larger animals. Interesting that subtler changes in the climate of the same region had a commensurate effect on insects.
posted by three blind mice at 6:55 AM on January 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


His lesser known theory on how Big Foot got to North America is still in dispute, however.
posted by spicynuts at 6:57 AM on January 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


That is very cool.
posted by rtha at 6:57 AM on January 26, 2011


Now the fucker's just showing off.
posted by enn at 7:00 AM on January 26, 2011 [19 favorites]


Who among we sophisticated eurasian taxa have not looked over a strait at an young, unsullied, virginal coastline, and felt a desire to inhabit it at any cost, only to find that it cools with time, is somewhat more sullied than we thought, and has trapped us in a ceaseless migration?
posted by condour75 at 7:14 AM on January 26, 2011 [26 favorites]


His lesser known theory on how Big Foot got to North America is still in dispute, however.

Funny about that.

Several alternative hypotheses could explain the colonization of the New World by Polyommatus blues. The first Nabokov mentions but discards: transoceanic landbridges in other parts of the world. Nabokov was writing in 1945, before the concept of continental drift had reached general acceptance.

It seems Nabokov never considered the idea of a land bridge across the Bering Strait, but still he understood there to be a bridge - and not only that but a bridge created periodically by climate change.

Seems like he was on to something bigger than butterflies.
posted by three blind mice at 7:14 AM on January 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


Boy, in some Zemblan mirror world I bet there's news in the Lepidopterists' Times that in his spare time V. Nabokov had written a few novels, and that scientists had confirmed his discovery of a fancy prose style...
posted by chavenet at 7:29 AM on January 26, 2011 [8 favorites]


I have to confess I never really looked at Nabokov as anything beyond the author of Lolita. Turns out in addition to butterflies he was also wrote about problems in chess.

On a somewhat related note, isn't "Professional Lepidopterist" one of the coolest sounding titles ever?
posted by tommasz at 7:48 AM on January 26, 2011


I urge you to continue to look into Nabokov. The guy was a genius. He wrote masterpieces both in Russian and in English, was an amazing professor of Russian Literature, was a respected lepi...lepe..lepicopter, chess player, linguist. The list goes on and on.
posted by spicynuts at 7:56 AM on January 26, 2011 [3 favorites]


"On a somewhat related note, isn't 'Professional Lepidopterist' one of the coolest sounding titles ever?"

It's certainly more glamorous, though arguably less praiseworthy, than Professional Leperdoctorists.
posted by gilrain at 7:56 AM on January 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


Just wait till my theories are vindicated, I'll show you Nabokov!
posted by Ad hominem at 8:18 AM on January 26, 2011


He wrote masterpieces both in Russian and in English...

And I believe that the club of writers who wrote masterpieces in languages other than the one they grew up speaking is pretty exclusive.

Conrad and Beckett and the only two I can think of offhand.
posted by Joe Beese at 8:30 AM on January 26, 2011


Conrad and Beckett and the only two I can think of offhand.

It's only a matter of time before Aleksander Hemon blows these chumps out of the water.
posted by Zerowensboring at 9:16 AM on January 26, 2011


Nabokov does sometimes use the butterfly, however it's his ability to combine it with a stand-up style and solid positioning that's made him so successful over the years.

"Lepidopterists." You Americans sure use weird words for "goalies."
posted by Hoopo at 9:31 AM on January 26, 2011


Conrad and Beckett and the only two I can think of offhand.

And Joyce, sort of. But yeah, I'm racking my brain on that one and can't think of anymore.

This is a very cool post, thanks!
posted by Lutoslawski at 9:57 AM on January 26, 2011


Nice. Thanks for posting this.
posted by homunculus at 10:33 AM on January 26, 2011


Conrad and Beckett and the only two I can think of offhand.

Borges?
posted by rodgerd at 10:36 AM on January 26, 2011


Ugh I just lost a big bet.
posted by DigDugDag at 10:41 AM on January 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


Proving he was a genius in more than literature. I'm sure he is sardonically smiling somewhere.
posted by bearwife at 10:52 AM on January 26, 2011


You could try one of his chess problems here.
posted by Obscure Reference at 11:00 AM on January 26, 2011


The lepidopterist, with happy cries
Devotes his days to hunting butterflies.
The leopard, through some feline mental twist
Would rather hunt the lepidopterist.

That's why I never adopted lepidoptery
I do not wish to live in jeopardoptery.


-- Ogden Nash

Hoopo: Did you know that VN actually was a goalie in his school days? Also gave boxing lessons in his youth. Quite a guy.

Thanks for this post!
posted by trip and a half at 11:18 AM on January 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


Also, Nabokov's Butterflies is a terrific read for anyone interested. Previously unpublished writings on the subject by VN, edited by premier Nabokov scholar Bryan Boyd and translated by VN's son Dmitri.
posted by trip and a half at 11:23 AM on January 26, 2011


I ain't no entomologist, but this news re-confirms that Vladimir was a pretty cool dude.

Albert Camus was also a goalie.

If Nabokov and Camus both faced penalty kicks, who would win?
posted by ovvl at 2:29 PM on January 26, 2011


And I believe that the club of writers who wrote masterpieces in languages other than the one they grew up speaking is pretty exclusive.

What Nabokov grew up speaking:

The family spoke Russian, English, and French in their household, and Nabokov was trilingual from an early age. In fact, much to his patriotic father's chagrin, Nabokov could read and write English before he could Russian.^
posted by dhartung at 3:57 PM on January 26, 2011


Go Big Red!
posted by ZenMasterThis at 6:20 PM on January 26, 2011


Conrad and Beckett and the only two I can think of offhand.

Milan Kundera comes to mind - both Czech and French - he's also done the official French translations of some of his Czech-written books.

If you count musical lyrics, there are many, many many lyricists that write in more than one language. Lætitia Sadier writes in English/French, Brezel Göring sings in German, French, English and Japanese - sometimes in the same songs. She's fluent - at the very least in the first two.
posted by alex_skazat at 12:32 AM on January 27, 2011


Conrad and Beckett and the only two I can think of offhand.
In addition to Beckett and Kundera, a good number of francophone writers have written works in French and in their native language: Jorge Semprun (Spanish), Kateb Yacine (Algerian Arabic), Jonathan Littell (US), Atiq Rahimi (Dari/Persian), Hector Bianciotti (Spanish), Eugène Ionesco (Romanian), Emil Cioran (Romanian), Julien Green (US), Mircea Eliade (primarily Romanian but also wrote in French and English).
posted by elgilito at 4:48 AM on January 27, 2011


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