Poshlost and Nabokov's Posh-lust
“The absence of a particular expression in the vocabulary of a nation does not necessarily coincide with the absence of the corresponding notion but it certainly impairs the fullness and readiness of the latter’s perception.” —Vladimir Nabokov
Poshlost, a Russian word for which native Russian speakers claim there is no English equivalent, is introduced to English speakers in Vladimir Nabokov’s critical biography Nikolai Gogol. It is Nabokov’s belief that this word embodies the very essence of characters found in Gogol‘s Dead Souls. But what does poshlost mean? In Nabokov’s descriptions of the word, this definition is not explicit as never once does he tell the reader how Russians define it. Instead, he addresses instances of poshlost found in situations concerning a wide variety of topics from materialism to German culture. He subsequently goes on to describe the plump physical characteristics of poshlost, yet whether the word was meant to embrace such qualities is doubtful. Nabokov‘s attempt to relay to his readers its meaning only spawns the creation of a whole new word he dubs “poshlust,” in which a “u” has been put in place of the second “o.” While more phonetic-friendly, his poshlust leaves new implications for the word that never before existed and serve no purpose other than to make the term more appealing to English-speaking readers. His poshlust becomes posh-lust, suggesting an overpowering and even sexual desire for the posh. It is his posh-lust and not Russia‘s poshlost that he speaks of in his analysis.
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Published: Wednesday, April 09, 2008