• Kyra Giorgi
Part of the Palgrave Studies in the History of Emotions book series (Palgrave Studies in the History of Emotions)


In his essay on poshlost’, Nabokov reeled off some of its English dictionary glosses, among them: ‘cheap, sham, common, smutty, pink-and-blue, high falutin’, in bad taste’. He also added ‘pretension’ to the list. And yet none of these definitions really fit the bill. The problem, Nabokov explained, was that

they tend … to supply an obvious classification of values at a given period of human history; but what Russians call poshlust’ is beautifully timeless and so cleverly painted all over with protective tints that its presence (in a book, in a soul, in an institution, in a thousand other places) often escapes detection.1

In other words, the presence of poshlost’ could escape detection if it was not named. Nabokov understood very well that naming or classification is a phenomenon that reflects its cultural, social and historical context. Poshlost’ remains timeless only as long as one does not try to define or scrutinise it — otherwise it is subject to that ‘obvious classification of values’. It is precisely because saudade, lítost and hüzün have been defined in such specific contexts that they have invited our scrutiny here.


European Tradition Collective Emotion Existential Distress Western Settler Collective Spirit 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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  1. 2.
    Sigmund Freud (1976) Jokes and their Relation to the Unconscious, tr. James Strachey (London: Penguin) [1905], 203.Google Scholar

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© Kyra Giorgi 2014

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  • Kyra Giorgi

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