Erik Eklund (University of Nottingham) in his “The Gist of Masks: Notes on Kinbote’s Christianity and Nabokov’s Authorial Kenosis” presumes that Vladimir Nabokov is deeply concerned with core doctrines belonging to the topos of Christian theology, East and West. Throughout Pale Fire in particular, Nabokov makes recourse to notable figures and texts within the Christian tradition whose influence upon his apophatic theological imagination is palpable. Querying Kinbote’s Zemblan Christianity in its own right, as well as the various ways that Nabokov suffers a kind of fracturing of identity and emptying of the self throughout his novels, this chapter argues that Kinbote’s Christianity serves as a mask for Nabokov to express himself theologically. Moreover, through a close reading of Kinbote’s note to line 549 of Shade’s poem, this chapter argues that Nabokov intentionally approached some theological texts—most notably, Augustine’s On the Trinity and Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologiae—with a view towards their relevance to his private ‘optimysticism’. Ilya Vinitsky’s (Princeton University) article, “Unearthing LOL: The Imaginary Adventures of a Slavicist in Leningrad,” re-discovers and deciphers an unusual Nabokovian mystification (a series of “fictional essays”), created by the fake writer Larry Gregg as a tribute to VN. This playful literary phantasmagoria, informed by the author’s conversations with Soviet non-conformist intellectuals in Leningrad in the late 1960s, provides a glimpse into their spiritual (in both meanings of the word) culture. It also presents a mock commentary on American debates concerning Nabokov’s Commentary to Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin as “an encyclopedia of Russian life.”
In his essay “Nabokov’s Wrong Turns,” Will Norman (University of Kent) traces the concept of history as it appears in the work of Vladimir Nabokov, and makes the claim that Nabokov’s mid-career works such as Bend Sinister (1947) show the way in which he participated in a distinctive crisis in liberal historiography corresponding to World War Two and totalitarianism. The figure of the “wrong turn,” described in his introduction to Bend Sinister, offers a way of grasping Nabokov’s historical engagements dialectically, and distinguishing between different concepts of history as they relate to one another: the idea of history as pure contingency; as coherent process; and as nightmare logic. The essay situates Nabokov in relation to several traditions of historiography, including ancient Greek, Hegelian and Marxist, as well as comparing Nabokov’s views to those of émigré coevals such as Hannah Arendt and Karl Popper. Norman concludes by suggesting some of the ways in which key Nabokovian concerns, such as immortality and style, might be reframed in the light of these discussions.
Isabelle Poulin’s (Bordeaux Montaigne University) paper, “The map on the belly, or the animal side of History in Nabokov’s work,” intends to shed light on the way Nabokov charts the barbarity of his time. She is starting from a detail—that of a dog laying down on its back as its master approaches, “showing its pink underbelly, covered with gray maplike spots”, in the Russian short story Zvuki [Sounds]. History apprehension through devasted or lost places allows to articulate exile and political animality, in other words: to bear the traces of pain in memory. The figure of the dog, caught in a vast network of suffering animals present in the whole narrative work of Nabokov, is emblematic of a very strong consciousness of history related to ecological issues – like all uprooted people the bilingual writer knew perfectly well what it meant to lose the world.
According to Leopold Reigner’s (University of Rouen) “History, geography and ‘reality’ in Nabokov’s invented worlds: the process of specialization,” Nabokov’s vision of reality and its place in literature can be a perplexing question. This is certainly not surprising considering the author’s work carries with it a retinue of reality-bending themes such as mirrors, doppelgangers, parallel worlds mixing invented historical events and geographic locations with real ones. However, the most challenging concept to pinion might be Nabokov’s understanding of reality itself. Indeed, how should we reconcile Nabokov’s denial of the possibility to objectively perceive reality and represent it in literature with his steadfast artistic commitment to scientific accuracy and his effusive use of geographic and historical bearings taken from reality? While Nabokov praises some impossibilities on the thematic level which he believes only infringe upon an “average reality” with which the ideal writer should not be concerned, he is wont to harsh rebukes whenever he comes across an inaccurate detail in a work of fiction. This apparent contradiction is explained by Nabokov’s tentative definition of reality as an aspirational goal for the writer rather than a compact entity to be revealed. This implies a hierarchy of perceptions and utterly excludes a relativist or solipsist belief in the equal validity of all perceptions or the non-existence of absolute truth, although such truth cannot be completely uncovered because “you can never know everything about one thing”. To Nabokov, getting closer to reality is an artistic goal distinct from other literary endeavors such as realism, which only seek to represent an “average reality”. The ideal writer’s attempt to follow into nature’s artistic footsteps does not entail beating a path away from the reality of nature but towards it, with as much specialization as possible.
Dana Dragunoiu (Carleton University) poses a question in her “Making History from the Future: Lolita and Proust’s Cahier 36”: What happens when history refuses to explain a tantalizing literary coincidence? In Proust’s exercise book 36, the description of a character who never made it into the definitive text of À la recherche du temps perdu bears a striking resemblance to Nabokov’s most famous literary creation. Yet in spite of his circulation among the literary networks of Paris in the late 1930s, Nabokov is unlikely to have been privy to Proust’s description of « le fameux faux savant Humberger, dit Humberg, dit Hum» in Cahier 36. This essay is a meditation on the critical melancholia that emerges from the failure to identify a moment in history when Nabokov might have seen Proust’s sketch of his aborted “Humberger.” By taking a “medievalist” approach to this predicament, the essay reads Lolita and Proust’s sketch as a medievalist would by treating these literary documents as analogue texts. Defined as texts that resemble each other in significant ways but cannot be considered as having been influenced by a common source or one another, analogue texts can be said to produce a rhetorical occasion for finding meaning even if such meaning cannot be located in a straight trajectory of historical influence. By reading Nabokov’s Lolita and Proust’s sketch as if from the vantage point of the future, the essay reflects upon these two literary giants’ views on love, loyalty, eloquence, and human destiny.
Alexia Gassin’s (University of Caen Normandie and Sciences Po Rennes) “Nabokov, a writer of simmelian modernity?,” revolves around Nabokov and Georg Simmel (1858-1918). Because of its dazzling development at the end of the 19th century and its paradoxes, Berlin stimulates the imagination of the artists and the thought of philosophers and sociologists, like Georg Simmel. This founder of formal and urban sociology points out the ambivalence of modernity and the big city, which he associates with objectification, depersonalization, alienation, and individual fulfillment. Even if it is not possible to categorically affirm that Vladimir Nabokov read Simmel’s work, there is a link between the two men, highlighted, for example, by Gavriel Shapiro. So our article aims at analyzing Simmel’s notion of modernity through the second Russian novel of Nabokov, King, Queen, Knave (1928), which stages characters of German nationality in the space of the Berlin metropolis, in order to show the presence of another intertext in Nabokov’s work as well as a parodic rewriting of the sociological, philosophical, and psychological modernity.
Sophie Bernard-Léger’s (Sorbonne Université) “A Poetics of Mobility in The Gift,” shows how mobility constitutes one of the novel's essential paradigms and a point of convergence between space and memory, history and geography. Not only does the diegesis deals with the protagonist's traversals and transgressions in Berlin and in the Russian property of Lechino, but the enunciation itself, by its instability, reveals the unfinished metamorphic process of a transgressive writing. In this process, the numerous evocations of walking appear to be a major theme: from the mental stroll between mother and son to Fiodor's footsteps through which he can measure his feeling of Russianness, identity is viewed as a reflexive and dynamic construction that provides Fiodor with various ways to resuscitate a vanished past in his writing.
Adam Lieberman’s (University of Wisconsin-Madison) article, “Mapping the Hero’s Dreams: Imagination and Travel in Nabokov’s Glory,” is concerned with travel literature. In the twentieth century it witnessed the ‘quiet death’ as travel became associated with emigration, displacement, and personal experience, often shaped by the tumultuous, geopolitical destabilization so prominent in the early twentieth century. It was no longer an exercise in discovery performed solely by the privileged. In this paper I examine travel as it relates to imagination and authenticity in Nabokov’s early Russian novel Glory. Published in 1932, the text follows the journey of Martin, a young Russian émigré whose life takes him through sojourns in numerous countries. The protagonist becomes captivated by his own romantic reimagining of his travels in order to link himself with the Russia of his past. He perceives himself as the detached visitor, observing infidels from a position of narrative authority. In his imagination, Martin yearns to enact a heroic deed which could extract him from his mundane, placid existence. By combining a highly romanticized notion of travel with the nostalgia of his lost childhood, Martin molds the world around him through his travels in an effort to reclaim what the modern era removed from travel literature — the act of true discovery.
Agnès Edel-Roy (Université de Paris-Est Créteil) contributes an essay, “Eutopia in Ada, or the Aesthetic Reconfiguration of Twentieth-Century Political History: Vladimir Nabokov’s souci d’eau against Vladimir Lenin’s Electricity,” where she argues that, in Ada, the testing of the values of art emerges by way of the aesthetic proposal for a reconfiguration of political history in which electricity and water clash. In Vladimir Nabokov’s novel, Ada, or Ardor (1969), Eutopia means the “good place”, that is “a place of felicity where all is well” (Abensour). For Edel-Roy, this question is related to the question of the power of authentic art in its confrontation with the ideologies of the twentieth century (including Leninism) and their consequences on individual freedom. She proposes to interpret the banning of electricity on Antiterra as the manifestation of Nabokov's anti-determinism and anti-Leninism. Their replacement by water signifies the writer’s aesthetic resistance, emblematised by a Rimbaldian and Nabokovian wild flower, the souci d’eau. In connection with Nabokov’s beloved plot of land and the river Oredezh of his Russian past, water, omnipresent in Ada, might be conceived as a eutopic current which dissolves fixed representations and symbolises the confidence in the ability of authentic art to restore a vivid and vital communication between individuals.
Sabine Metzger’s (University of Stuttgart) paper examines Nabokov’s construction of sonic geographies – urban and rural sonic environments and that of the wilderness – as soundscapes in Emily Thompson’s sense of the term, i.e. as “simultaneously a physical environment and a way of perceiving that environment” (Thompson 1988, 2). As this paper argues, Nabokov’s soundscapes are idiosyncratic and highly dependent on his characters’ individual ways of perceiving them – on their individual aesthetic susceptibilities, their specific moods, and the specific circumstances under which they perceive sonic environments that escape any dichotomization. Nabokov’s sonic environments – whether it is the city, the countryside, or the wilderness, as in The Gift – are hybrid soundscapes, mingling anthrophony, biophony, geophony and technophony, and blurring the boundary between nature and culture. In Bend Sinister and in “Tyrants Destroyed,” the voice of political propaganda, technologically reproduced and amplified, becomes the soundmark of both the city and the country within the sonic geographies of fictive authoritarian states where the “village radio” (Nabokov 1990, 97), transmitting the dictator’s voice, has assumed the status of the “village bells” (Corbin 1998, passim.) that dominated the 19th century rural soundscape.
Eric Sanchez’s (Cornell University) “On the Prosody of Nabokov’s ‘Pale Fire’” deconstructs Nabokov’s narrative poem “Pale Fire,” attributed to the fictitious John Shade. Although the novel as a whole has received more attention in the literature, there is no shortage of articles and essays on this or that aspect of the poem itself. However, little has been written which adopts as its primary focus the strictly formal properties known to the study of prosody. Critics seem to offer either thematic interpretations or notes on formal properties but without a wider frame of reference. In response, this paper provides a detailed taxonomic description of the particular metrical features which characterize Shade’s verse, including: basic probabilities on the occurrence of any particular binary foot, a tabulation of every elision, and a partial scansion derived from a recorded reading by the author. By (a) modifying Nabokov’s model of anomalous stress, (b) developing a standardized classification of elision, and (c) expanding the Belian method of visualizing modulation, it is shown inter alia that (A) any scud is most likely the only one in its line, (B) Shade’s verse betrays a learned familiarity with the French poetic tradition, and (C) the syncopated and highly organized modulation formalizes the life and, ultimately, the death of Hazel, Shade’s daughter, respectively. Further research is still required to produce a model of rhyme in “Pale Fire” and a comparative study between Nabokov and canonical poets with respect to frequencies of all possible binary feet.
The hypothesis of Max Prokofiev’s (Saint Petersburg State University) essay, “Terra Falsa,” is that Sineusov is not only the narrator of Nabokov’s Ultima Thule, being largely in charge of the story world. Sineusov made up the details of his story, alluding to Alexander Pushkin, Laurence Stern, and the Bible, as well as to Nabokov’s previous narrative. However, Sineusov would not like to be the creator of this newborn world; desiring to gain his wife, a “ghostly goal” and “earthly creation,” he tried to hide himself, to imitate an ordinary character. Falter, who had overstepped the borderline in the opposite direction (from charagters to riches), seemed to be his only chance to learn the process of this “turning inside out.” Having failed, Sineusov was left the only option which aimed at trying not to get rid, but, conversely, to increase his phantom pain in order to thin down a screen between his own reality on the one hand and the reality of Terra Falsa, which included his wife, on the other.
Debora Di Stefano’s (University of Chichester) article, “‘You can always count on a murderer for a fancy prose style’: An analysis of rhetorical features in Nabokov’s Lolita,” claims that the novel’s highly prosaic style has enchanted readers since its publication in 1955. However, Lolita, behind its fancy rhetoric, conceals a carousel of horrors of abuse and manipulation. In this essay, the author explores some of the novel’s crucial points, exposing the rhetorical devices and their effect on the reader, to reveal the authorial aim beyond the narrator’s style.