Since Nabokov’s death in 1977, scholars grappled with the seemingly omnipresent “signature” of the author. A feature in nearly all of his novels, Nabokov’s signature—his cameo appearances in anagrammatic or descriptive form; along with his unique stylistic mastery and his characteristic themes—prompted discussions and debates as to the “approved” or “official” interpretive version of the novels. Comments from the author—in the form of forewords, interviews, afterwords, and the like—reinforced the sense of a modernist determinacy applying to his fiction. In the cases of novels such as Pale Fire, Lolita, The Real Life of Sebastian Knight, and Pnin, for example, scholars gathered in interpretive “camps,” challenging opposing interpretive visions. I counter such approaches with the claim that the author’s achievement transcends the particulars of his critical approach or individual interpretive preference. When explored from this perspective, the apparently daunting indeterminacy of Nabokov’s novels becomes an inviting world of illusions, illuminating by Nabokov’s stylistic brilliance, but opening out into a dynamic that allows readers to collaborate in devising multiply plausible and satisfying interpretive readings. Such a perspective, I propose, provides a progress, out of debate and into exploration—of the seemingly innumerable interpretive possibilities that open up by means of a collaborative model of Nabokov’s metaphor network and intertextual allusions. Using Pale Fire, Lolita, The Real Life of Sebastian Knight, and Pnin as brief examples, I will focus on multiple readings of the stories, “Signs and Symbols,” “’That in Aleppo Once,’” and “Scenes from the Life of a Double Monster.” The result I propose is a Nabokov for the 21st century, an author whose unique body of work is both a product of its time, place, influences, and circumstances, but also a transcendence of these elements.
A Rich and Fertile Allusive World of Style: Cracking the Barrier of Nabokov’s “Indeterminacy”
Periodical or collection