NABOKV-L post 0007081, Fri, 15 Nov 2002 09:26:55 -0800

Yuri Leving: "'Twirl of Mirror Darkness': Nabokov & Visual
Poetics of the text" AATSEEL Abstract
EDNOTE. Yuri Leving will present his paper at the Nabokov Panel of the
Association of American Teachers of Slavic & E. European Languages
convention in New York.

----- Original Message -----
From: "Yuri Leving" <>
"Twirl of Mirror Darkness": Nabokov and Visual Poetics of the Text
Yuri Leving, University of Southern California

In his 1928 poem, 'Kinematofgraf', Vladimir Nabokov enigmatically describes
the "twirl of mirror darkness" of the movie screen. Alfred Appel, Jr. laid
the groundwork for the study of Nabokov and film in his stimulating book of
1974, Nabokov's Dark Cinema. However, important advances have been made
since then in Nabokov and film criticism, and recent years have witnessed a
boom in Nabokov film adaptations, including a second movie version of Lolita
(Director: A. Lyne (USA, 1997; the first was staged by Stanley Kubrick in
1962) and a production of The Luzhin Defense (Director: M. Gorris
(UK/France, 2000).

My paper will focus first on the question, what actually makes Nabokov's
texts attractive for film adaptation? I will discuss the recent developments
in Nabokoviana on cinema and their relevance to our understanding of the
original literary text. As I will argue, it is not only the vivid imagery of
the author's fiction, but certain narrative mechanisms that make the text
amenable to film language. Moreover, the text itself may be seen as
constructed in a "cinematic" manner in Nabokov's case. Further, these
mechanisms cannot be fully understood without taking into account the
theoretical and practical innovations of Nabokov's contemporaries working in
the USSR. The argument presented here elaborates studies by Russian
Formalists, such as Eixenbaum and Sklovsky, as well as ideas of montage as
put forward by Pudovkin, Vertov, and Eisenstein. Nabokov, although skeptical
towards the Soviets, always kept an eye on what took place on the other side
of the border (his readings of poems on cinema by Osip Mandelstam can serve
an example of such attention and rivalry). As a result we can see some
affinity between Nabokov's prose and concepts of his Russian colleagues
devoted to cinema, as well as the general intersection between the languages
of literature and film in 1920-1930s.

The paper's further exploration of the "cinematic language" of Nabokov's
prose will focus on modern film adaptations' deviations from the actual
texts of Nabokov's novels. A recent instance is the final scene of The
Luzhin Defence, showing a chess tournament at an Italian resort in the
1920s. According to the original ending by Nabokov, after having a nervous
breakdown and losing the most important game of his career by forfeit, Luzin
jumps out of a window. However, in the film, after Luzin's suicide his
fiancée wins the game for him by consulting his notes. As Larry Evans,
five-time U.S. chess champion, observes, "This is flatly against the rules,
of course, and a preview audience of chess experts in New York burst out
laughing." "Unfortunately, says another critic, "the last 10 minutes
presented a farfetched, totally contrived ending that nearly destroyed the
previous hard-earned credibility of the movie." (In contrast, the final game
played in the film, devised by British grandmaster Jonathan Speelman, is
technically correct.)

In conclusion I will discuss the significance of such deviations, showing
that the Hollywood-izing of Nabokov's text is more than a simple turning
highbrow art into low. The presentation will be accompanied by illustrations
from other rare adaptations of Nabokov, such as Despair (Director: Rainer
Werner Fassbinder; Germany, 1978), King, Queen, Knave (Director: Jerzy
Skolimowski; UK, 1972), and Maschenka (Director: John Goldschmidt; France,