Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0005471, Sat, 9 Sep 2000 14:04:39 -0700

Nabokov Society Papers at 2000 AATSEEL. Dec. 2000 in Washington,
----- Original Message -----
From: "Galya Diment" <galya@u.washington.edu>

Here are the four papers which will be presented at the AATSEEL Nabokov
panel this year. Numbers in parentheses reflect the actual order of the
papers as they will appear in the official AATSEEL program. GD

Paper Title: Planes of Reality in Nabokov's _Pnin_

Author: Natalia Lechtchenko

Affiliation: Brown University

Email: Natalia_Lechtchenko@brown.edu

The aim of this paper is to examine the presence of the
existential planes of reality in Nabokov's _Pnin_. Reading _Pnin_, one
gets an impression of constant movement that affects the protagonist of
the novel, Professor Timofey Pnin. The transitional nature of his
existence is reflected not only in the direct relocation of Pnin's
constant physical journey, but also seems to be found in his passive
transference throughout the metaphysical planes of reality. Whether it
can be viewed as a transition through the subplanes of his memory, or a
journey back in time, I believe that this journey is a phenomenon of an
almost physical displacement in reality, rather than a mere act of

I would posit that Pnin's reality is divided into planes, which
in turn are subdivided into smaller sections through which Pnin drifts
in a nonlinear manner. Pnin's past, his present, the plane of the
narration, and that of Jack Cockerell's impersonations of Pnin, can be
viewed as larger planes of reality. Thus, a subplane of Pnin's life in
Russia can be considered a section of the plane of his past, where it
coexists with other metaphysical subplanes such as his life with Liza.

The pattern in which Pnin drifts through the planes of reality
is repetitive in nature. It is connected to concrete moments of
physical action, be it physical pain that Pnin experiences during the
'journey between the realities,' or Nabokov's choice of verbal
expressions which are usually associated with purely physical movement.
These transferences are never solely confined to Pnin's personal
experiences, so we cannot say that Pnin just submerges in the simple
act of remembrance. The lack of the distinction between Pnin's planes
of reality and those of other characters (be it the narrator or someone
from Pnin's literary studies) undermines the concept of the
transference being a mere fact of remembrance. Moreover, it seems that
despite the fact that most of Pnin's journeys through the planes of
reality are activated by his own personal experiences, they,
nevertheless, are never limited to them. Taking into consideration the
aforesaid, I propose to address the problem of a metaphorical 'exile'
that penetrates Pnin's existence and Nabokov's novel.

In order to investigate the concept of planes of reality, I
intend to address the problem of cognition and perception through the
linguistic situation that penetrates Pnin's existence. I would suggest
that the constant split in his reality is caused by the dissimilarity
of his mode of cognition from that of those around him. Thus, I would
propose that Pnin moves through the planes of reality (away from the
real) via a certain Pninian language (that determines his cognition) by
means of perception (his memory, or the situation created for him by
the author/narrator). Thus, Pnin's inability to 'materialize' in any of
the planes of reality proves that the Professor's journey represents an
ambiguous melange of physical and symbolic transition that
dualistically results in the comic tragedy of his existence.


Paper Title: Nabokov's Scientists in _The Gift_

Author: Stephen Blackwell

Affiliation: University of Tennessee

Email: sblackwe@utk.edu

Long famous as a literary scientist and scientific artist, Nabokov
draws admiration from both communities. Nevertheless, the scientific
aspects of his art have evoked relatively little study (although there
have been notable exceptions and hints of some beginnings on the
NABOKV-L discussion list). This situation is beginning to change, with
the recent publication of NABOKOV'S BLUES and NABOKOV'S BUTTERFLIES, two
books devoted to cataloguing and exploring the details of the writer's
lepidopterological forays in the wild and on the page. In particular,
the newly published text "Father's Butterflies," rejected by the
author from inclusion in _The Gift_ (first as part of the text, later as
an "addition"), brings into greater focus than almost any other
work Nabokov's effort to devise a new manner of conceiving art,
natural science, and the link between them.

The present paper seeks to elucidate the pattern of science
and scientists in _The Gift_ and its newly uncovered offshoot.
Concealed and explicit references to several prominent discoverers
intertwine with the novel's unusual narrative of self-creation and
with the story of Konstantin Kirillovich's explorations; these combined
themes and structures propose radical new modes of perception and
existence through the merging of science and art. Not merely an affront
to Darwinism, _The Gift_ may be viewed as Nabokov's first comprehensive
attempt to devise an entirely new way of approaching reality, a way
beyond both science and art as traditionally conceived. In creating
and describing the leading entomological explorer of the age, Nabokov
sought to produce a vehicle for his own discoveries about the scientific
artistry of the natural world, among the most enduring and
thought-provoking aspects of his intellectual legacy.


Paper Title: Vladimir Nabokov's Apprenticeship in André Gide's "Science
of Illumination": From The _Counterfeiters-_ to _The Gift_

Author: Leonid Livak

Affiliation: Davidson College

Email: lelivak@davidson.edu

Until today, little effort has been made to confront Vladimir Nabokov
and André Gide in a comparative study, despite the fact that, in
Russian émigré circles, Gide was the most discussed French writer after
Proust. Such study seems pertinent in view of the striking
similarities shared by The Gift (1937), Nabokov's opus magnum and last
Russian novel, and The Counterfeiters (1925), an equally pivotal
landmark in Gide's artistic career.

Searching for references to Gide in Nabokov's oeuvre, one usually
recalls only the most evident case - Lolita's French professor Gaston
Godin, whose studio is decorated with Gide's portrait and who affects
the ways of Gide's homosexual progtagonists from The Immoralist and The
Counterfeiters. It is hardly accidental that this clear allusion to
Gide appeared in Nabokov's writings only after he had ceased to be a
Russian writer. Nabokov's denials of foreign influence during his
Russian years disproved those who charged his works with
"un-Russianness" and served to distance the writer from his Paris-based
émigré peers, turning the problem of literary influence into a point of
esthetic contention.

In this paper I will argue that affinities between Nabokov's and
Gide's novels range from their general conception and composition to
narrative devices, imagery, and thematics. I content that Nabokov used
the compositional and narrative techniques of The Counterfeiters, which
Gide called his "science of illumination," as a springboard in refining
his own esthetics of the novel. Like Gaito Gazdanov, Iurii Fel'zen,
Vasilii Ianovskii, and Boris Poplavskii, Nabokov creatively reworked
his French literary source, but unlike his Parisian peers, he did not
use it as a conspicuous textual marker. As it often happens in
Nabokov's works, those explanatory keys that are most readily available
to the reader are also the most misleading. Thus, he dissimulated his
indebtedness to Gide by providing a false key that points the reader in
another direction. The Gift abounds in references to Proust, while, in
fact, it follows Gide's lead in breaking Proustian circularity and in
fighting many esthetic notions commonly ascribed to Proust by his
French and émigré interpreters.

The purpose of this comparative analysis is to show that Gide in the
1920s and Nabokov in the 1930s found themselves in similar positions in
their respective literary milieux. Discarding the dominant trends in
contemporary literary esthetics, they composed meta-novels, which
preserved previous novelistic experience from the attacks of the
post-war literary generation and provided a matrix for "modern" texts
in contrast to the 19th-century novel espoused by literary
conservatives. Their "texts about texts" differ from prior
metalinguistic narratives, and first of all from that of Proust, by
inciting the reader to create his own text according to the set of
artistic rules articulated in the novels. If The Counterfeiters
responds to the crisis of the novel in French literature, The Gift is
inspired by the émigré mission of continuity, addressing the fate of
Russian literature in general.

Paper Title: Nabokov's Otherworldly Mermaid:"Spring in Fialta"

Author: Elena Rakhimova-Sommers

Affiliation: University of Rochester

Email: eara@mail.rochester.edu

Nabokov's 1936 story "Spring in Fialta" is an excursion, even an
initiation, into the dreamlike realm of Nabokov's otherworld embodied
in the atmosphere of Fialta, a sleepy European sea-resort enveloped in the
warm mist of its seemingly never-ending drizzle. As if born out of
Fialta's dreamlike mist, the personification of impermanence and
seduction, the figure of the story's heroine, Nina, is so sphemeral, it
seems to be the product of the narrator's imagination. Available and
unattainable, slipping away and still catchable, Nina, whose love is
compared to "springwater which at the least notice she gave anyone to
drink," is the perfect image of the "rusalka,"(water sprite) the most
elusive and truly otherworldly female mythological creature of all time.

Although the subject of numerous critical works, "Spring in Fialta"
has never been looked at through the "rusalka prism," until this
study, which will trace a mermaid pattern in the watery kingdom of the
story. After establishing the presence of the "rusalka"-mermaid watermark
in Nabokov's work and briefly reviewing the anthropological research on
the Russian "rusalka" belief, the study will provide a close comparative
analysis of the Russian and "Englished" variants of the story.
Offering a glimpse at the working of the author's mind Nabokov's
divergencies from the original will reveal the most
"sensitive," stylistically intricate parts of the text.

The spirit as well as the name of the ancient Russian
holiday,"Rusal'naia nedelia," " the mermaid's week," celebrated
beginning with the seventh Thursday or seventh week after the Russian
Easter, reflects the curious origin of the Russian "rusalka" belief, which
is a blending of the Western tradition of holiday and games,
"rosalia," and the Russian ancient pagan holiday honoring the dead. This
dualistic nature of the "rusalka" belief combining in itself both
celebratory and funerary motifs, fins its reflection in the texture of the
story where the prefigurations of an impending death intertwined with the
narrator's tribute to his love manifest the very duality between life and
death, celebration and mourning, joy and sorrow.

As the "mermaid's week" comes to an end and Fialta is filled with
sunlight, our "rusalka" leaves, granting her beloved a unique moment
of "cosmic synchronization" that defies the finality of death. Although
the last sentence of the story informs us of Nina's death, we are left
with a feeling that "the main text still lies ahead." Like many of
Nabokov's otherworldly women, a temporary guest in the mundane world, this
elusive and unattainable "rusalka"/mermaid/Siren/nymph does not vanish,
but simply moves into another dimension. Like Cincinnatus in "Invitation
to a Beheading," Nina seems to "ma[ke] [her] way in that direction, where
to judge by the voices, st[and] beings akin to [her]."