Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0003085, Wed, 29 Apr 1998 09:32:54 -0700

ALA Nabokov Society Panel (fwd)

From: "D. Walker" <dlwalker@u.washington.edu>

For those of you attending the American Literature Association conference
in San Diego (May 28 - 31), please note the following...

Sunday, May 31, 1998
10:30 - 11:50
Pacific Room

Rereading Nabokov: Representation, Revelation, and Politics
Chair: D. Lynne Walker, University of Washington and the Vladimir Nabokov

1."Ethics, Representation, and 'Reality': Reading and Filming 'Lolita',"
Marilyn Edelstein, Santa Clara University

2. "'My work is finished. My poet is dead.': Organization and Revelation
in Nabokov's 'Pale Fire'," Robert D. Attenweiler, John Carroll University

3. "The Return of Charles Xavier Vseslav or Who Are These Political
Theorists, And Why Are They Saying Such Terrible Things About Vladimir
Nabokov?," Simon Stow, University of California, Berkeley



1. Marilyn Edelstein
Title: "Ethics, Representation, and 'Reality': Reading and
Filming 'Lolita'"

In this paper, I examine the differing critical and social/political
responses to Vladimir Nabokov's novel "Lolita," from the 1950s to the
present, and to Adrian Lyne's recent film based on the novel, which has so
far been unable to find an American distributer. Of course, Lyne's own
reputation, as the director of such unsuitable and overtly sexual films as
"Flashdance" and "9 1/2 Weeks," made most serious Nabokovians nervous
about the fate of the novel in Lyne's hands (concerns perhaps obviated by
the recent positive responses of Nabokov's son and of those few critics
who have been able to screen the film) and has no doubt affected the film
industry's response to Lyne's film (an industry which had no qualms about
releasing his OTHER films). Still, the U.S. film industry's fear of
releasing the film and the pre-release outcry against the film by some
groups of "concerned citizens" suggests that in some ways the 90s are a
time not only of greater repression or prior censorship than the 1950s
were, but a time of greater literal-mindedness and single-minded concern
with plot and subject matter among at least SOME viewing and reading
audiences, who, often without even viewing the film, cannot "get beyond"
the "fact" that the subject matter of "Lolita" is, at least superficially,

Yet, the reaction to FICTIVE works (novel and film) "about" pedophilia is
shaped by the current social climate, in which there is increasing public
(and media) awareness of the REAL social problems of pedophilia and incest
-- if not an increasing occurrence of them -- but also an
intellectual/academic climate in which there is increasing critical and
theoretical attention to issues of gender, power, politics, ethics, and
the relation of these issues to questions of representation. Thus,
questions about both ethics and the possible social/cultural/empirical
effects of the film and novel "Lolita" become increasingly complex in the
90s. Nabokov himself frequently warned (in forewords and interviews,
especially) against looking for social, moral, or political "messages" in
his fiction, and so most critics (until quite recently) dutifully avoided
exploring just such concerns; the powerful extranovelistic public persona
Nabokov created significantly shaped the body of criticism in a way that
few other authors have been able to do. It has only been quite recently
that feminist critics, for instance, have begun to attend to Nabokov's
work, and that at least some critics have begun to consider political,
ethical, and psychoanalytic readings of Nabokov's work -- the sorts of
reading Nabokov so often mocked in his extranovelistic "metatext."

The recent furor over the film of "Lolita" perhaps highlights an irony of
our times: many academic critics and theorists become strange bedfellows
of those whose skill at analyzing representations is far less subtle than
theirs: not only literal-minded religious fundamentalists, but anyone who
thinks of language as a transparent medium and cinematic, literary, or
television images as directly accountable TO "reality" and FOR their
posited effects on public and private behavior. Can and should we always
or sometimes "read between/beyond the lines and plot"? Do historically
underrepresented and victimized groups have a right to object to aesthetic
and cultural representations that might lead to their further
marginalization or oppression? If we believe literature and film can have
positive ethical effects, must we also accept that they can have negative
ethical effects? And if they might have negative ethical and social
effects, should anyone have the right to prohibit public access to such
works? These are some of the questions I will address in this paper.


2. Robert Attenweiler
Title: "'My work is finished. My poet is dead': Organization and
Revelation in Nabokov's Pale Fire"

Vladimir Nabokov speaks of the beginnings of conscious thought in the
opening pages of "Speak, Memory," saying, "I see the awakening of
consciousness as a series of spaced flashes, with the intervals between
them gradually diminishing until bright blocks of perception are formed,
affording memory a slippery hold." In describing consciousness in terms
of "blocks," Nabokov suggests that the formation of consciousness is a
tactile one, consisting of elements which may be arranged and moved
about, organized and reorganized. When a developing consciousness has
been arranged to the greatest extent possible, a character achieves
something like the "bright blocks" in relation to what was previously a
broken and innately disordered existence, blocks that seem much like a
revelation. In "Pale Fire," Nabokov examines an ironic form of this
"awakening consciousness" through Charles Kinbote. Kinbote's obsessive
desire for organization is evident in the narratological techniques he
employs, and is shown in his obsessive attempts to control his own
consciousness, as well as what he supposes are the consciousness of both
John Shade and the readers. His efforts to create and control the
consciousness of others leads to a slippery and ironic moment of
clarity, a "bright block" unavailable to those other characters who
cannot organize on such a Kinbote-esqe scale. Yet, when he glimpses
what seems like a fully organized incarnation of consciousness, he
recognizes that it is both a kind of bright block or perception as well
as a constructed "figment." I will ask to what extent Nabokov affirms a
kind of tentative and slippery hold through Kinbote's efforts and ironic
revelation (a "figment" in some respects, but a useful one), and to what
extent, on the other hand, such efforts are exposed and recognized as a
"figment" too slippery to trust.


3. Simon Stow
Title: "The Return Of Charles Xavier Vseslav Or Who Are
These Political Theorists, And Why Are They Saying
Such Terrible Things About Vladimir Nabokov?"

"I believe that one day a reappraiser will come and declare that,
far from having been a frivolous firebird, I was a rigid moralist kicking
sin, cuffing stupidity, ridiculing the vulgar and cruel - and assigning
sovereign power to tenderness, talent and pride." (VN,SO, 193).

"I shall continue to exist. I may assume other disguises, other
forms, but I shall try to exist. I may turn up on another campus...."
Charles Kinbote (PF, 300).

Contrary to his creator's assertion, this paper will argue,
Charles Xavier Vseslav did not commit suicide but is actually alive and
well and teaching at the University of Virginia under the pseudonym of
Richard Rorty. Evidence for this contention will be drawn both from
Rorty's own work, and that of Nabokov himself, in particular Pale Fire,
Lolita and Strong Opinions.

In allowing the critic formerly known as King to reinterpret his
works in terms of a specific political project Nabokov is, it will be
suggested, finally highlighting the didactic aspects of his writing which
his aesthete's stance has long obscured. In addition, he is offering a
methodology for political theorists which allows them to enrich the study
and practice of democracy whilst simultaneously leaving room for tingling
literary critics to continue their own very separate project.