Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0003482, Thu, 12 Nov 1998 16:06:19 -0800

MLA98 Nabokov Society Sessions in San Francisco
The International Vladimir Nabokov Society sponsors sessions both at MLA
and at the concurrent Annual Conference of the American Association of
Teachers of Slavic & East European Languages. Program information follows:
Tuesday, 29 December
Session 617 "Open Session"
1:45-3:00 pm. Yosemite Room C
San Francisco Hilton
Presiding: Ellen Pifer, Un. of Delaware, Newark
1. "`A Bothersome Flaw': Philosopical Realism & Idealism in BEND SINISTER"
Dana Luiza Dragunoiu, Un. of Toronto, St. George Campus.

From ddraguno@chass.utoronto.ca


"Precisely for the intelligent eyes of man":
Philosophical Realism and Idealism in Nabokov's Bend Sinister

"The true story of Nabokov's art is the story of his finding the
formal and fictional inventiveness to express all the problems his
philosophy poses"(292), writes Brian Boyd in The Russian Years. This
paper will argue that a crucial concern in Nabokov's oeuvre is the
dialectic between philosophical realism (the view that the external world
exists independently of the mind) and idealism (the view that the
external world is dependent on the mind). On one of the rare occasions
where Nabokov acknowledges influence, he identifies George Berkeley, the
father of idealism (Strong Opinions 290).
It is not hard to see why Nabokov would be attracted to a
Berkeleian epistemology and metaphysics. According to Berkeley, exterior
reality consists of a collection of sense impressions ("ideas") being
perceived or being perceivable by human minds ("spirits") and the mind of
God (i.e. the mind of the Author which ultimately sustains all reality).
Instead of being determined by material necessity, Berkeley's world of
nature is "framed with the most exquisite art" and furnished with hidden
signs for the "curious eye of the philosopher." Furthermore, the
relationship between the divine "Author" and the "spirits" into whose
minds He transposes this created "universe" is analogous to the
"imaginative" universes created by the spirits themselves.
Although Nabokov's own cosmology his ironizing of "reality," his
extraordinary emphasis on the visual, his scientific theories on mimicry
(where he argues that nature was created by "some waggish artist
precisely for the intelligent eyes of man"Gift 122) bears strong
affinities with the Berkeleian metaphysic, he cannot entirely dismiss the
claims of realism. This paper will focus on Bend Sinister, where Krug,
who is fittingly a philosopher, is torn between a realist and an idealist
world view: although he perceives that his world is insubstantial and
that consciousness "is the only real thing in the world"(316), he later
concludes that "barefooted Matter does overtake Light"(304).
The second half of the paper will show how Krug's exploration of
idealist possibilities is duplicated by the author, who, like Berkeley's
Deity or imaginative human "spirit," fabricates "reality" directly in the
mind of his creation. As Nabokov explains in his Introduction to the
novel, the dramatis personae "are only absurd mirages, illusions
oppressive to Krug during his brief spell of being, but harmlessly fading
away when I dismiss the cast"(165). However, the moth's "sudden twang"
at the end of the novel subverts such an idealist coherence: the moth
can be either a reminder of the material reality which disrupts the
author's idealist project, or, like the special puddle which links Krug
to the mind of his creator, a sign connecting the mind of the author to
the greater mind of his otherworldly Creator.

2. "Merging Souls, Inviolate Lives: Nabokov's Problematic Beyond,"
David Rutledge, Case Western Reserve


From DaveR6789@aol.com Thu Nov 12 16:03:48 1998

Merging Souls, Inviolate Lives:
Vladimir Nabokov's Problematic Beyond

by David Rutledge

This paper explores a metaphysical issue which Nabokov addresses in a number
of his novels: the issue of the sanctity of the self. Nabokov often raises
the question of whether souls merge after death or if individual identity
remains intact even after death. This topic resonates in many directions. In
Despair it takes on a distinctly ethical import, involving an attempt at the
perfect murder and Hermann^Òs fantasy of taking up ^Ónew quarters in the soul I
had inherited,^Ô in Bend Sinister --where the ^Óego^Ô is declared ^Óillegal^Ô--the
same topic has a political significance, in Invitation to a Beheading the
problem is more overtly metaphysical, where Cincinnatus divests himself of his
material being and discovers something permanent at the core.
While touching on each of these novels, my paper more specifically
focuses on the conclusions of The Real Life of Sebastian Knight and Pnin. The
conclusion of Sebastian Knight presents the narrator^Òs claim that ^ÓThe
hereafter may be the full ability of consciously living in any chosen soul, in
any number of souls, all of them unconscious of their interchangeable burden.^Ô
I argue that the conclusion of the novel is not Nabokov^Òs final conclusion,
that V.^Òs final statement oversimplifies the issue. Nabokov provides clues
throughout the novel that the exact opposite, in fact, might be the true
The conclusion of Pnin presents the same metaphysical issue. The
narrator of this novels states, ^ÓDeath is divestment, death is communion.^Ô
Pnin, however, expresses horror at this idea. In regard to his ex-wife Liza's
"impure, dry, sordid, infantile soul" Pnin thinks, "If people are reunited in
Heaven (I don't believe it, but suppose), then how shall I stop it from
creeping upon me, over me, that shriveled, helpless, lame thing, her soul?^Ô
The conclusion of the novel presents a clear contrast between the narrator^Òs
worldview and that of Pnin.
This paper suggests that Nabokov sides with the hope (perhaps ^Ófaint
hope^Ô) that individual identity remains after death, that the unique quality
if each life is ultimately inviolate. Along with John Shade, I believe
Nabokov would prefer to ^Óturn down eternity^Ô if that happens to be a realm
where each self evaporates.

3. "The Ardor of Translation: ADA's French Metamorphosis,"
Geraldine Chouard, Un. of Paris IX, Dauphine

"The Ardor of Translation: ADA's French Metamorphosis."

Some thirty years after its publication, and twenty years after its
translation into French, Ada still generates text. Not only literary
criticism. In 1997, Erik Orsenna, Goncourt Prize laureate, published a
novel, Deux étés, about the translating of the book over "two summers", in
the arcadian setting of the island of Bréhat, off the coast of Britain, an
enchanting setting, "a kingdom by the sea" which certainly recalls the
sunflecked Ardis.
In Deux étés, translating Ada is presented as a linguistic venture as well
as a composite human affair (quite "torrid" in some cases). The
Brobdingnagian enterprise entitled "Operation Ada" requires expertise in
various fields (botany, lepidepterology, physics, seamanship, among
others). Gilles, the translator commissioned by Fayard Press, rallies a
congregation of auxiliairies around him to perform the task. Words are
exchanged against things, bits of texts swapped against secrets of
confessions, morsels of enlightment traded against "crèpes-suzette": the
Word becomes the value of exchange among the members of this very exclusive
coterie (de la "marchandise verbale"). This bartering activity makes the
island emotionally alive, raising affections (among the various translators
involved with Ada whose heroine somehow becomes a character among them). It
also produces effects on the translated text: each contributor being
differently affected by the original text reacts to it with his own
The present study aims at using Orsenna's text to analyze the poetics of
Ada's translation. Why, how, and in what sense can the translation of a
text affect (concern, move, transform its translators? How do they affect
(impinge upon, influence, modify) the translation? Does the French text
bear the marks of its heteregeneous (and generous) translating? In a more
anecdotical way, does the missing (broken) P key of Gilles' typewriter
(revealed by Orsenna) affect the choice of his words (cf Perec, La
Disparition, a novel written without any letter "e").
Translating always implies evaluation, interpretation, and selection. What
ydirection does the translation of Ada take? Is there a particular mood
expressed in the French Ada? What is it, and what is it due to? What are
the felicitous parts of the translation and what are its weaknesses? Is
there any major mistranslation?
As a multilingual text, Ada raises the problem of not translating passages
originally written in French: "Back to the ardors and arbors! Eros qui
prend son essor! Arts to our marblery harbors: Eros, the rose and the
sore." The French translation erases the clash created by the juxtaposition
of English and French, which tends to flatten the text. Do other elements
compensate for this effect?
>From a stylistic viewpoint, it would be interesting to examine the
translation of Nabokov's translinguitic wordplay, such as "that slip of a
girl qui n'en porte pas (as he had jested once to annoy his governess by a
fictitious Frenchman's mistranslation)" (385), or "Van, je suis sur la
verge of a revolting amorous adventure" (263). According to Nabokov,
"wordplay is making inanimate words not only live but perform tricks
transcending their immediate sense (Lectures on Literature, 72). Attention
will be also paid to other figures of wordplay such as neologisms,
anagrams, and tmesis, characteristic of Ada's style. The French translation
was revised by Nabokov:
I am able to control and correct only the French translation of my novels.
That process entails a god deal of wrestling with booboos and boners, but
on the other hand allows me to reach my ... final stage that of rereading
my own book a few months after the original printing. What judgement do I
then pronouce? Am I still satisfied with my work? Does the afterglow of
achievement correspond to the foreglow of conception? (SO, 111)
Isn't translating the art of making "the afterglow of achievement"
correspond to "the foreglow of conception" and of sustaining the original
enchantment of the text as it continues to spin its own magic? How does Ada
comply with it?

Geéraldine Chouard (Paris IX-Dauphine)
27 rue Pierre Guérin
75016 Paris
tel 01 46 47 40 40
fax 01 42 15 01 01
E-mail: chouard@imaginet.fr
4. "Nabokov and Women Writers,"
Maxim Shrayer, Boston College

From: "Maxim D. Shrayer" <shrayerm@bc.edu>



My paper explores Nabokov's attitudes to woman authors as expressed in
his fictional, discursive, and epistolary writings. As we know from
Nabokov's correspondence, in the early 1930s he was particularly
interested in what today one might call "gender-response criticism," and
read many works by contemporary female authors. Three main topics will
be considered. First, I examine Nabokov's comments on and reviews of
works by Russian émigré female writers, including Ekaterina Bakunina,
Nina Berberova, Irina Odoevtseva, and Marina Tsvetaeva. Second, I
inquire into Nabokov's very negative reactions to twentieth-century
Western female authors, and especially to such English writers as
Virginia Wolfe and Katherine Mansfield. Third, at the heart of my paper
lies an analysis of two short fictions, the satirical Admiralty Spire"
(1933) and the feuilletonistic "A Slice of Life" (1935). Reminiscent of
Nabokov's scathing reviews of female novelists and poets, "Admiralty
Spire" bridges his poetics and his biography. While among the least
successful of Nabokov's works, "A Slice of Life" is important as
Nabokov's only experiment with creating a female narrator. Possibly
explaining why Nabokov's considered Wolfe's Orlando an example of
first-rate poshlost', both stories also playfully debunk the
conventional distinctions among such notions as "a female author," "a
female persona," and "a female voice/narrator."

Maxim D. Shrayer, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
Department of Slavic and Eastern Languages
Boston College
Lyons Hall 210
140 Commonwealth Avenue
Chestnut Hill, MA 02467-3804 USA

e-mail: shrayerm@bc.edu
tel. (617) 552-3911
fax. (617) 552-2286