Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0003494, Tue, 17 Nov 1998 11:34:35 -0800

Re: Braffort on NABOKV-L (fwd)

>From Marilyn Edelstein, Associate Professor of English, Santa Clara Univ.

I can't quote M. Braffort's posting because of the e-mail system I'm using,
but I would like to respond briefly to one of the points he makes in
asserting that the quality of NABOKV-L discussion has been diminishing
recently. He asserts that postings that have discussed the relevance
of psychoanalysis or of discussions of homosexuality are clear signs
of the poor quality of discussion. While I wouldn't defend all the
specific postings on these and other topics as being exemplars of
sophisticated literary analysis, it seems to me that M. Braffort
may be assuming certain things about what are "appropriate" approaches
to literary texts or a writer's work as a whole--and that, for instance,
any approach criticized or mocked by a writer should not be used
when analyzing his or her work. If one allows Nabokov to be the
"last word" on his texts, one could only be demented to use a
psychoanalytic approach to any of his texts, since he routinely
mocked "the Viennese delegation." Of course, Nabokov also routinely
proclaimed his works had "no moral lesson" and perhaps none of
the "human values" which M. Braffort asserts we should be talking
about in discussing VN on this last (and which various contributors
do in fact discuss at times).
As I and other critics have noted, VN did more to shape the
critical reception of his works than did almost any other writer
I can think of--interviews, forewords, etc. But surely readers
are not limited to examining only those issues or using only
those approaches which a particular writer "pre-approved."
M.Braffort bemoans the literary naivete of many NABOKV-L
postings, but I would note that sophisticated literary theorists
and critics have also critiqued the naivete of much biographical
criticism and of approaches that take authorial commentary at
face value. To let only VN-authorized critical or theoretical
approaches be those considered valid or legitimate is to limit
readerly freedom (cf. Roland Barthes in "The Death of the Author"
and Michel Foucault in "What Is an Author?" on these questions--
although perhaps M. Braffort would reject these countrymen's
theoretical approaches). Certainly, any literary interpretation
requires some evidence--but the types of evidence that can,
in principle, be gathered and legitimated and persuasive are many.
While I admit that I have never read M. Braffort's published
work, I am an admirer of Calvino (another OULIPO member) and
find it strange that a colleague of Calvino's would also
criticize the use of the term "postmodern" and see it as yet
another sign of the assumed decline in quality of this e-list.

Marilyn Edelstein