Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0001380, Sun, 27 Oct 1996 09:18:44 -0700

Re: the Master and Materialism (fwd)

In reply to Dustin Pascoe's query about--and interest in--materialist
readings of Nabokov, I first want to say that I find it interesting
that Pascoe virtually apologizes for thinking materialist/Jamesonian/Marxist
concerns might be appropriate to analyses of Nabokov's work. I found
it strange that, as part of saying that he actually LIKES VN's work
(as if a Marxist or materialist wouldn't), he says that ideology
"is just something to be studied, like fatidic numbers, that's all."
I may not be alone in finding that remark troubling, insofar as
ideology, unlike fatidic numbers, is pervasive, and it affects
all of our lives (even if some of us also try to examine or
resist certain effects of ideologies).

But, moving on to the issue of Marxist or materialist readings of
Nabokov, I'm interested to hear about the conference that Brian
Walter briefly discussed and the proposed book that is going
to emerge from it, looking at ideology and discourse in VN.
And, if I dare quote myself [or, as the recently-discussed-in
these-pages T.S. Eliot asked, "do I dare to eat a peach?"--a
line I can't help thinking VN might even enjoy], I'd like to
mention one specific reference to a materialist analysis of
VN and also reply to Pascoe's questions about why there are
so few such analyses. (This is from a ms. I wrote that a journal
accepted more than 2 years ago, contingent on revisions that I
have yet to find time to complete, by the by.) In this article,
I discuss the force of the Nabokovian persona, esp. as it has
been constructed in his forewords, prefaces, and similar
extranovelistic texts. I suggest how, through this artfully
crafted persona, Nabokov had quite a bit of control over the
critical reception of his work. (Whether or not he intended
to manipulate readerly response--and I think he did--VN
so often discussed how NOT to read his work that many critics
were probably frightened away from even trying to read or
analyze VN's work from just those perspectives--notably,
Freudian, but also political readings of various stripes,
including Marxist ones. Yet, it should have always seemed
apt to look at ideological, economic, and political aspects
of the work of a writer who fled and rejected the Soviet
Union.) In my paper, I suggest that few critics would have
dared "go against such well-known and clearly stated authorial
views about legitimate interpretive approaches and even risk public
ridicule by the living author . . . Perhaps these new interpretations--
Freudian, moral, even Marxist/sociohistorical--are emerging because
the forceful Nabokov persona is no longer being created and maintained,
now that Nabokov is dead. Such interpretations require the critic
to ignore, disbelieve, or reinterpret Nabokov's oft-expressed disdain
for Freud, Marx, didacticism" (Edelstein, "Liminal Authorship and
Authority in LOLITA
" 6). (A very early version of this was presented
at the MLA VN session a number of years ago.) At any rate, the
one materialist analysis I'd found at the time I drafted this essay
was Walter Cohen, in an essay entitled "The Making of Nabokov's
Fiction," in TWENTIETH CENTURY LITERATURE 29 (1983): 333-350.

Marilyn Edelstein, Dept. of English, Santa Clara U, Santa Clara,