NABOKV-L post 0001565, Sun, 15 Dec 1996 08:52:44 -0800

aatseel Nabokov panel (fwd)
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Date: Sat, 14 Dec 1996 13:28:09 -0800 (PST)
From: Galya Diment <>
To: Nabokov <>
Subject: aatseel Nabokov panel (fwd)

From: Stephen Blackwell <>

Abstract/Please note the title correction.

Fated Freedoms: Nabokov and the Russian Tradition.
AATSEEL--Vladimir Nabokov Society
Stephen H. Blackwell
University of Tennessee, Knoxville

What is the role of fate in VN's works? Fate has a venerable history in
Russian literature; it resonates throughout the works of Pushkin,
Lermontov, Dostoevsky, and Tolstoy, as well as in the writings of
Chaadaev, Berdiaev, and Vladimir Lossky, to give only a partial list. In
the present paper, I portray fate's embodiments in VN's fiction, both in
theme and in implication. Thematically, fate turns out to be extremely
flexible, appearing sometimes as predetermination (as in _Defense,
_Despair, _Lolita, and _Pale Fire), sometimes as an elusive
anthropomorphic partner in the creation of being (in _Gift, _Bend
Sinister, _Pale Fire, _Ada, _Transparent Things, _Invitation and _Pnin),
sometimes as a kind of pre-existing text or script (in _RLSK, _LATH, _Pale
Fire, _Ada and _Gift).
Fate in its strictest form is strongly analogous to written language;
fate brings with it connotations of "the end" individually, textually, or
cosmically. The (almost) necessarily fixed form of any published text
together with the fact that all published texts by definition "end"
suggest that all writing is inherently engaged in an exploration of fate's
form. What today's pop culture might call "interactive fate"--manifest in
Fyodor Godunov- Cherdyntsev's view of his romance with Zina--finds a
revealing analogy in the aesthetic moment, the act of creative artistic
reception. The third type of fate is a hybrid of the other two: while
itselfpre-existing (in the form of a text or a human
life) like a pre-written fate, the role of the text in shaping
the character's life is less like predetermination than it is like a map
or guidebook. In such situations, the script that guides the hero's
actions takes on the role of a consciously or semi-consciously
apprehended "other" which gives form and, to a certain extent, meaning to
the protagonist's life.
The specter of Fate as predetermination generates a variety of
strategic rejections. These appear in tricks to avoid narrative closure,
and also in ambiguity and paradox designed to prevent a work's meaning
from being finalized. In its other two forms--as invisible collaborator
and external script--VN finds a conceptual and metaphorical richness
congenial to his art. Suggestive neither of omnipotence nor of absence,
these models reach toward a new set of metaphors for representing what we
call reality. They de-emphasize positivism and knowability, without at
the same time discrediting science. Conjoined with Nabokov's fascination
with pattern, these figures represent an attempt to express hidden
textures in reality--but not necessarily to explain them. Many of VN's
novels imply that the reading act itself, analogously to interactive fate,
is representative of a more textured understanding of reality. We can
identify within VN's fiction a constant play with the theme; one might
even call it an aesthetics of fate, constituting an exploration of the
nature of humans' place within reality and the dimensions of human
freedom--a freedom which is never total, but neither is it ever totally absent.