NABOKV-L post 0000813, Thu, 9 Nov 1995 16:36:31 -0800

MLA Paper Abstract (fwd)
The Nabokov Society sponsors two panels at the annual MLA Convention. The
abstracts for papers to be given in the "Varia" section (#179) were
reported a day or so ago. Below are the abstracts for the panel on
"Nabokov's Non-Fiction" which is scheduled for 7-8:15 p.m in the Illinois
Room of the Chicago Marriot. Brian D. Walter presides.
The first abstract is below. Two more will follow immediately in
individual postings.
First paper.

Brian Walter
Washington University

Many a Pleasant Tussle:
Edmund Wilson and the Nabokovian Aesthetic

Few prospects horrified Nabokov more than the indifference of his
reader. Nabokov's art of preciseness and exclusion entails great costs
from both the writer and the reader, requiring of the latter an ability to
extract from the act of reading a "shiver of satisfaction, to share not
the emotions of the people in the book but the emotions of its author --
the joys and difficulties of creation." Nabokov seeks the audience's
surprised pleasure to confirm the affective quality of his work.

This general predicament of the reader's response to Nabokov's
work is intensified in the specific case of Edmund Wilson's audience.
Only a few of Nabokov's books ever earned a kind word from his friend, and
this despite Wilson's habit of being, in Jeffrey Meyers' words, "usually
(with the exception of Nabokov) very generous about his friends' work."
Moreover, Wilson's criticism is not simply a case of the one-noted Marxist
critic decrying a lack of social concern in Nabokov's work; as Galya
Diment notes, "Wilson . . . habitually upheld one's absolute right to be
a 'pure artist' if the artist's talents and inclinations directed him or
her that way." Given his characteristic generosity, Wilson, in his
disaffection with his friend's work, understandably drew Nabokov's
numerous overt efforts to call attention to the great effort he has
expended for the sake of his reader's delight. Thus, Nabokov's attempts
to win Wilson over offer a useful microcosm of his work's troubled,
complicated relationship with its readers, manifesting the author's great
defensiveness while simultaneously extending his earnest, personal, but
highly qualified invitation to share in his aesthetic bliss.

My paper briefly sketches the important influence exerted on
Nabokov's work by his long struggle with Wilson. Far from introducing
into the work a tone of private pettiness, Wilson, by his opposition, in
fact lends it precisely the sort of historical dimension -- no matter how
diffuse or disguised -- that Nabokov consistently scorned.