NABOKV-L post 0015440, Wed, 29 Aug 2007 16:55:24 -0400

TRANS-NAB: Abstracts: Collins, Raguet, Karshan, Cornwell
Here is another batch of "Transitional Nabokov" abstracts provided or
approved over the past couple of weeks.

“A luminous web”: Nabokov’s animate objects
Emily Collins

The concept of the fetish, an object which is revered in and for itself,
was applied by to modern Western society both Marx and Freud, in an
ironic relocation of the primitivism Victorian orthodoxy associated with
obsolete or “primitive” societies. Commodity fetishism and sexual
fetishism both describe systems in which the fetish object takes on a
life of its own, masking the human relationships and emotions at stake.
In Lolita, Humbert both mocks and mimics manifestations of both kinds of
fetishism. The narrative, despite an overt insistence on the values of
high art and romantic love, enjoins the reader to participate in a
sexual economy which elides human relationships in favour of
relationships between objects, as well as between objets d’art. Humbert
positions himself at the centre of, and above, this “luminous web”,
reminding us that Lolita herself is another consumable object, the fly
trapped not directly by the spider, but by the interrelationships of
inanimate objects which his web draws.
The portal, an object which magically transports someone to a different
realm, shifts our focus from the transfers and relationships between
objects to those within the object itself. The portal opens up networks
in space, time and fiction in which the object itself is simply an
intersection, a point of especial energy or of conflicting forces. Such
objects are alive in a different way from fetishes: their magical nature
comes essentially from their liminal position. Luzhin is one example of
a protagonist who sees objects in this way: the “invisible chess forces”
animating chess pieces eventually, and fatally, spread to other parts of
his world.
Both fetish and portal are problematic: they tend to over-determine the
world, leaving no room for the true quiddity of things or people. The
text itself becomes the supreme magical object, and Nabokov asserts his
mage-like control; but, ultimately, creating fetishes or portals is an
interpretive act, and it is the reader who risks consuming the text,
completing it, or collapsing it into something simpler.

Christine Raguet (Sorbonne Nouvelle-Paris 3)

Beyond Creativity—Translation as a Transitional Process: Ada in French

To be published in translation may be regarded as an assessment of one’s
recognition as an international voice, but it may be a dangerous turn in
a career when the original text is characterized by tricky ambiguity and
the translator thinks he may have to disentangle matters, especially
between the various real or invented tongues which crop up or hide in
the text.
When Nabokov fully implicated himself in the translation of Ada, he
probably meant to assign a new value to the novel, to open up a well
sealed whole to different readers. Still, how could the hybrid language
and culture conveyed in the original adapt to a new medium without
warping such significant elements as the sound and sense relationship,
which establishes itself in Ada?
Can Nabokov’s “language-culture” be regarded as a guarantee of the
text’s survival in another tongue? Or may it be an incentive for a
translator to “succumb to stylishness” and deprive it of its
originality? Ada’s linguistic transition into French was not smoothly
worked out, it involved much rewriting. The contrastive study of the
original and its French translation may help understand how ethics and
poetics were at stake and entailed Nabokov’s own engagement in this
assessing process—a creation twice removed.
Thomas Karshan (Oxford University)

Nabokov’s Transition from Game towards Free Play, 1934-1947

In Look at the Harlequins!, Nabokov’s distorted autobiography, Vadim
says that in the period after writing The Gift, “I began to experience
the pangs of a strange transformation. I did not wake up one Central
European morning as a great scarab with more legs than any beetle can
have, but certain excruciating tearings of secret tissues did take place
in me.” (99) In Speak, Memory, Nabokov dramatised this shift by treating
it as the death of Sirin, the pen name under which he had written his
Russian works: “Across the dark sky of exile, Sirin passed […] like a
meteor, and disappeared, leaving nothing much behind him than a vague
sense of uneasiness.” (220-1) But this transformation was not only a
linguistic one. It was a profound if subtle alteration in artistic
My paper will treat this shift by examining the changes images of play
and games in Nabokov’s writing from Invitation to a Beheading in 1934 to
Bend Sinister in 1947, showing how they mark out a gradual move from
rule and game towards anarchy an free play (that is, play without rules)
which precisely parallels the move in Nabokov’s towards what he called
“indeterminism” in his 1942 essay “The Creative Writer” (later reworked
as “The Art of Literature and Commonsense”). This transition expresses
and is accompanied by a gradual death of the author, that is, of a
discernible authorial position on the basis of which we can interpret
the novels.
This transition can be discerned in Nabokov’s poems, plays and short
stories of the late 1930s and early 1940s, in the abandoned drafts for a
sequel to The Gift, and in The Enchanter. But it is most clearly
illustrated by the way Nabokov reworked Invitation to a Beheading into
Bend Sinister. At the end of the latter novel, Nabokov reveals the
“Author”, only to show that he is as contradictory as the God mankind
posits as the author of both torture and salvation. In Invitation to a
Beheading, Cincinnatus is unproblematically the hero, but in Bend
Sinister, Krug, though supposedly the hero of the book, turns out to
have secret affinities with Paduk, the tyrant. He fails to save his son
David from being tortured to death. Whereas in Invitation to a
Beheading, Emmie’s play has no rules, in Bend Sinister, David is
tortured to death in a series of “release games” which not only have no
rules but are specifically an opportunity for every moral rule to be
violated. In Invitation Cincinnatus is able to save himself from the
rule-less nightmare by an artistic effort of consciousness, but Bend
Sinister proposes no such escape route from the horrors it portrays.
The images of free play in these novels are usually images of free
childhood play. Over the 1930s and 1940s, Nabokov was watching his young
son Dmitri growing up and studying his play. Nabokov fears the free play
of the child, especially when imitated by adults, but he also wants to
defend it from constraint, and his novels move towards it as their
aesthetic ideal. Alone among all the works of this period, and of
Nabokov’s whole oeuvre, The Gift and Speak, Memory, his autobiography
and semi-autobiography, stand out for the picture they offer of the
world as Nabokov would like it to be, and it is telling that these two
books begin with depictions of early childhood play in which the
potentially terrifying elements of free play are contained by a fatherly
Neil Cornwell (University of Bristol)

Sirin to Nabokov and beyond: the transitional texts (Oxford: July 2007)

This paper first summarises some of the material included in this
contributor’s essay ‘From Sirin to Nabokov: the transition to English’,
published in The Cambridge Companion to Nabokov (2005), looking at the
pre-American period (of the late 1930s) when Nabokov was actively
working in three languages. This approach is then extended forward, to
take in ‘Colette’ (1948, subsequently entitled ‘First Love’), with a
backward glance at Turgenev’s novella ‘First Love’, and a more sideways
glance at Beckett’s somewhat contrasting ‘Premier amour’ (written 1946;
but published only, in French and then in English, as – once again –
‘First Love’, in the 1970s). The paper then concludes by noting apparent
allusions to, or suggesting comparisons with, Nabokovian works and
themes, especially from this body of ‘transitional texts’, drawn from
works by several writers of more recent fiction. This involves in
particular works by Orhan Pamuk, but with additional references en
passant to texts by John Banville; Martin Amis; and Tom McCarthy’s novel
Remainder (2005) – this last work read in the light of Kevin T. Dann’s
study, Bright Colors Falsely Seen (1998). Thus the ‘transitional texts’
are seen to have an enduring importance, both within Nabokov’s canon
and, more generally, in contemporary literature.

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