-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Re: question on your talk
Date: Fri, 31 Aug 2007 09:57:32 +0100
From: Thomas Karshan <thomas.karshan@chch.ox.ac.uk>
To: Stephen Blackwell <sblackwe@utk.edu>
Jansy Mello asks:
> Dear Thomas Karshan,
> When you examined the changes in the images of games and play in Nabokov's
writing from 1934 to 1947, shifting from "rules and games" to situations
involving "anarchy and free play" ( which you linked to Nabokov's move
towards "indeterminism"), you concluded that this shift expressed an
alteration of VN's artistic perspective, which changed his attitude concerning
a "gradual death of the author, that is, of a discernible authorial position
on the basis of which we can interpret the novels."


Dear Jansy -

thanks so much for your thoughtful questions. Some ideas below -

> Questions:

> (a) Are you implying that the "death of the author" is comparable to an
absence of rules and to the lack of a "fatherly presence" in VN's later
novels? ;

Yes indeed.

> (b) Do you see VN's authorial intervention in the guise of "a contradictory
God" ( was it?) as comprising one aspect of VN's new "aesthetic ideal"?;

Well, in Bend Sinister I think it's not quite VN intervening at the end to
"save" Krug; but rather that he has the "author" intervening, or pretending
to intervene; and if the latter, then is the Author who appears at the end
of BS - and to whom VN refers in his letter to Doubleday Publishers about
BS - really the Author of the novel, or a shadow, an emissary, comparable
to the doppelgangers Kinbote surrounds himself with in order to escape
Zembla unnoticed?

If I used the word "ideal" in my abstract I was being careless; indeterminism
was an unavoidable implication of the artistic freedom which I think was
becoming VN's north star, and ironising the author function was certainly
a way of stymying and teasing our natural readerly wish to impute a didactic
intention to an art whose freedom from didacticism VN wanted to safeguard.
But in the case of BS, the hypocrisy of the author, killing then pretending
to save, reflects VN's sense of what would have to be imputed to God (if
He existed) in the wake of the Holocaust and the second world war (how
could such a God?, etc.) And so I could hardly say that this contradictory
intervention was VN's "ideal".

> (c) When I compare your interpretative model with, for example, Foucault's
(" the mark of an author is nothing more than the singularity of his
absence"), I have the impression that you based your views about VN's novels
relying chiefly in the recreation of social relationships as they are seen
from the point of view of such concepts as "individual", "family", "parents".
Would you agree with my comparison?

Well, here I would like to say that I do strongly believe I am drawing out
what's already there in VN's novels, and it is them, not me, which liken
the author-function to the figure of the father, and the text devoid of
an "author" to an orphaned child.

The comparison with Foucault (and Derrida and Barthes) is very salient, and
not as random as it might seem. That's because VN in Bend Sinister (and
earlier) was working out implications of Flaubert and Mallarme's questioning
of the author's authority over his text - and that's what the post-
structuralists would later do, though they would add to that literary
movement a philosophical underpinning taken from Nietzsche and

Hope that helps.

best wishes,

Thomas Karshan.

Thomas Karshan
Junior Research Fellow
Christ Church, Oxford OX1 1DP
01865 302 903

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