Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0020961, Thu, 11 Nov 2010 17:09:56 -0200

[NABOKOV-L] [THOUGHTS] Dead and Living authors...
Dear List,

Once again here are two "marginal finds" related to Nabokov (I haven't fully examined either). My two sources are widely divergent, but they share a point related to "the death of the author" and the modernist shift to "impersonal fiction," contrasted with the process of writing a memoir and of recovering a "life."*
In "Pale Fire" we witness the birth of "two authors" who romantically attempt to achieve a vicarious sense of existence by writing about their lives. Their "I"s (so many...) rule over their texts, but there's no trace of the historical person who penned their words in their confessions, dreams and stories - except the author's style. And it's "style" that which survives in the end after we learn that both Kinbote and Shade have also become a "dead author."
Would Nabokov have intended to allude to Barthes, Derrida and others by killing his two authors?

*The first source derives from a quick look into a book, "The Magician's Doubts:Nabokov and the Risks of Fiction," by Michael Wood. The second (unfortunately only available in Portuguese, at http://www2.uerk.br/~pletras/palimpsesto/num4/dossie/nobokov-revisitado.html), written by a graduate student in 2005, Suzana Fuentes, where she compares Nabokov's Russian novels, their translation into English and the English translation of his autobiography ("Speak, Memory").
Fuentes believes that what the ficcionist in Nabokov looses from his living recollections after lending aspects of them to his characters may be partially recovered, in their warmth and intimacy, by the process of writing an autobiography. She holds that Nabokov wasn't wholly successful in this attempt of re-possession, once his autobiography often produces a new kind of fiction.

Michael Wood writes:" Vladimir Nabokov died on 2 July 1977... He became a memory; disappeared into his name, rhyming with `cough' ... the deaths of figures whose work we care about do diminish us, take away a piece of our world, even if we can't quite say how our world is poorer. These persons were not persons for us, but they were not mere reputations either. They were habits of affection, ways of looking and thinking....I start with these mementoes because I am about to talk about deaths which are largely fictional and metaphorical (real too in their own modes) and want to make sure I give physical death its due: propitiation...But there is another death of the author, most famously chronicled by Roland Barthes ln an essay of 1968 and modelled on the death of God. To die in this sense is to be unmasked as a fiction, as a figment of faith. `Death' reveals that there has been no life, only a dream of life. The historical fact that both dreams - of God and author- have been real for so long and for so many people, and indeed are in several respects the same dream, is what makes the metaphor so powerful. We can see the death of the author as a recent entry in a long series of modern metaphors for the difference that writing makes, a series that begins, or at least comes to emphatic consciousness, in Flaubert. `No lyricism,' was his prescription for Madame Bovary, `no reflections, personality of the author absent.' `The artist must so arrange things that posterity will not believe he ever lived.' This not a death but an apparent abdication; a swerve or erasure. Flaubert was also interested in ostensible absence as a step to omnipotence or a proper hauteur, a form of rhetorical hygiene. The author in his work must be like God in the universe: present everywhere, and visible nowhere... The progress of an artist is a continual self-sacrifice, a continual extinction of personality... Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion; it is not the expression of personality but an escape from personality...Nabokov's practice in fiction aligns him with Flaubert and Joyce, but hls work in criticism and translation bring him closer to Yeats and Proust. We are not, he says, to 'search for "real life" ...'In art, purpose and plan are nothing; only the result counts. We are concerned only with the structure of a published work'...for Nabokov there is only one kind of reader, only one kind of 'existence' for a text, or at least for his text......What would it mean to write the story of a writer's style rather than the record of a writer's adventures? Whose story would this be? What does it mean to separate, for whatever reason, the person and the writer, or as Eliot lugubriously puts it, 'the man who suffers and the mind which creates'? Who is Nabokov, and how many Nabokovs do we need? ...when Nabokov writes of Conclusive Evidence (the first title in America of the book called Speak, Memory in England and later in both countries; in Russia and France the book was called Other Shores), he glosses the phrase as meaning 'conclusive evidence of my having existed'. Why should such evidence be needed, conclusive or not? Nabokov doesn't doubt his own sense of his existence, but he clearly feels he needs to prove his past to others..."

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