NABOKV-L post 0020971, Sat, 13 Nov 2010 15:38:18 -0800

Re: [THOUGHTS] Dead and Living authors...
Jansy asks:

"Would Nabokov have intended to allude to Barthes, Derrida and others
by killing his two authors?"

The answer is surely not. The death of Shade and the (alleged) death of Kinbote
are specific to the novel in which they are characters and not illustrative of
any such general idea as Barthes' "death of the author." We all know what VN
thought about general ideas. Furthermore, even if he was aware of Barthes,
Derrida, et al., their politics, if not their theorizing, would have driven him
up the wall.

There is, nevertheless, a tenuous connection in the fact that both VN and
Barthes admired Robbe-Grillet, whose work well represents the climate of opinion
that gave rise to French Theory. Here's a brief description of that work from

His writing style has been described as "realist" or "phenomenological" (in
the Heideggerian sense) or "a theory of pure surface." Methodical, geometric,
and often repetitive descriptions of objects replace (though often reveal) the
psychology and interiority of the character. The reader must slowly piece
together the story and the emotional experience of jealousy, for example, in the
repetition of descriptions, the attention to odd details, and the breaks in
repetitions, a method that resembles the experience of psychoanalysis in which
the deeper unconscious meanings are contained in the flow and disruptions of
free associations. Timelines and plots are fractured, and the resulting novel
resembles the literary equivalent of a cubist painting. Yet his work is
ultimately characterized by its ability to mean many things to many different

Later in the Wiki article there's an interesting discussion of Robbe-Grillet's
assertion that Jealousy (1957) was written as if by "an absent third-person
narrator." I suspect that VN was responding to the aesthetic challenges posed by
Robbe-Grillet's novels. I also doubt that VN would have been any more open to a
language-based unconscious than he was to the Freudian unconscious (as VN
conceived it). But Barthes was a complex thinker and an experimental author in
his own right. I would like to think that VN might have responded favorably to
some of Barthes' more personal works, such as Camera Lucida, A Lover's
Discourse, and his highly unorthodox autobiography, Roland Barthes by Roland
Barthes. VN might also have found common ground in Barthes' The Pleasure of the
Text, with its emphasis on the jouissance of reading.

In any case--and this is my main purpose in writing--I know of, and can
recommend, one essay that explicitly compares VN and Barthes: Zadie Smith's
"Rereading Barthes and Nabokov," which appears in Smith's collection titled
Changing My Mind.

Jim Twiggs

From: Jansy <jansy@AETERN.US>
Sent: Thu, November 11, 2010 1:09:56 PM
Subject: [NABOKV-L] [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

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
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,
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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