NABOKV-L post 0019013, Tue, 29 Dec 2009 18:17:26 -0800

Re: TOoL: Formal Experiments
In response to Darryl Schade:

I have no idea what may or may not have crossed VN's mind in the way of further experiments, but it's worth noting that he was hardly the first to use, let alone invent, most of the devices of metafiction. For good, short, highly readable books on the subject, I would recommend Robert Alter's Partial Magic: The Novel as a Self-Conscious Genre, which contains lively discussions of Cervantes, Sterne, Diderot, Joyce, Woolf, Biely, and Gide, and Robert M. Adams's Afterjoyce: Studies in Fiction after Ulysses, whose title is self-explanatory. Although both books were published in the 1970s, they remain pertinent to the questions Mr. Schade has raised. Both of them contain chapters on Nabokov.

The comic index of Pale Fire had at least one outstanding forerunner in The Stuffed Owl: An Anthology of Bad Verse, edited by D.B. Wyndham Lewis and Charles Lee and published in 1930.

Other examples of highly self-conscious writing, roughly contemporaneous with VN's American period, are Flann O'Brien's At Swim-Two-Birds (1939) and--one of my all-time favorite books--Raymond Queneau's Exercises in Style (1947).

In addition, we should not forget Pirandello and the revolt against realism that he represented in drama. Six Characters in Search of an Author was, according to Wikipedia, first performed in 1921.

Finally, we must acknowledge that, almost from their very beginnings, movies and comic strips were deeply invested in playing all manner of tricks with space, time, consciousness, and narrative. Or think of Picasso and Cubism . . . Or heck, forget the twentieth century. Isn't it obvious that most of what we think of as metafiction is strikingly prefigured in Velazquez's great painting, Las Meninas (1656)?

Some of the scholars on the List could, I'm sure, provide much more information on this interesting topic.

Jim Twiggs

Sent: Tue, December 29, 2009 10:13:37 AM
Subject: [NABOKV-L] TOoL: Formal Experiments

If I may continue for a moment on a thread from my last posting:

I forgot to mention Cortazar's Hopscotch, which can be read straight
through ending at Chapter 56, or read following a pre-set non-
chronological sequence which incorporates many more of 99 "expendable"

Markson has written several "novels" composed of fragments or
statements of historical fact, many simply single sentence entries to
achieve a type of tapestry effect for lack of a better description.
( This is not a Novel; Vanishing Point; etc. )

Dunn's Ibid: A Life, is a "novel" whose narrative has been lost by the
publisher or something, and only contains the footnotes to the
missing, unknown text.

( Of course there's Wallace's Infinite Jest, and Koster's Dissertation
modeled on the Pale Fire scheme with a hundred or 2 hundred pages of
notes following the text. )

I guess my point is Nabokov broke ground for so much of this
experimentation-- I know there's Ulysses, and Tristram Shandy; and I
know he was the ultimate perfectionist dictating how the reader
received his work-- but did it ever cross his mind to try something
like Hopscotch, or Michner's shuffled page Kaleidoscope, or the
current incarnation of Laura allowing us to "rearrange" at our whim?

Darryl Schade

Search the archive Contact the Editors Visit "Nabokov Online Journal"
Visit Zembla View Nabokv-L Policies Manage subscription options
All private editorial communications, without
exception, are
read by both co-editors.

Search archive with Google:

Contact the Editors:,
Visit Zembla:
View Nabokv-L policies:
Visit "Nabokov Online Journal:"

Manage subscription options: