NABOKV-L post 0014264, Sun, 3 Dec 2006 14:26:23 -0500

Nabokov as public intellectual
Jansy Mello graciously responded to my query to the list. But I realize my question was poorly asked, so let me reformulate it both generally and in response to the Nafisi-Dabashi debate.

My bottom-line question is: would VN be part of any of a discussion among public intellectuals—which is what Nafisi and Dabashi have become—in a foreign policy debate?

I think the answer is: No. If any writer, by dint of his biography and his art, had standing to weigh in on important issues of foreign policy, it was VN. But that was not a role he sought for himself and he did not put his art in the explicit service of policy debates. Is that surmise correct?

Somewhat related, JM writes: 'If M. Zeringue believes, with [Gideon Lewis-Kraus], that the fingers "on the triggers of those targeted nuclear warheads couldn't possibly care about what either of them has to say.", then I don't see what's the point of his question.'

I do believe—indeed, I'm fairly confident—that governmental officials couldn't care less what people like Nafisi and Dabashi have to say about America's foreign policy. When I was reading Lolita in Charlottesville it was in Julian Connelly's Nabokov seminar, which he generously allowed me to audit. But I was at UVA doing graduate work in international politics, and everything I've learned about that subject, from books as well as from extensive contacts with foreign policy professionals, tells me figures like Nafisi and Dabashi have not got the slightest influence. If anyone in the government finds it useful to drop Nafisi's name or mention her views, it's only in the service of selling some program that they've already embraced for reasons completely unrelated to any influence she may wish she had. And Dabashi's (lack of) power is correspondingly inconsequential.

So back to the question I meant to ask, stated in a more general way: what did VN think, say, or write about the writer as public intellectual on issues like the Nafisi-Dabashi debate?

Marshal Zeringue

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