Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0026599, Thu, 5 Nov 2015 12:37:11 -0200

RES: [NABOKV-L] The name of L*lita
Maurice Couturier: "The debate around the possible sources of the name "Lolita" raises a question which the participants to the third Nice conference on Nabokov tried to address. The topic I had chosen was "Annotating vs. Interpreting Nabokov" [ ]. In my introduction, I wrote: "The whole debate about annotating v. interpreting naturally turns around the problem of the over determination of the text and the kind of contribution the reader can, may or must bring to it." Nabokov's dictatorship (or tyranny) is such that we often prefer to annotate his works rather than interpreting them for fear of saying things that would run counter to his recommendations or interdicts (remember what he said about Rowe's book). Yet, the questions remains: do our annotations improve our understanding or appreciation of the text? [ ] The reason I joined this debate, and was perhaps a little too polemical, is that I personally feel there are too many extravagant annotations which add little or nothing to the understanding and appreciation of Nabokov's marvelous works, and too few genuine interpretations based on the actual words of his texts. To be sure, every interpretation mobilizes a particular hermeneutics (Kantian philosophy, for instance, metaphysics, aesthetics, sociology, narratology, psychoanalysis, and so on and so forth) of which Nabokov wasn't necessarily cognizant. But remember the debate about "intentional fallacy"!

Jansy Mello: How can we avoid a plunge into the dimension of “opinions” to achieve a valid interpretation of a work of art since a writer’s overall intentions and desire are ultimately inaccessible -even to him? Besides, I agree with those that affirm that an author’s literary style has “no other side of the weave” because it is that which we are able to perceive and describe when using whatever instruments we possess.

Nabokov’s “dictatorship (or tyranny)” promotes the fear of attempting to discuss or to understand/interpret his writings outside of the fields which he so emphatically demarcated: no psychoanalysis, no unconscious, no Freudian quacks and no Marx, no social sciences, humanities*. Should we obey his caveat? Can we abide by it and still be “good readers”? If we agree with the exposition by S. J. Parker, the answer will be “yes” since VN’s project was to enlarge a reader’s ability to perceive and respond to the external world of things in splendid isolation.** However, a good Nabokov reader isn’t necessarily a “good reader” of authors other than VN.

Annotations to Nabokov’s novels may become a pleasurable enlightening experience for the annotator himself and for all those who enjoy reading them, even when they prove to be wrong in the long end. In one way or another, misleading annotations may become the stepping stones towards pertinent faithful discoveries (who doesn’t enjoy Kinbote’s inventions?). True references and links shall not only satisfy the annotator and confirm the importance of scholarly research as such but, most of all, they’ll serve the author’s conscious intention by setting out the borders of his originality and cultural belonging. ***


*While trying to present VN’s words related to “artistic originality” after scrutinizing a few paragraphs from his Lecture on Kafka * I suddenly realized that VN’s “human reality”, set “against the backdrop of great works of art” …was being described only as a reflection about the way people look and react to the “external” world, without considering how people themselves look and react to other people which are a part of this same “external” world and who are stamped by the rules of language, culture and society (the downplay of the importance of human interaction). It appears to me that such “downplay” was confirmed by what I read in “Understanding Vladimir Nabokov” (1987), by Stephen Jan Parker, when he informs us that Nabokov’s first novels were considered to be “alien to the traditions of the great Russian novel because they seemed to lack any commitment to issues which engage the social man,” although later it became possible to understand that “the protagonists of Nabokov’s fictions are indeed not social beings in the traditional sense…they appear largely free of the determining forces of environment and heredity and, as such, their behavior cannot be understood by theories of religion, psychoanalysis or Marxism… each of his protagonists is a discreet consciousness liberated from the everyday affairs of social man…thus…the naked consciousness is left free to react to those things upon which consciousness feeds: stimuli of the senses, language, beauty, patterns, disguises, tricks, games, puzzles of various sorts. The central concern of Nabokov’s fiction is with the many ways an individual’s active consciousness shapes reality.” (p.6-7). ** Soon I realized that one of the points raised by S. J. Parker seems to be that good Nabokov readers must accept the exclusion of the “social man” to focus on how an “individual’s active consciousness shapes reality.”

**Quoting from S. A. Parker: “The true purpose of art, Shklolvsky reasoned, is to impart the sensation of things as they are perceived, and not as they are known. It is appropriate to think of Vladimir Nabokov’s prose as devoted to this end…His art marshals a whole panoply of stylistic usages for the purpose of awakening fresh perception” (p.21). In concluding this chapter he writes that Nabokov’s prose “needs no purpose other than its own being.”

*** As S. A. Parker explains on page 19 of Chapter 1, in Nabokov the “ serious point of these games of parody and allusion, as with the distancing devices, is that they serve to set the literary creations (stories,characters, situations) within a line of literary antecedents, in order to distinguish them from prior forms by presenting new perspectives and thus establishing their originality.”

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