NABOKV-L post 0006268, Fri, 14 Dec 2001 11:36:45 -0800

AATSEEL Paper Abstracts. New Orleans, December 2001


Doubles in Conrad and Nabokov

Ludmilla Voitkovska, University of Saskatchewan

Expatriate fiction abounds with doubles. Conrad's disconnection from
both the parent and the adopted culture transforms as an escape into the
specific worlds he knew intimately: the world of seamen and the worlds
of exotic or non-existent countries, heavily populated with male doubles
(Jim and Marlow, Jim and Brown, Jim and Brierly, Razumov and Haldin,
Razumov and the Language teacher, Decoud and Nostromo, not to mention
the Captain and Leggatt). Nabokov's literary universe is populated by
doubles of both genders: Annabel and Lolita (Lolita), Kinbote and Shade
in Pale Fire.

Framed by a specifically literary anxiety of identity (or, alternatively
stated, by the problematic nature of literary freedom) the fictional
double is best assessed and interpreted from within a socio-linguistic
and anthropological context. In essence, the simple possibility of a
non-referential literary universe, predicated on the simple fact that
language can shape a double of the world, creates conditions wherein any
self-conscious use of literary language involves, implicitly, the
creation of duplicity and the doubling of the referential self. And,
consequently, the change of the language, which happens with the change
of the culture in case of expatriation, results in doubling of the self
caused by the simultaneous existence of the two cultural and linguistic
archetypes in the expatriate's psyche. In expatriate fiction, doubles
particularly strongly demonstrate how major political structures and
ideological constructs translate into the formation of an individual
psyche and character, reflect in actions, emotions, and relationships.

Both Conrad and Nabokov dramatize their relationships with the parent
and/or adopted culture through the protagonist's relationships with
doubles and/or women. In Conrad's novels, the protagonist, is developing
emotionally charged relationships with men symbolically representing his
parent culture: Jim and Brierly, Jim and Brown, Razumov and Haldin,
Decoud and Nostromo. The displaced protagonist develops intimate
relationships with women who belong either to the culture different than
the protagonist or to the same culture. These relationships never end in
a happy marriage which is Conrad's statement of the protagonist's
essential incompatibility with both parent culture (Razumov and Natalia
Haldin, Decoud and Antonia Avellianos, Kurtz and Intended) and with the
adopted culture (Jim and Jewel, Janko Gooral and Amy Foster, Verlok and

Unlike Conrad, who prefers male doubles, Nabokov experiments with
doubles of both genders. However, the doubling stays within the paradigm
of the parent-adopted culture relationship. Lolita, a double of Humbert
Humbert's first love, belongs to the protagonist's adopted culture,
while Annabel is a part of his past in Europe. Humbert Humbert loses
both women, and the difference in the circumstances of the loss reflects
Nabokov's relationship with both cultures. Annabel, the woman from the
parent culture, unexpectedly dies of typhus in her teens, leaving the
protagonist with the sense of irretrievable loss. This relationship
mirrors Nabokov's poignantly nostalgic relationship with Russia he lost
as a teenager. Lolita, a "distinguishingly conventional" (Lolita 136)
American girl who allures and eludes him at the same time, is an
embodiment of Nabokov's feelings for America which he sees as "a
combination of na?vet? and deception, of charm and vulgarity" (Lolita
136) with its "sweet hit jazz, square dancing, gooey fudge sundaes,
musicals, movie magazines" (Lolita 136).

Both Conrad and Nabokov use narrative doubles to represent the process
of reading an expatriate text. The narrator and the reader are placed
around the narrative which may belong yet to another speaker. In
Conrad's fiction, the story is often told by the third party, the
protagonist's narrative double, who represents either the parent culture
(Marlow) or the adopted culture (English Teacher, Kennedy, the county
doctor in Amy Foster).

Nabokov uses the figure of an editor who is either a protagonist of the
narrative (Charles Kinbote in Pale Fire) or a figure uninvolved in the
plot (John Ray Jr. in Lolita ). Charles Kinbote and Shade's relationship
revolves around writing an expatriate text. In Conrad, the story is told
either from the perspective foreign to the protagonist, or from the
perspective of the person who shares the same culture but does not have
the experience of expatriation. Both writers use the device of a diary
as the foundation of the narrative (Lolita, Under Western Eyes ). The
intricate narrative structure involving narrative doubles accounts for
the implicit critical discourse about how one writes and reads an
expatriate text, as well as for creating the atmosphere of
retrospection, which is one of the essential archetypes of expatriate


The "Right" versus the "Wrong" Child: Shades of Pain in Bend Sinister
(with Reference to Pnin)

Elena Sommers, University of Rochester

As the reader finishes the last page of Bend Sinister, he might find
himself on shaky ground. After being made a silent witness of an
elaborately thought out and staged torture of the eight-year-old David,
the curtain is drawn and one is left on his own to deal with the
haunting mental picture of the little boy's terrible end. While trying
to determine why Nabokov chose to go into such excruciating detail in
his portrayal of violence against the most vulnerable, this essay will
analyze the means by which the writer communicates the most
"language-resistant" phenomenon--"the intense physical pain of another."

Brian Boyd argues that "only through the imagination can we mortals act
with sufficient thought for another's pain, and on this level of our
real lives even a novelist's or a novel-reader's imagination--this
novelist, Vladimir Nabokov, this reader, you and I--will often fall
short" (AY, 287). In Bend Sinister and Pnin Nabokov forces one to
picture the circumstances of the victims' deaths by providing different
scenarios of what could have happened. I will show how Nabokov
deconstructs the process of torture in order for the reader to then
reconstruct it in his imagination, which results in a literal, physical
feeling of pain.

Continuously upsetting the reader's world, in Bend Sinister Nabokov
transforms a nanny, a nurse and a female doctor, the figures
traditionally associated with nurturing and mothering, into the members
of a fine-tuned murder team. Followed by a curious reader, the trio of
the Bachofen sisters (Mariette, Linda and Doktor Amalia), will carefully
and professionally carry out specifically assigned roles instrumental to
David's torture and murder.

According to Richard Rorty, the inability to notice someone else's
suffering (an echo of Humbert's failure to notice Charlotte's mourning
the death of her two-year old son, and Lolita's dealing with the loss of
her brother) is the ultimate example of incuriosity--a form of cruelty
which concerned Nabokov the most. Bend Sinister tests the level of the
reader's curiosity by briefly introducing the figure of another child,
who is brought to Krug by mistake after he agrees to cooperate with the
government on the condition of his son's immediate release. The cruel
irony of the situation is that for desperate Krug, "a thin frightened
boy of twelve or thirteen," obviously beaten, with his head "newly
bandaged," is just "someone else's child," the "wrong boy," who being
labeled as one ends up being disposed of just like David himself.
Crucial details of the novel may be missed during the first reading,
something Nabokov no doubt realized. Writing his introduction in 1963,
seventeen years after completing Bend Sinister, Nabokov makes sure Arvid
Krug is mentioned. Pointing out the accompanying theme of the novel,
"the theme of dim-brained brutality which thwarts its own purpose by
destroying the right child and keeping the wrong one" (165), the writer
is setting up the disturbing "right" child/"wrong" child opposition,
challenging the reader's attention to detail--a challenge which in
Nabokov's terms should translate into curiosity and therefore compassion.

"You know what's so dreadful about dying is that you are completely on
your own," says Lolita referring to her little brother who died at the
age of two. In Bend Sinister Nabokov does not patronize us with a happy
ending and does appear to leave David and Arvid completely on their own
without suggesting any otherworldly or emotional way out. Ellen Pifer
notes that in Nabokov's world "betraying the child's innocence signifies
the greatest evil known to man or constitutes nothing less
than a crime against the cosmos." Struggling with the issues of pain,
death and afterlife Bend Sinister makes a point of challenging our sense
of compassion, testing the level of our curiosity and exposing our
sensitivity to the graphic images of torture, so that after finishing
the novel, the image of David peacefully looking into the reader's eyes
before going "down the few steps that remained" to meet his eight
executioners, is still with us as the image of the ultimate betrayal.



Vladimir Nabokov and Arthur Schopenhauer

Savely Senderovich, Cornell University, and Yelena Shvarts,
Independent Scholar

Arthur Schopenhouer was a major philosophical influence in Russian
culture of the second half of the nineteenth century (esp. Tjutchev,
Turgenev, Fet, L. Tolstoj), but his major impact can be seen in the
beginning of the twentieth century, with the Symbolists and more widely
with the artists of avant-garde. While his importance in the nineteenth
century has been more or less studied, early twentieth century remains
in this regard little illuminated. But the reliance of the next
generation of Russian writers on Schopenhauer's philosophy hardly has
been touched on. Vladimir Nabokov is a case in point.

Brought up in the atmosphere of the Silver Age of Russian culture,
Vladimir Nabokov fully absorbed it, and his own art is permeated by it
in the most profound way. The Silver Age was centered on the avant-garde
theater, the theory of which was largely based on Schopenhauer's
conception of the world as will and representation.

The main metaphor used by the philosopher for the representation of his
world was theater which made his philosophy a splendid tool for treating
theater as the most important phenomenon in the world. Vjach. Ivanov,
Sologub, Blok, Mejerxol'd and Evreinov used it just in this sense.
Nabokov conceptualized the avant-garde theater as the phenomenal
foundation of his novelistic world. A number of our papers have been
dedicated to the illumination of this point. This paper is intended to
show that Schopenhouer's philosophy became a favorite frame of reference
of his intertextually oriented language.

The paper is going to analyze several passages from Nabokov's novels and
demonstrate that they can be understood vis-?-vis corresponding passages
in Schopenhauer and then explain the significance of the language of
these passages for the novelist's artistic world and in the broad
context of the philosopher's thought. In this light, minuscule
components of Nabokov's language will become seen as indices of
principal features of his world .



What If Nabokov Had Written
"Dvojnik": Reading Dostoevskij Preposterously

Eric Naiman, University of California, Berkeley

My paper brings together two different narrative strategies from the
worlds of narratology and
history. In Pnin Nabokov uses the phrase "preposterous oversight." In
its superficial context, the
phrase is used to refer to Pnin's fear of forgetting something that
will, as a result, have a
catastrophic influence on his life. Yet the phrase has larger,
metafictive implications, for
preposterous oversight is a fine description of the various stories
other characters --and the
narrator--tell about him. Finally, preposterous oversight refers to the
duty of the ideal
Nabokovian reader. As originally used, "preposterous" meant backwards,
placing the end
before the beginning. And that is precisely how Nabokov's novels must
always be read--you
can't grasp the beginning until you have read the end. Recently
historians have appropriated a
term originally developed in philosophy and cognitive psychology:
counterfactual analysis. They
use it to engage in creative speculation about what would have happened
had a specific
historical event not occurred (or if it had occurred differently). Much
recent work has focused
on the end of World War II, but counterfactual articles have also been
written about the end of
the Cold War and the Decembrist "uprising."

I want to bring these two modes of reading together to envision a
"preposterous" model for
intertextual studies. This paper will be resolutely anachronistic,
asking how we would read
Dostoevskij's "Dvojnik" if Nabokov had written it, or--more
precisely--how we would read it if
we believed it to have issued from Nabokov's pen. I believe that this
approach will have a
number of pay-offs.

First, it treats literary history as if it were not only about fiction
but were fiction, fiction that is
best read preposterously (in the etymological sense of the word). We
should remember that
those of us who read novels pretend to segregate our reading of fiction
from our reading (and
writing) about fiction's history, but this segregation is not hermetic.
Moreover, our reading of a
particular work of fiction is often preposterous, colored by works
written after it but which we
readers have already read. Second, the paper will raise questions about
what Nabokov might
have learned from Dostoevskij, how his own, anachronistic understanding
of Dostoevskij might
have affected his approach to his own fiction.

Third, in its chronologically perverse reading of Dostoevskij, the paper
will attempt to shake
new meaning from an old work through temporal defamiliarization. More
specifically, I want to
see if I can make a convincing case for Dostoevskij as the precursor of
modern metafiction. It is
no discovery that Dostoevskij wrote about fiction, but I want to portray
him--and "Dvojnik" in
particular--as a text in which author and hero are adversaries within
the text. (A glance at
Baxtin's early essay "Author and Hero" will also be included and read (a
bit less)
preposterously--as if it were already informed by his study of
Dostoevskij's poetics.)