Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0004583, Wed, 17 Nov 1999 09:54:27 -0800

Paris-Rampton (fwd)

My contention in this paper is that Nabokov's 1937 article,
"Pouchkine, ou le vrai et le vraisemblable," has been unjustly neglected.
Ostensibly an appreciation of Russia's premier poet and a treatise on the
importance of making basic critical distinctions, it has, understandably
enough, been viewed as a casual sketch, something that was to be
splendidly superseded by the commentary in the multi-volume Pushkin
translation published some thirty years later. The more recondite, more
imaginative fiction Nabokov was producing in the 1930s has therefore
received the bulk of our attention. yet this article, like so much else in
Nabokov's work, is not exactlt what it seems, and deserves to be better
I shall argue that it actually serves as a capsule summary of the
principal issues he was concurrently exploring in his fiction: the
multi-faceted nature of the "biographie romancee," the difficulties
attendant on any attempt to enter another's world, the importance of the
difference between the elite and plebian, and the task of preserving
Russian culture by resisting vulgar attempts to appropriate it. Not only
that: at the same time it reveals the determinedly pre-modernist aspects
of Nabokov's own critical assumptions, as he brilliantly refights the
battles of the 1840s and 50s in the 1930s. He published all of his Russian
novels in the most eminent of Parisian emigre jounals, and the Pushkin
piece in _Nouvelle Revue Francaise,_ yet the approach to the problems
posed by Pushkin's work reveals both Nabokokvs' quasi-total isolation from
twentieth-century literary and intellectual movements and the
fundamentally anti-theoretical foundations of his art. The author who
prided himself on travelling through life in a space helmet had a mind too
fine to be ravished by a modernist theory.
The whole process of stating a thesis, adducing relevant evidence,
making logical transitions, and moving toward a plausible conclusion is
somewhat alien to Nabokov's aesthetic sensibility, and the "Le vrai et le
vraisemblabale" helps explain his aversion to and distain of the
expository mode as a means of exploring ideas about literature. Finally,
in its anatomy of a madman and its critique of his banal imaginings, it
offers an intriguing and proleptic look at where Nabokov was going, at
what the subject of his most audacious and successful fiction was to be.