Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0004792, Mon, 21 Feb 2000 10:42:30 -0800

'Pale Fire' and homophobia (fwd)
I would agree with Christopher Berg that a distinction can be made between
scholastically productive and non-productive discussions on the issue of
VN and homosexuality. As far as the non-productive discussion goes, let
me simply add a comparison between possible homophobia on VN's part and
his "insensitivity" to sugarless-gum-lovers is frankly insulting. I
would hope that we all can see that. One's choice in love-object is
clearly a more important, identity-centering, and yes, sensitive topic
than one's choice in breath-freshener. I would remind the members of the
list-serv that if homophobia is a sensitive topic, if careful attention to
one's words and actions with regards to the subject is required today it
is because people's lives and happiness are at stake and are deserving of

As far as productive discussions of Nabokov and homosexuality goes, it
seems to me that just because Nabokov himself may have lived in an era
when homosexuality was not only taboo, but considered the appropriate and
even necessary target of disapprobation, that doesn't mean that queer
studies cannot be a useful category of analysis for Nabokovians. To take
a very different example from the realm of feminism (another movement
Nabokov was not particularly friendly towards): a feminist analysis of
'Pride and Prejudice' can help us to understand the way in the emerging
bourgeois class was in large part developed via a redefinition of the
domestic and the feminine. Such an analysis is not congruent with
labeling Jane Austen a misogynist -- a concept that had no meaning at the
turn of the nineteenth century. I would like to build on Christopher
Berg's latest contribution by saying that the question of VN's homophobia
is not, to my mind, as fruitful a question as the one that asks what
CONCEPTUAL WORK does Nabokov's employment of homosexual figures attempt to
effect? This line of inquiry does not ask that every portrayal of
gay/lesbian/bisexual characters be wholly positive anymore than one would
expect the same of a straight character. Rather it asks what an analysis
of the character's sexuality in relation to the work as a whole might give
us. I see no difference between that line of questioning and that which
investigates the conceptual work of any other organizing principle (of
society and therefore implicitly of Nabokov's works) like nationality.
The questions we ask and their ramifications may be different, the worth
of the inquiry is not.

Josh Hecht
Wesleyan University