NABOKV-L post 0000605, Wed, 24 May 1995 10:33:05 -0700

EDITOR'S NOTE: Below is another abstract from the papers delivered at the
April 1995 conference "Discourse & Ideology in Nabokov's Prose" held in
at Texas Tech in Lubbock.
Sunny Otake

An examination of the physical deaths which occur in Nabokokv's
novels, together with the discourse on Death that is scattered throughout
the novels and _Speak, Memory_, will allow us to infer the author's own
ideology of death and how it evolved throughout his career. Death is a
point of particular interest in N's oeuvre because of the high frequencey
of death manquees, and becasue it may be seen as the crossroads of his
metaphysics, providing access to his conceptions of Life, Death, Art,
Afterlife (if any), Space, and Time. Due to the constraints imposed by
the last two categories, only Death and the possibility of Afterlife will
be treated in the current study.
As we learn from both _Speak, Memory_ and _Ada, or Ardor_, for
Nabokov, death is impossible. It is preposterous, absurd, unthinkable,
and, as such, is imminently unsuitable for his favorite characters. They
are allowed to cheat death in various ways: for Cincinnatus the shoddy
scenery of his nightmare life crumbles and falls away; for Krug the next
second which would have shown his death is never depicted (the author has
stopped writing); for Fyodor's father death is never certain because
never confirmed conclusively; for Van and Ada life simply lasts so long
that they seem to have become immortal. When, at the end of the novel,
death seems to have finally caught up with Van, we are not quite sure of
the outcome, for it remains unmentioned. This method of minimizing death's
presence by not depicting it is used only for characters who are of
importance for Nabokokv, especially those withsome kind of gift.
Incidental characters are not allowed to cheat death, and their
deaths are sometimes even visually depicted. They may be of several
different categories: innocent chidlren, such as the son of Adam Krug and
the daughter of Albinus, tend to die as a result of the iniquities or
inanities of adults. Weak characters, who are also quite often "poshlye,"
tend to die appropriately "poshlye" deaths, as does Charlotte in her car
accident and Quilty in his pool of blood. Characters who are wholly
without a special gift of any kind, be it wordsmithing or butterfly
hunting, also die a pitiful, fully depicted death, as does Albinus, shot
by his mistress. Lucette, although respeatedly described as "special" and
"unique" by both Van and Ada, does not escape a watery grave, although
her end is somewhat stylized to spare the reader any grotesque details.
Evil characters have a nasty tendency to escape death altogether, at
least within the novel's pages, just as they so often escape justice in
real life (witness Margot's escape out the open door at the end of _Kamera
obskura_, and the lively fury of Paduk just before the final scene of
_Bend Sinister_.
Death itself is "poshlaya", as witnessed by the young V.N., who
was called to the scene of his father's assassination and never forgot it.
It is precisely because of this that his most beloved characters are
spared death's sting, but even their escapes become finessed to a
continually greater degree, so that by the end of _Ada_ the novel more
resembles fact than fiction. It is easy to envision Nabokov and his
beloved Vera in the roles of the older Van and Ada, annotating their
memories, smiling over their shared secrets and preparing mentally for
the eventual departure into the unknnow. There is a kind of softening over
time in Nabokov's attitude toward death, as if, contrary to logical
expectation, it became more acceptable the closer it came. Although he
could not prove its existence and was not necessarily a firm believer in
it himself, Nabokov felt that logic should not allow for being to end in
nothingness, and so granted an afterlife to many of his favorite
characters, probably hoping for one himself.