Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0000755, Mon, 16 Oct 1995 07:30:16 -0700

EDITORIAL NOTE. Below are Marilyn Edelstein's comments on Roy Johnson's
discussion of CLOUD, CASTLE, LAKE (October 15). NABOKV-L looks forward to
other comments on one of VN's most important stories. I would also like
to call attention to Maxim Shrayer's "'Cloud, Castle, Lake' and the
Problem of Entering Nabokov's Otherworld" (pp.131-153) in NABOKOV STUDIES
#1 (1995). Inter alia, the article contains a curretn bibliography of
studies on "Cloud...."
---------- Forwarded message

Although I haven't read or taught "Cloud . . ." for a few years, I would like
to take exception to one of Roy Johnson's assumptions in his otherwise
admirable article posted here earlier. He asserts that one cannot mix
fantasy, realism, and poetic lyricism effectively in a short story (even
if perhaps in a tale or fable), and that Nabokov's shifts are too abrupt
to work effectively; what would seem to follow from this is the evaluative
claim that the story is in some ways a failure, even with its interesting
political and social commentary, if not prophecy. But let me suggest
that the abrupt shifts between a realistic fictive world and a fantastic
one--done in a poetic way--is characteristic of much recent Latin American
fiction, especially in its use of what is called "magical realism."
A work like Gabriel Garcia Marquez's _One Hundred Years of Solitude_
manages to blend realism (even with references, although often veiled, to
contemporary events, esp. political ones) with fantasy (impossible things
happening). In some of his short stories (e.g., "Death Constant Beyond
Love") Garcia Marquez does the same thing (after a political speech,
for instance, a piece of paper will turn into a butterfly). The
shifts are abrupt yet there are enough of them to keep the reader
suspended between disbelief and belief. I think one could say
that Nabokov's story anticipates this sort of postmodernist fiction
(as well as drawing on a tradition exemplified by Kafka or Gogol,
in which the impossible--waking up a giant bug, turning into a
giant nose--occurs in an otherwise realistic story in which the
fantastic elements are treated as mundane). Such works suggest
that the borders between fiction and reality are fluid and
shifting, etc.

Marilyn Edelstein, English, Santa Clara u,
University, California