Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0000814, Thu, 9 Nov 1995 16:41:17 -0800

Edelstein MLA abstract (fwd)
Marilyn Edelstein
Department of English
Santa Clara University

The Liminal and the Subliminal:
Nabokov's Prefatory Personae

Only recently have literary theorists begun to reconsider the "death of
the author." Perhaps because of the hegemony of this assumption in the
last 20 years, few critics have analyzed the effects of the novelists'
non-fiction on the interpretation of their novels. Even fewer have
analyzed the effects of those liminal texts, prefaces -- liminal because
they are both on the threshold of the novel and on the border between
fiction and non-fiction. A writer like Vladimir Nabokov makes it
difficult, however, to ignore the question of "the author" - - inside,
outside, and on the threshold of the text.

Through a vast corpus of multi-media interviews (orchestrated, compiled,
and edited by Nabokov himself), published letters and lectures, an
autobiography, a biography, criticism, Nabokov constructed a public
persona as artful, fictive, and powerful, in its own way, as his novels.
Because of both this persona and Nabokov's complex assertions of his
presence within his novels, the interpretation of Nabokov's work has been
especially susceptible to authorial manipulation. Nabokov exerts his
authority also through a substantial collection of liminal texts -- his
(in)famous Forewords.

Most discussions of Nabokov's prefatory texts have dealt with the
forewords added to the Russian novels when they were translated into
English, forewords written by Nabokov _as_ "Vladimir Nabokov." LOLITA's
Afterword is much like these Forewords, but LOLITA is unique in Nabokov's
_oeuvre_ in also containing a fictive "editor's" Foreword, written by
Nabokov in an assumed "voice," that of "John Ray, Jr., Ph. D."* Nabokov's
Afterword, although it follows the novel and Ray's Foreword, still
fulfills many typical prefatory functions, such as "explaining" the
novel's genesis, methods, and significance. Stylistically and
thematically, the Afterword is much like those Forewords written by
Nabokov _as_ Nabokov, and much like his interviews and letters.

In this paper, I will read these two essentially prefatory texts with and
against both each other and the rest of Nabokov's "meta-text," including
other forewords, interviews, and lectures on literature. Through this
analysis, I hope to illuminate the complexities of both Nabokovian
authorship and of authorial influences more generally on on texts,
readers, and interpretation. As I will argue, Nabokov's work demonstrates
that authors are neither "dead" (or irrelevant for interpretation) nor
authoritative (or capable of determining interpretation).

*Only one other Nabokov novel, PALE FIRE, has such a fictional foreword
(but no author's foreword); it, too, is by a pseudo-scholar/critic,
although Charles Kinbote, unlike Ray, plays a central role in the novel
itself. All the Russian novels, translated into English after the
publication of LOLITA, have an added author's foreword or introduction of
some sort; yet, these, like Henry James's, written long after the first
publication of the novel, bear a different relation to it than do prefaces
like Ray's or Kinbote's, included as part of the fictional world from the
novel's first appearance and written by "someone" other than the author