Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0025495, Sun, 29 Jun 2014 10:29:18 -0300

RES: [NABOKV-L] CCL: Title, Kafkaian undertones and efficiency
I wanted to compare the dates of CCL’s writing and “Invitation to a
Beheading”’s. As usual, wiki provides a wonderful shortcut: Invitation to
a Beheading (Russian: Приглашение на казнь, Priglasheniye
na kazn') is a novel by Russian Americanauthor Vladimir Nabokov. It was
originally published in Russian in 1935-1936 as a serial in Contemporary
Notes(Sovremennye zapiski), a highly respected Russian émigré magazine. In
1938 the work was published in Paris, with anEnglish translation following
in 1959. The English version was translated by Nabokov's son, Dmitri
Nabokov, under the author's supervision.
The novel is often described as "Kafkaesque," but Nabokov claimed that at
the time he wrote the book, he was unfamiliar with German and "completely
ignorant" of Kafka's work.Nabokov interrupted his work on The Gift in order
to write Invitation, describing the creation of the first draft as "one
fortnight of wonderful excitement and sustained inspiration." Some scholars
have argued that the central plot of Invitation has its roots in
Chernyshevski, a character from The Gift.
While Nabokov stated in an interview that of all his novels he held the
greatest affection for Lolita, it was Invitation to a Beheading that he held
in the greatest esteem.

What prompted me, in relation to CCL, were the sentences: "You are taking a
pleasure trip with us. Tomorrow, according to the appointed itinerary―look
at your ticket―we are all returning to Berlin. There can be no question of
anyone―in this case you―refusing to continue this communal journey [ ]
// "I shall complain," wailed Vasiliy Ivanovich. "Give me back my bag. I
have the right to remain where I want. Oh, but this is nothing less than an
invitation to a beheading"―he told me he cried when they seized him by the

At this point L.Hochard's precise rendering of the relation between the
narrator and who I’d incorrectly taken to be “an employee” of his gains
an added significance. He wrote: “Vasili Ivanovitch is a very efficient
representative of the anonymous narrator.” Narrator and character are
often blended together, but also distinct as in “he told me he cried
when…” However, further on, in the midst of an idyllic scenery that has
been stopped in time, both are again united by a certain “you” who emerges
as “my love! My obedient one!”:
“…after another hour of marching, that very happiness of which he had once
half dreamt was suddenly discovered.// It was a pure, blue lake, with an
unusual expression of its water. In the middle, a large cloud was reflected
in its entirety. On the other side, on a hill thickly covered with verdure
(and the darker the verdure, the more poetic it is), towered, arising from
dactyl to dactyl, an ancient black castle. Of course, there are plenty of
such views in Central Europe, but just this one―in the inexpressible and
unique harmoniousness of its three principal parts, in its smile, in some
mysterious innocence it had, my love! my obedient one!―was something so
unique, and so familiar, and so long-promised, and it so understood the
beholder that Vasiliy Ivanovich even pressed his hand to his heart, as if to
see whether his heart was there in order to give it away.”

A few paragraphs before the narrator had narrated: “Vasiliy Ivanovich, as
the least burdened, was given an enormous round loaf of bread to carry under
his arm. How I hate you, our daily! But still his precious, experienced eyes
noted what was necessary.” Stating that he hated their “daily”, he
acknowledges that Vasiliy’s “precious, experienced eyes noted…” It is as
if, in truth, narrator and character were one in one level (a single person)
whereas, when isolated, it was Vasilyi’s function to operate as the
narrator’s perceptual apparatus, sustaining his splendid dreams with his
always compliant body (or personality). The two, in another level, as
partial representatives of the Author who, in the end, intervenes more
effectively and lets Vasiliy “go.” Nevertheless, I haven’t yet found the
correct focus
to “see” the crystallized landscape’s smile, the shape and extension of
that magic central cloud, or to situate the “voice.” The more I read and
travel from paragraph to paragraph the less I know what the novel means, the
meaning of every sentence gets blurred and clears up like another cloudy and
windy skype, with the exception of its pervasive Arcadian dream.


De: Vladimir Nabokov Forum [mailto:NABOKV-L@LISTSERV.UCSB.EDU] Em nome de
laurence hochard
Enviada em: sábado, 28 de junho de 2014 17:00
Assunto: [NABOKV-L] CCL: Title, Kafkaian undertones and efficiency

To me, the title, because of its rythm and the similarity of rythm with
King, Queen, Knave suggests a hand of cards, the miraculous hand of cards
Vasili is waiting for. The next short story in the anthology is Signs and
Symbols which features a hand of 3 (ominous) cards.
(And why not "Lake, Castle, Cloud"?) asks SES. I wonder if the order of the
words is the same in Russian?

When reading the first paragraph, one can't help but think of Kafka's The
Trial (which was published in Berlin 12 years before CCL). Like Josef K,
Vasili Ivanovitch is caught in a bureaucratic maze; however, the
resemblance is superficial; the bureacracy is far less systematic and
implacable than in The Trial. We are told that selling the ticket would
would involve cutting through all sorts of red tape but nowhere are we told
that he has to go. He could simply forego the trip, So, why did he go?

We learn in the very first sentence that Vasili Ivanovitch is a very
efficient representative of the anonymous narrator but the last paragraph
reveals that the position he wants to resign is not an ordinary one, he
wants to resign his position as a member of mankind.; But we may wonder what
his "efficiency" consists in ...

Laurence Hochard

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