Gluck, Michael. Peeping at Possibilities: Wordplay and the Mirror of Nature in Pnin. 2018

Bibliographic title
Peeping at Possibilities: Wordplay and the Mirror of Nature in Pnin
Periodical or collection
Nabokov Online Journal
Periodical issue
v. 12
Publication year

Michael Gluck’s (Columbia University) essay “Peeping at Possibilities: Wordplay and the Mirror of Nature in Pnin,” examines the repetition and transformation of certain syllables in Vladimir Nabokov’s Pnin (1957) in order to show that what has been identified by Julian Connolly as the “spiral” structure of the novel also exists at the level of the word and even the syllable. He argues that this instrumentalization of language constitutes an attempt by Nabokov to forego linguistic convention and realist fiction in favor of the author’s unique conception of artistic mimesis. The essay begins with a discussion of Nabokov’s idiosyncratic use of language and its relevance to Pnin. Pnin foregrounds the question of linguistic comprehension, relating it to the workings of the imagination, dreams, painting, and nature in the novel. These practices hinge on fragmentation and reconstitution (i.e. transformation) and, the essay argues, Pnin encourages the reader to treat the work of art in his/her hands to trace such transformations in language in imitation of Victor’s painter’s perception. The last section of the essay undertakes such a reading, building on the work of Eric Naiman to show how morphemes linked to the root vertere point to a reading of the novel that turns the narrator’s language against itself to reflect Pnin’s transcendence of the story and the narrator’s return to its beginning.