Nabokov Society Prizes 2019
1. The Ellen Pifer Prize for best undergraduate essay of 2018.
Awarded to Matt Walker (Ohio State University), for ‘“Being Aware of Being Aware of Being”: Nabokov’s Invitation to the Beyond”’.
The judges write: ‘Matt Walker’s essay points to the problem of unknowability. His essay shows how Nabokov "views the world as an inexhaustible source of inspiration and discovery while simultaneously recognizing that no complete answer can ever be revealed,” skillfully interrelating Nabokov's treatment of time, the otherworld, language’s limitations, past/present and memory, based on a close reading of Nabokov’s texts. The essay builds an important and sophisticated argument using an impressive bibliography.’
2. The Dieter Zimmer Prize for graduate work on Nabokov of 2018.
Awarded to Erik Eklund (University of Noittingham), for ‘”A Green Lane in Paradise”: Eschatology and Theurgy in Humbert Humbert’s Lolita’.
The judges write: ‘In this astute and sophisticated essay, Erik Eklund argues for a bold new way of reading Nabokov’s most controversial novel. Showing an impressive familiarity with existing Nabokov scholarship on the subject, Eklund deploys the insights of Russian religious philosopher Nikolai Berdiaev to map a way for coming to terms with the complex moral predicament posed by Lolita. According to the model furnished by Berdiaev and mobilized by Eklund, Humbert does find redemption at the end of his journey even as this redemption does not trivialize or justify his evil conduct towards Dolly Haze. Whether one agrees or not with Eklund’s argument, its power and nuance demand that it be taken seriously in the difficult task of analyzing the scandalous nature of Lolita.’
3. The Zoran Kuzmanovich Prize, for the best PhD dissertation predominantly on Nabokov of 2018.
Awarded jointly to Brendan Nieubuurt for his 2018 Columbia University dissertation ‘Flesh Made World: Inscription and the Embodied Self in Osip Mandel'shtam and Vladimir Nabokov’, and to Agnès Edel-Roy for her PhD dissertation entitled “Une ‘démocratie magique.’Politique et littérature dans les romans de Vladimir Nabokov” (Université Paris Est, 2018).
The judges write of Nieubuurt’s dissertation:‘Rilke’s ninth Duino elegy speaks of “Things which live by perishing,” and Nieubuurt surefootedly locates the traces of such self-inscribing perishings in Nabokov’s Invitation to a Beheading and Mandelstam’s The Egyptian Stamp. Through Bergson’s theory of embodied being, Nieubuurt theorizes each writer’s “ontological exile” and offers an analysis of Mandel’shtam work that not only points out the similarity of the strategies Nabokov and Mandel’shtam deployed to resist being mired in the superficial reality of a Sovietized world but also explains why at various times Mandel’shtam’s poetry was a bedside companion for both Vladimir and Vera Nabokov.’
The judges write of Edel-Roy’s dissertation: ‘Agnès Edel-Roy’s PhD dissertation renews our understanding of Nabokov in relation to politics and to the questions of tyranny and control, arguing in favor of the relevance of Nabokov’s work today. Edel-Roy characterizes Nabokov as an author who favors emancipation, celebrates freedom and sees literature as a form of democracy. The “magic democracy” of fiction in the title is a quote from Nabokov’s lecture on Dickens. Edel-Roy’s work shows excellent knowledge of Nabokov’s Russian, French and American texts and contexts, as well as of Nabokov criticism in Russian, French and English. Building on existing research in Nabokov studies, Edel-Roy’s reading is a plea for better historicizing and contextualizing Nabokov within the 20thand the 21stcenturies. Her ambition is not only to read between the lines of Nabokov’s pronouncements about his work, but also to engage in a dialogue with Nabokov scholarship. Agnès Edel-Roy’s dissertation is ambitious and impressive in its scope and richness. The vastness, nuance and quality of her knowledge of Nabokov’s work, its reception and historical contexts are simply astounding. For these reasons, she amply deserves to be the co-recipient of the Zoran Kuzmanovich Prize for the Best PhD Dissertation on Nabokov.’
4. The Gennady Barabtarlo Prize, for the best academic article or book chapter on Nabokov of 2018.
Awarded to Professor Stephen Blackwell (University of Tennessee, Knoxville), for his article, ‘Calendar Anomalies, Pushkin and Aesthetic Love in Nabokov’, The Slavonic and East European Review, Vol. 96, No. 3 (July 2018), pp. 401-431.
The judges write: ‘In “Calendar Anomalies, Pushkin, and Aesthetic Love in Nabokov,” Stephen Blackwell provides an insightful interpretation of intricate Nabokovian chronology in Lolita, Pnin and Pale Fire and its interaction with Pushkin’s calendar. Blackwell's discoveries and conclusions are backed up by a painstaking, very detailed textual and intertextual research. He reinforces the connection between the three novels and Nabokov’s Pushkin studies, supporting his claims with meticulous analysis of motif structures and dating patterns in such texts by his literary predecessor as Belkin Tales, “The Three Springs,” “I am sad: there is no friend with me,” “October 19, 1827,” “The Water Nymph [Rusalka],” and many others. Blackwell’s conclusions are polyphonic, in the true Bakhtinian sense, and refreshingly non-prescriptive. He links the theme of exile in Pnin to the Pushkinian paradigm of a poet’s abandoning his home and reaches the conclusion that, no matter what calendric “anomalies” there may be in Lolita, the novel owes some of its beautiful ambiguity to Pushkin, whose lesson “was precisely that: a fragile yet beautiful life of joyous openness, jaunty rebelliousness and freedom from entrapment and ‘completeness.’”’
5. The Jane Grayson Prize, for a first book of 2018 that makes a significant contribution to Nabokov studies.
Awarded to Michael Rodgers (Open University, UK) for his monograph Nabokov and Nietzsche: Problems and Perspectives (Bloomsbury, 2018).
The judges write: ‘Like many Russian writers during the Silver Age, Nabokov was familiar with the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. Rather than providing a traditional study of influence, however, Rodgers uses Nietzschean themes that surface in Nabokov’s work—including eternal recurrence, amor fati, master-slave morality, the Übermensch, and productive experiences of moral disorientation and perspectivism (which demands individuals’ active engagement with truth)— to examine, often with insight and subtlety, problems in interpreting the author and his writing that have haunted Nabokov studies for decades.’
6. The Brian Boyd Prize, for the best book of 2016 - 2018 by someone who has previously published a book predominantly on Nabokov.
Awarded to Professor Stephen Blackwell (University of Tennessee, Knoxville) and Kurt Johnson for Fine Lines: Vladimir Nabokov’s Scientific Art (Yale University Press, 2016).
The judges write: ‘The judges for this Prize carefully considered five impressive books on Nabokov published in the last three years by established Nabokov scholars. Each would have made a worthy recipient, but ultimately they chose Fine Lines: Vladimir Nabokov’s Scientific Art, edited by Stephen Blackwell and Kurt Johnson (Yale University Press, 2016). Being a distinguished lepidopterist as well as one of the twentieth-century’s great novelists, Nabokov is a writer of outstanding interest to all those who care about the complex relationships between science and art. Fine Linescarries the existing work on this subject forward by presenting us with no fewer than 148 of Nabokov butterfly drawings, beautifully reproduced. The elegantly written and intellectually sophisticated introduction, drawing meticulously on a range of sources, sheds new light onto Nabokov’s thought and writing by focussing in particular on the fundamental questions of taxonomy and systematics. The annotations to each drawing are exceptional, providing every context that future students will need to understand what Nabokov was thinking about as he drew his butterflies. Although the Prize is awarded for the quality of the introduction, editorial work, and annotations, the judges note that the volume is enriched by ten excellent essays and a valuable bibliography. Yale University Press also deserve the praise and gratitude of Nabokovians, and of the literary and scientific community more broadly, for having made this beautiful book.