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Imagining Nabokov

Imagining Nabokov: Russia Between Art and Politics

Nina L. Khrushcheva
Copyright Date: 2007
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Imagining Nabokov
    Book Description:

    Vladimir Nabokov's "Western choice"-his exile to the West after the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution-allowed him to take a crucial literary journey, leaving the closed nineteenth-century Russian culture behind and arriving in the extreme openness of twentieth-century America. InImagining Nabokov: Russia Between Art and Politics, Nina L. Khrushcheva offers the novel hypothesis that because of this journey, the works of Russian-turned-American Vladimir Nabokov (1899-1977) are highly relevant to the political transformation under way in Russia today. Khrushcheva, a Russian living in America, finds in Nabokov's novels a useful guide for Russia's integration into the globalized world. Now one of Nabokov's "Western" characters herself, she discusses the cultural and social realities of contemporary Russia that he foresaw a half-century earlier.

    InPale Fire;Ada, or Ardor; Pnin;and other works, Nabokov reinterpreted the traditions of Russian fiction, shifting emphasis from personal misery and communal life to the notion of forging one's own "happy" destiny. In the twenty-first century Russia faces a similar challenge, Khrushcheva contends, and Nabokov's work reveals how skills may be acquired to cope with the advent of democracy, capitalism, and open borders.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-14824-4
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Note on Transliteration and Translations
    (pp. xiii-xiii)
    (pp. xiv-xv)
  6. Chronology: Works by Vladimir Sirin and Vladimir Nabokov
    (pp. xvi-xviii)
  7. Introduction: Nabokov and Us
    (pp. 1-20)

    Vladimir Nabokov’s journey from obscure Russian émigré writer to the author of American and world literary classics is essential for understanding Russia’s past, its present, and its future. His lasting contribution to both Russian literature and Russian life is that—in his early prose and in his later English-language novels—he created characters of a kind dramatically different from those readers had come to expect in Russian literature: sufferers, revolutionaries, and madmen; men and women subservient to fate and in search of escape and salvation; people who readily excuse weakness (particularly their own) and see destruction and death as desirable...

  8. Prologue: Nabokov’s Russian Return . . . and Retreat
    (pp. 21-36)

    It was a matter of fierce pride for any Bolshevik: Russians read more than any other people on earth. In the postcommunist era, this fact bewildered countless Western economists and management consultants, who could not help but note that hypothetical and literary concepts have a far greater hold on Russia’s people than practical ones.

    These Westerners often dubbed Russian culture as “high-context,”¹ meaning that the way Russians communicate is loaded with hidden content—background information shared only by the “insiders” (svoi, nashi) versus the “others” (chuzhie). In negotiating a business contract, as a high-context culture Russia favors a “circular way...

  9. ONE Imagining Nabokov
    (pp. 37-73)

    The world is right not to pardon those who converse with geniuses, those who deem themselves worthy of great encounters, acquaintances, attention. Who do they think they are, anyway?

    Abram Tertz was snubbed by the Russian artistic intelligentsia for hisStrolls with Pushkin. Who does he think he is to frivolously write about “Pushkin [who] ran into great poetry on thin erotic legs and created a commotion”?¹ To avoid angering my own readers, I justify my familiarity with Nabokov by offering the writer’s words in my defense: “Give me the creative reader: this is a tale for him” (LORL, 54)....

  10. TWO On the Way to the Author
    (pp. 74-109)

    I’ve read Nabokov before.

    First, it wasLolitain his own Russian translation; forbidden pages passed from hand to hand in pale green, cardboard-bound facsimile. I was exactly the same age as the heroine. And I hated her.

    Later, during perestroika, there wasThe Luzhin Defense—printed abroad in Ardis’s “zagranichnoe” (attractive foreign) edition—it made an impression, but I didn’t finish it. I wasn’t yet ready, although I could already feel its force and genius.

    In 1988,The Giftwas published officially in the literary journalUral. I didn’t finish it either: Chernyshevsky’s¹ aesthetic creed—ideological art is the...

  11. THREE Poet, Genius, and Hero
    (pp. 110-175)

    The carefree aristocrat, Pushkin, snug in his homeland, could afford the luxury of slickly rhymingVolya(freedom, will) withDolya(fate, lot): “This world has no happiness, but there is peace and will. And long I’ve dreamed of lucky fate.”¹ Nabokov had to rely on strength of will alone to “give to Mnemosyne [the muse of memory] not just the will, but the order [dat Mnemozine ne tolko volyu, no i zakon]” (DB, 133), a task for which responsible, scrupulously measured prose was better suited than the frivolous Pushkinian verse.

    “If I try to rationalize them [my poems] I shall...

  12. Epilogue: Nabokov as the Pushkin of the Twenty-first Century
    (pp. 176-186)

    Nabokov surely would have liked this comparison with Pushkin. “Pushkin’s blood runs through the veins of modern Russian literature,” he once wrote (SO, I#6, 63). Pushkin was the only writer whose work Nabokov commented on but didn’t rewrite, improve, or correct. But to which Pushkin should Nabokov be compared? Pushkin is versatile, light, a darling of all audiences, universal and lovingly familiar. He looks at us “from both sides at the same time . . . from above, from the side, from some third point of view.”¹

    Here is one Pushkin, the Pushkin of “The Prophet,” known to every Russian...

  13. The End
    (pp. 187-191)

    So why do we happily forgive Gogol for his paranoia, Pushkin for his wild ways, Tolstoy for his habitual proselytizing, and Dostoevsky for his violent humility (yurodivshchina), but are unwilling to forgive Nabokov for his vanity and airs? Why, in the cases of Gogol, Pushkin, Tolstoy, and Dostoevsky do we patiently, willingly, generously separate human failings from artistic genius, but refuse to accord Nabokov anything like the same tolerance? Why does Nabokov’s personality seem to so rub us the wrong way? Of course, we admire the style, the wit, the heroes, the strength, and the talent, yet we sometimes discount...

  14. Envoi
    (pp. 192-198)

    In the very hot summer of 2003, fleeing a Paris steaming in tropical heat, I decided to visit Montreux again, to thank Nabokov for the fascinating years I had spent contemplating his thoughts and words, and to see whether I had got him right, whether he might want to correct something. I was nervous getting off the train, though I noted with some comfort—the new century has been rather unsettling—that the town hadn’t changed much since my last time there, the year of the writer’s centennial. Would he talk to me again? Did he remember me at all?...

  15. Notes
    (pp. 199-226)
  16. Select Bibliography
    (pp. 227-233)