The 5 Senses in Nabokov's Work
“Do the Senses Make Sense?”: The Five Senses in Nabokov’s Work
After the successful Biarritz conference on the topic, the French Vladimir Nabokov Society invites scholars for further contributions on the importance and significance of the Five Senses in Nabokov’s work, poetics and aesthetics, for the publication based on the conference.
Senses make particular sense in Nabokov’s world, since he was not only a trilingual writer, but also a man gifted with a spectacular visual, auditory, gustatory, olfactory, tactile and kinetic memory. In addition, Nabokov was a famous synaesthete, and therefore one should hardly attempt to study the importance of one given sense without taking into account its relation to the other ones. The knowledge brought by neuroscience and cognitive science in the field of synaesthesia may therefore open up new perspectives for researchers interested in that topic in Nabokov’s oeuvre.
The central importance of sensory modalities in Nabokov’s work should also be related to his multilingualism, and his personal history; since he came from an aristocratic family frequently travelling, employing foreigners and having access to an amount of foreign products quite exceptional when compared to their fellow Russian citizens, Nabokov’s senses were constantly stimulated by new sounds, sights, smells, tastes and textures in his childhood. His acute sensory perceptions were then probably further developed with the experiences brought by his émigré life throughout Europe and the United States.
Nabokov recalled how his drawing tutor, Dobuzhinski, had him remember, with as many sensory details as possible, “objects (he) had certainly seen thousands of times without visualizing them properly: a street lamp, a postbox, the tulip design on the stained glass of our own front door” (Speak, Memory, 92). One may therefore wonder whether the very exercise of putting sensible experience into words did not play a fundamental role in shaping, nourishing and amplifying the richness and sharpness of Nabokov’s sensory perceptions. Similarly, Nabokov’s entomological practice, which ruined his eyesight, also had a significant (though paradoxical) impact on the acuteness of his visual perception of detail and color, and probably on his other modes of perception.
Considering that so far the key role of senses in Nabokov’s work and aesthetics (keeping in mind that this very word stems for the Greek word for senses) has not been tackled on a large scale, this publication offers to be the occasion to develop such academic reflections, so that the Nabokovian scholarly community helps “senses make sense” in his work.
Scholars are therefore invited to reflect upon the impact of senses on Nabokov’s creative process, on his poetic and aesthetic principles, and on his way of experiencing the world around him.
Proposals may include, but may not be limited to, the following topics:
- senses and synaesthesia: questioning vision as the potential key-sense; the recurring association of senses; synaesthesia in Nabokov’s poetics.
- senses and multilingualism: perceptions and languages; the taste/sound of words depending on the language (see the breakfast scene in Ada, I, 12); senses in Nabokov’s translations/self-translations;
- senses and/in descriptions: how senses combine and infuse descriptions with intense life-likelihood; the role of senses in characterization; the importance of senses in narrators and focalizers;
- perceptions of alien worlds: Nabokov’s keen sense of observation; the function of senses in satire and mockery;
- senses and language: the sensations of articulating language (see the incipit of Lolita); how foreign languages are perceived and described;
- senses and memory: sensory perceptions and the mnemonic process/writing; senses in his autobiographical writings;
- senses and entomology: the sensory quality of Nabokov’s entomological descriptions, of his inclusion of entomology in his fictional writings; role of his lepidopterological practice in his aesthetics and his perception of the world;
- senses and intermediality: the role of Nabokov’s perception in his inclusion of works of art (painting, cinema, music, theater…), or objects from popular culture around him (posters, songs, ads, daily life products, food, perfumes…);
- senses and aesthetics: the sensual pleasures of reading (the recurring “tingle in the spine” image); senses in Nabokov’s teaching of literature; sensory perceptions in Nabokov’s aesthetic principles;
- senses and sensuality: senses and the texture of desire; sensory perceptions in Nabokov’s erotic texts.
Contributions should be written in English. An abstract of the contribution (300-500 words) should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org, along with bibliographical references and a short biographical note by July 12, 2018.
Contributors will be advised by July 19, 2018 whether their proposal was accepted.
Final papers will be due October 1st, 2018.
Isabelle Poulin, Bordeaux-Montaigne University
Marie Bouchet, Toulouse University
Julie Loison-Charles, Lille 3 University
For more information consult www.vladimir-nabokov.org