Vladimir Nabokov: Writing Nature - Montreux 2023

deadline for submissions: 
October 16, 2022
full name / name of organization: 
French Vladimir Nabokov Society

The University of Lausanne, the French Vladimir Nabokov Society and the Jan Michalski Foundation are joining forces to organize the Sixth International Vladimir Nabokov Conference sponsored by the French Vladimir Nabokov Society. After the three conferences in Paris (2013, 2019, 2021), Biarritz (2016), Lille and Chapel Hill (2018), this conference will explore the rich relationship of Nabokov’s oeuvre to the natural world.

The conference will take place on the Swiss Riviera, where Nabokov resided from 1961 until his death in 1977, and where he composed his novels in a suite at the Montreux Palace Hotel while also chasing butterflies in the mountains nearby. In Switzerland, Nabokov, whose scientific work has been recognized by entomologists around the world, constituted his last collection of butterflies and the latter is now in The Musée cantonal de Zoologie inLausanne. The location of the conference is thus ideal for an examination of the writer-entomologist's relationship to the natural world. It invites scholars to examine his translation of the world into words and explore the nature of his writing and his writing of nature.

This interdisciplinary conference calls for contributions by scholars in Russian, American, and comparative literature, but also entomologists, botanists, ecosystemists, translation specialists, and philosophers. Indeed, it is by combining perspectives and methodologies that we will be able to grasp the complexity of Nabokov's relationship to the natural world and contribute to renewing our own view of nature.

In the immense corpus of Nabokovian studies, the relationship to nature does not yet occupy the place it deserves. In its temporal, linguistic and geographical scope, Nabokov's oeuvre reflects the evolution of human relationships with the natural world that has produced, at the time of the Anthropocene, what Bruno Latour has called the “new climatic regimes.” Although essential work has been published on his scientific work and on the presence of butterflies in Nabokov’s work (Boyd, Johnson, Alexander, Gould, Remington, Karges), only few studies have considered the relationship between his literary writing and scientific research (Blackwell, Zimmer, Durantaye). Rarer still are the publications that focus on "things of nature" in his work, butterflies, but also other insects, botany, fungi, animals and ecosystems such as peat bogs, mountains, plains, and lakeshores from Russia to Switzerland, Crimea, Germany, Southern France, and the United States.

The symposium is an opportunity to study the presence and role of the natural world in Nabokov's literary work, and to better understand the evolution of the writer's relationship to nature.

This conference proposes to capture Nabokov’s unique way of looking at the natural world: a connoisseur's and expert's way of looking made of admiration and expertise. The conference also wishes to document and study the development of Nabokov’s relationship to nature. As a child, guided by his parents he made his first discoveries—his father played a major role in this and the conference will commemorate the centenary of his assassination in 1922 ; his father also introduced him to entomology while his mother, an expert on mushrooms.. As a child, his parents guided his first discoveries: his father, whose assassination in 1922 will be commemorated in the conference, introduced him to entomology, and his mother to mushrooms; then, as a young exile in Crimea or in the South of France, as a Harvard researcher traversing the American West, and finally as an “old naturalist with his broken net” in the mountain pastures of the Canton of Vaud, he would pursue his interest in nature”.With each exile, Nabokov would lose his collection of butterflies, but his pages—in Russian, French, and English—rustle with the sights and sounds of nature.

The conference invites participants to consider their contributions within current work in ecocriticism, ecopoetics, and environmental humanities.The contributions may seek to shed light on the ways in which Nabokov gave meaning to the world by putting it into words, thus revealing unsuspected realities and sensitive dimensions—those of a trilingual entomologist-writer, synesthete, a great lover of dictionaries, and an ecologist avant la lettre. The conference also seeks contributions about Nabokov's multilingualism. Nabokov was acutely aware that the world cannot be represented in the same way from one language to another: the very words to describe nature (denominations, colors, sounds, shapes, connotations) reveal a variation of perception and an ore of sensitivity specific to each language-culture, and each of them infuses his literary work with an ecopoetic dimension.


Topics that may be covered, but are not limited to, include the following:

- Nabokov's epistemological relationship to the natural world (de rerum natura).

- Nabokov's relationship to the animal world: insects, but also wild and domestic animals, and their literary and zoopoetic aspects.

- Nabokov and flora: trees, plants, and flowers appearing in his writings.

- Nabokov's entomological publications; his approach and his methods, his relationship to the non-human.

- Hunting and predation in the natural environment.

- Animal suffering.

- The natural world and plurilingualism: the differences in verbalization and feeling of nature from one language or culture to another.

- The relationship between literary writing and scientific writing, in particular the importance of details.

- The role of natural landscapes and ecosystems in Nabokov’s aesthetics and writing.

- The natural sciences in Nabokov’s literary work.

- The influence of Nabokov’s scientific expertise on his writing and on his practice of translation.

- surveying nature: characteristics of landscape descriptions and sensations.

- Russian, European, American, and Swiss nature: ecosystems, animals, plants, fungi, and others.

- Nabokov as a naturalist and ecologist.


To reinforce the interdisciplinarity of the conference, organizers particularly invite presentations with two or more voices.

Proposals with a reflection on the nature of Nabokov's writing, and on his relationship to nature according to his writings are particularly welcome. Contributors are invited to go beyond thematic or descriptive accounts and develop an analysis of Nabokov’s writing.


Please send 400-word paper proposals, in French, English, or Russian, with a 300-word biography, to NabokovLausanne2023@vladimir-nabokov.org by October 16, 2022.

Please consult the bibliography on the conference’s topic, at the end of this call for papers.


Plenary speakers:

Stephen Blackwell (Professor of Russian Literature, University of Tennessee, USA), author of The Quill and the Scalpel: Nabokov's Art and the Worlds of Science (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 2009), co-editor of Fine Lines: Vladimir Nabokov's Scientific Art (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2016); Stephen Blackwell’s current project is a book on trees in Nabokov.

Brian Boyd (Distinguished Professor of Literature, University of Auckland, New Zealand),leading international specialist on Nabokov, author of the two-volume reference biography on Nabokov, and author and editor of numerous books and articles on Nabokov, including Nabokov's Butterflies: Uncollected and Unpublished Writings (Boston, Mass.: Beacon Press, 2000), co-edited with Robert Michael Pyle.

Isabelle Poulin (Professor of Comparative Literature, University of Bordeaux-Montaigne, France), author of Vladimir Nabokov Reader of the Other (Presses Universitaires de Bordeaux, 2005), Dostoyevsky, Sarraute, Nabokov. Essay on the Use of Fiction (Le Manuscrit, 2007); Isabelle Poulin’s next book is devoted to animals in Nabokov.

Robert Michael Pyle (Entomologist and Ecologist, Washington State, USA). Dr. Pyle is a world-renowned lepidopterologist, founder of the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, author of numerous books and articles on environmental criticism and butterfly guides; he also authored several novels and collections of poems. His many publications include Wintergreen: Rambles in a Ravaged Land (1986), The Thunder Tree: Lessons from An Urban Wildland (1993), Mariposa Road: The First Butterfly Big Year (2010). He co-edited with Brian Boyd Nabokov's Butterflies: Uncollected and Unpublished Writings (Boston, Mass.: Beacon Press, 2000).




Indicative (and non-exhaustive) bibliography:


In Environmental Studies and Ecocriticism:

Abram, David. The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-than-human World. New York: Vintage, 1997.

Beaudoin, Sébastien. Aux origines du nature writing. Paris: Le Mot et le Reste, 2020.

Buell, Lawrence. The Environmental Imagination. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1996.

Berger, John. “Why Look at Animals?” About Looking. New York: Pantheon, 1980. 1-26.

Cohen, Michael P. “Blues in the Green: Ecocriticism under Critique.” Environmental History 9.1 (2004): 9-36.

Datson, Lorraine & Fernando Vidal. The Moral Authority of Nature. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004.

Despret, Vinciane. “Ecology and Ideology : the Case of Ethology", International Problems, vol. XXXIII.63 (3-4) : 45-61.

Despret, Vinciane. What Would Animals Say If We Asked the Right Questions?, trans. Brett Buchanan, 2016, Minneapolis (MN): University of Minnesota Press. 

Despret, Vinciane et Jocelyne Porcher. Être bête. Arles: Actes Sud, coll. « Nature », 2007.

Finch, Robert, and John Elder, eds. Nature Writing: The Tradition in English. New York: Norton, 2002.

Garrard, Greg. Ecocriticism. New York, London: Routledge, 2011.

Glotfelty, Cheryll & Harold Fromm, eds. The Ecocriticism Reader: Landmarks in Literary Ecology. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 1996.

Harraway, Donna. When Species Meet, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2007.

Ingram, Annie Merrill, Ian Marshall, Daniel J. Philippon, and Adam W. Sweeting, eds. Coming into Contact: Explorations in Ecocritical Theory and Practice. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2007.

Kalof, Linda. Looking at Animals in Human History. London: Reaktion Books, 2007.

Latour, Bruno. Facing Gaia: Eight Lectures on the New Climatic Regime. Trans. Catherine Porter. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Polity Press, 2017.

Latour, Bruno. Face à Gaïa : Huit conférences sur le nouveau régime climatique. Paris: La Découverte, 2015.

Johnson, Rochelle L. “Passion for Nature beyond Metaphor: From Walden to Henry David Thoreau’s Late Natural History Projects.” Chapter 5 of Passions for Nature: Nineteenth-Century America’s Aesthetics of Alienation. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2009. 181-218.

Morton, Timothy. The Ecological Thought. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2012.

Oliver, Kelly. Animal Lessons: How They Teach Us to Be Human. New York: Columbia University Press, 2009.

Pyle, Robert M. The Thunder Tree: Lessons from An Urban Wildland. ‎Oregon State University Press, 1993.

Pyle Robert M. « L’extinction de l’expérience », trans. Lefèvre Mathias, Écologie & politique, 2016/2 (n° 53), 185-196. DOI : 10.3917/ecopo1.053.0185. URL : https://www.cairn.info/revue-ecologie-et-politique-2016-2-page-185.htm

Schoentjes, Pierre. Ce qui a lieu. Essai d’écopoétique, Marseille: Wildproject, coll. « Tête nue », 2015.

Simon, Anne. Une bête entre les lignes. Essai de zoopoétique, Marseille: Wildproject, coll. « Tête nue », 2021.

Slovic, Scott. “Nature Writing and Environmental Psychology: The Interiority of Outdoor Experience.” Glotfelty & Fromm, eds. The Ecocriticism Reader Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 1996, 351-70.

Wolfe, Cary. Animal Rites: American Culture, the Discourse of Species, and Posthumanist Theory. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003.

On Nabokov, Lepidoptera, Animals and Plants:

Alexander, Victoria N. "“Chance, Nature’s Practical Jokes, and the “Non-utilitarian Delights” of Butterfly Mimicry,” in Fine Lines: Vladimir Nabokov’s Scientific Art. S. Blackwell and K. Johnson Eds.. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2016, 225-34.

---. “Nabokov, Teleology, and Insect Mimicry,” Nabokov Studies 7 (2003): 177-213.

---. “Neutral Evolution and Aesthetics: Vladimir Nabokov and Insect Mimicry”, Working Papers Series 01-10-057, Santa  Fe: Santa Fe Institute, 2001.

---. “Papillons et feuilles mortes : une approche biosémiotique de la mimesis chez Nabokov”, Fabula, 2016. Translated by Pierre–Louis Patoine.  URL: https://www.fabula.org/colloques/document3252.php

Blackwell, Stephen. The Quill and the Scalpel, Nabokov’s Art and the Worlds of Science, Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 2009.

---. “Nabokov’s Morphology: An Experiment in Appropriated Terminology”, in Fine Lines: Vladimir Nabokov’s Scientific Art. S. Blackwell and K. Johnson Eds.. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2016, 260-268.

---. “Reflections on (and of) Trees in Nabokov”, in Nabokov Upside Down, B. Boyd & M. Bozovic Eds.. Evanston, Illinois: Northwestern University Press, 2017, 21-36.

---. “The Poetics of Science, in and around Nabokov's Gift”, The Russian Review, Vol. 62, No. 2 (Apr., 2003).  243-261.

Blackwell, Stephen & Kurt Johnson (eds.). Fine Lines: Vladimir Nabokov's Scientific Art. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2016.

Bouchet, Marie. “Nabokov’s Text under the Microscope: Textual Practices of Detail in Both his Lepidopterological and Fictional Writings”, in Insects in Literature and the Arts, M. Bouchet & L. Talairach-Vielmas Eds., London, Bern: Peter Lang, 2015, 81-97.

Boyd, Brian. “Enchanted Hunting: Lolita and Lolita, Diana and diana”, in Fine Lines: Vladimir Nabokov’s Scientific Art. S. Blackwell and K. Johnson Eds.. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2016, 277-84.

---. “Nabokov's Lepidoptera". Nabokov Studies, 2 (1995): 290-99.

---. Vladimir Nabokov: The American Years. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990.

---. Vladimir Nabokov: The Russian Years. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1983.

Boyd, Brian & Pyle, Robert M. (eds.). Nabokov's Butterflies: Uncollected and Unpublished Writings. Boston, Mass.: Beacon Press, 2000.

Coates, Steve. “Nabokov's Work, on Butterflies, Stands the Test of Time.” New York Times, Tuesday, May 27, 1997, C4.

De la Durantaye, Leland. “Artistic Selection. Science and Art in Vladimir Nabokov”, in Transitional Nabokov, Will Norman & Duncan White Eds. Oxford, Bern, New York: Peter Lang, 2009, 55-66.

Fet, Victor. “A Few Notes on Nabokov’s Childhood Entomology”, in Fine Lines: Vladimir Nabokov’s Scientific Art. S. Blackwell and K. Johnson Eds.. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2016, 216-234.

Gould, Stephen Jay. “No Science Without Fancy, No Art Without Facts: The Lepidoptery of Vladimir Nabokov”, in I Have Landed, Splashes and Reflections in Natural History. New York: Vintage, 2003, 29-53.

Johnson, Kurt. “Nabokov's Fyodor Takes Wing.” Zembla, March 9, 2001.  URL:  https://www.libraries.psu.edu/nabokov/fyodor.htm

Johnson, Kurt & Coates, Steve. Nabokov’s Blues, The Scientific Odyssey of a Literary Genius. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1999.

Johnson, Kurt, G. Warren Whitaker, Zsolt Bálint. “Nabokov as Lepidopterist: An Informed Appraisal.” Nabokov Studies, 3 (1996): 123-44. 

Karges, Joann. Nabokov's Lepidoptera: Genres and Genera. Ann Arbor, MI: Ardis, 1985. 

Luquet, Gérard. “Les écrits lépidopterologiques de Vladimir Nabokov”. Alexanor, 19 (3), (1996): 149–52.

---. “Les publications scientifiques de Vladimir Nabokov”. Europe, 73, Christine Raguet Ed. (Mars 1995): 144–151.

Mallet, James. “Nabokov’s Evolution”, in Fine Lines: Vladimir Nabokov’s Scientific Art. S. Blackwell and K. Johnson Eds.. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2016, 235-242.

Remington, Charles R.. “Lepidoptera Studies”, in The Garland Companion to Vladimir Nabokov, V. Alexandrov Ed.. New York: Garland, 1990, 274-282.

Pierce, Naomi E., Rodney Eastwood, Roger Vila, Andrew Berry, & Thomas Dai. “Nabokov’s Notes and Labels from the Museum of Comparative Zoology: Boon for a Recondite Biographer or Data for a Serious Systematist?”, in Fine Lines: Vladimir Nabokov’s Scientific Art. S. Blackwell and K. Johnson Eds.. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2016, 285-94.

Poulin, Isabelle. “The map on the belly, or the animal side of History in Nabokov’s work”, Nabokov Online Journal, vol. XV, 2021.  URL: https://www.nabokovonline.com/uploads/2/3/7/7/23779748/3_poulin_the_map_on_the_belly.pdf 

Pushkarevskaya Naughton, Yulia, and Gerald David Naughton. “Animal Moments in Vladimir Nabokov’s Pnin and Saul Bellow’s Herzog.” Symplokē 23, no. 1–2 (2015): 119–35. https://doi.org/10.5250/symploke.23.1-2.0119.

Pyle, Robert M. “Swift and Underwing, Boulderfield and Bog: How Nabokov Drew the World from Its Details”, in Fine Lines: Vladimir Nabokov’s Scientific Art. S. Blackwell and K. Johnson Eds.. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2016, 269-76.

---. The Thunder Tree: Lessons from An Urban Wildland (1993).

Sagan, Dorion, “Fictional Realism: Scaling the Twin Peaks of Art and Science”, in Fine Lines: Vladimir Nabokov’s Scientific Art. S. Blackwell and K. Johnson Eds.. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2016, 243-250.

Sartori, Michel, ed.. Les Papillons de Nabokov. Litterae zoologicae, 1, (1993).

Taylor, Robert. “Nabokov Exhibition at Harvard shows off his other passion: butterflies”. Boston Globe (January 29, 1988): 73–74.

Vila, Roger / Charles D. Bell / Richard Macniven / Benjamin Goldman-Huertas / Richard H. Ree / Charles R. Marshall / Zsolt Bálint / Kurt Johnson / Dubi Benyamini / Naomi E. Pierce. “Phylogeny and palaeoecology of Polyommatus blue butterflies show Beringia was a climate-regulated gateway to the new world”. Proceedings of the Royal Society B, 278 (22 September 2011): 2737-2744.

Zaleski, Philip: “Nabokov's Blue Period". Harvard Magazine (Cambridge, Massachusetts), 88 (6), (July-August 1986): 34–38.

Zimmer, Carl. “Nonfiction: Nabokov Theory on Butterfly Evolution Is Vindicated”, The New York Times, January 2, 2011;URL: https://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/01/science/01butterfly.html

Zimmer, Dieter E.. Nabokov's Lepidoptera: An Annotated Catalogue. Hamburg: (Zimmer), 1996.

---. A Guide to Nabokov's Butterflies and Moths. Online updated text, 2012. URL: http://www.d-e-zimmer.de/eGuide/PageOne.htm