Nabokov Against the Grain
The International Vladimir Nabokov Society invites paper proposals for the 2024 MLA Convention (Philadelphia, January 4-7) for a panel session on the topic "Nabokov Against the Grain":
Nabokov is a forceful presence, critic, and guide to his texts. As an author, or in his narrative alter egos, he uses and abuses paratextual forms like the foreword, preface, epilogue, annotations, and index to full capacity to exert an overwhelming authorial presence and assert control over the reader. He also often indulges in cameo appearances of various kinds in his texts, like Vladimir Vladimirovich in Pnin, and breaks the fourth wall or ruptures the text itself with authorial interventions like a deus ex machina in Bend Sinister or disassembles the world created by the text itself, like in Invitation to a Beheading, as he exercises to the fullest the nearly god-like powers of the author within the text. Outside of his authorship, as a critic, lecturer, and teacher, he forcefully expressed his own Strong Opinions and published his Lectures on Literature and Lectures on Russian Literature to explain exactly how writers should be read. These interventions seldom allow for alternative interpretations. Often Nabokov’s authorial guidance, in his forewords, for example, forcefully forecloses certain interpretive avenues that, at times, protest too much. This call for proposals invites scholars to resist the overwhelming force of the author and past scholarly approaches to read Nabokov against the grain and even against his own apparent instructions.
Indeed, Nabokov scholars know that his approach to chess problems, or literary texts, may tend to initially lead a problemist or reader into a trap. Its recognition, meanwhile, might provoke a move too forcefully in the opposite direction and another dead-end, before a more enlightened synthesis or gnostic realization might be achieved and thereby dispel “gnostic turpitude,” or a failure to properly understand how things really are, which is considered a crime in Invitation to a Beheading. This panel raises the question of whether reading Nabokov against the grain may help to resist these traps and achieve a kind of higher gnostic insight into his writings and beyond.
Nabokov criticism has moved in waves that attend to ever more deeply buried aspects of Nabokov’s authorship, from earlier attention to his verbal virtuosity, metafictional play, or otherworldly implications to recent waves of critical approaches that productively read Nabokov from alternative perspectives that might even prove unexpected based on how he has been read before, such as feminist or ethical approaches to his work. This panel invites new scholarly directions and proposals for papers that take at times unexpected approaches that productively read Nabokov against the grain of his writings or past scholarly approaches, and possibly counter to his own apparent instructions, which, as his own writings show, can prove very revealing and uncover hidden dimensions of his texts. An overbearing author or narrator is not necessarily to be trusted, as Nabokov’s own works demonstrate, such as in Pale Fire, while an author and chess problemist of Nabokov’s caliber, craftiness, and manipulations may indeed deliberately set up readers to fail to see that which he nonetheless hopes some might apprehend.