L399 2141 ROSENBLUM
Junior Honors Seminar

2:30p-3:45p TR (15) 3 cr.

COAS INTENSIVE WRITING SECTION. REQUIRES THE PERMISSION OF ENGLISH DEPARTMENT DIRECTOR OF HONORS. OBTAIN AUTHORIZATION FROM BH442.

TOPIC: THE LIFE AND WORKS OF VLADIMIR NABOKOV

A whole course on one writer? But what a writer--one of the masters of the twentieth century novel and a versatile translator, editor, scholar, critic, teacher, and poet. And a lepidopterist to boot. Because he is both a Russian writer and an American writer (recently canonized by inclusion in the Library of America series) he doesnít always get the academic treatment he deserves. He is of course famous/infamous for Lolita (1957), but he had a distinguished career before and after this work. I propose a survey of some of his major works: translations of some of the early Russian novels (Invitation to a Beheading, and The Gift); the autobiography (Speak Memory) works originally written in English (Pnin, Lolita, Pale Fire, Ada, Transparent Things, and Look at the Harlequins. We will also read some of Nabokovís critical work: excerpts from his book on Gogol and the lectures on world literature that he delivered while a teacher at Cornell University. We will also be considering the two film versions of Lolita, the classic Stanley Kubrick version and the more recent one starring Jeremy Irons.

I am especially interested in Nabokov because his conception of what it means to be a writer seems so old fashioned. For Nabokov the terms "genius" and "masterpiece" were neither quaint nor problematic. He "knew" who was a genius (Pushkin, Chekhov, Tolstoy, Proust, Kafka, Joyce, and of course, Nabokov himself) and who was mediocre or a fraud (Dostoevsky! Faulkner!). He was contemptuous of attempts to "explain" his work or the work of any artist by appeals to historical circumstances like the Russian Revolution or World War II, or to interpretative frameworks provided by figures like Marx or Freud. He loathed Freud. He claimed that any genuine work of literature was autonomous, sealed off from the contingencies of history and impervious to vulgar interpretation. All else was "topical trash." And yet of course much of his life and work can be put in a historical context: the cultural ferment of St. Petersburg in the beginning of the century, the aesthetics of the Russian formalists, the exile from Russia, the flight from the Nazis with his Jewish wife, the shock of his years in America before the final years in the Montreux Palace Hotel (Lolita paid the rent). His work bristles with contempt for the Soviets, loathing for the Nazis, and indignation at the genteel anti-Semitism and racism that he found in an America that otherwise delighted him. He led an extraordinary life and produced an extraordinary body of work worth studying on its own terms and for the claims that it makes for the privileges of great Art.