Nabokov, Perversely

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Cornell University Press, 2010 - Literary Criticism - 305 pages
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"This clear and compelling book is a delight. Nabokov, Perversely is a well-reasoned and brilliant attempt to revolutionize Nabokov studies. Eric Naiman has written a Nabokov book as much for Nabokov skeptics as for Nabokovians."---Eliot Borenstein, New York University, author of Overkill: Sex and Violence in Contemporary Russian Popular Culture

"Do not be put off, or pulled in, by the `perversely' of the title; it is almost a compliment and unexpectedly chaste. In this mind-bending inqury into Nabokov's strategies for harnessing unruly bodies to fuel perfect words, Eric Naiman shares this one anxiety with his subject: unless we learn to read with care, the deceptive world we wake up to every day will become real. Perversity and preposterousness can help us cut our way out. En route, Naiman draws in Shakespeare, Pushkin, and Dostoevsky in a tour de force that will not only change the way we think about how we read but also compel anew our wonder at the intricacy and toughness of fictional worlds."---Caryl Emerson, Princeton University

"Wise or bawdy but invariably original, this book liberates Nabokov from the Nabokovians. Joining Nabokov's characters in rebelling against their master, Naiman tells an extraordinary tale about literature and freedom. His method of `counterfactual' analysis opens new vistas for comparative studies of narration, power, and reader response. Nabokov will never be the same after this book."---Alexander Etkind, Cambridge University

In an original and provocative reading of Vladimir Nabokov's work and the pleasures and perils to which its readers are subjected, Eric Naiman explores the significance and consequences of Nabokov's insistence on bringing the issue of art's essential perversity to the fore. Nabokov's fiction is notorious for the interpretive panic it occasions in its readers, the sense that no matter how hard he or she tries, the reader has not gotten Nabokov "right." At the same time, the fictions abound with characters who might be labeled perverts, and questions of sexuality lurk everywhere. Naiman argues that the sexual and the interpretive are so bound together in Nabokov's stories and novels that the reader confronts the fear that there is no stable line between good reading and overreading, and that reading Nabokov well is beset by the exhilaration and performance anxiety more frequently associated with questions of sexuality than of literature. Nabokov's fictions pervert their readers, obligingly training them to twist and turn the text in order to puzzle out its meanings, so that they become not better people but closer readers, assuming all the impudence and potential for shame that sexually oriented close-looking entails.

In Nabokov, Perversely, Naiman traces the connections between sex and interpretation in Lolita (which he reads as a perverse work of Shakespeare scholarship), Pnin, Bend Sinister, and Ada. He examines the roots of perverse reading in The Defense and charts the enhanced attention to the connection between sex and metafiction in works translated from the Russian. He also takes on books by other authors---such as Reading Lolita in Tehran---that misguidedly incorporate Nabokov's writing within frameworks of moral usefulness. In a final, extraordinary chapter, Naiman reads Dostoevsky's The Double with Nabokov-trained eyes, making clear the power a strong writer can exert on readers.
 

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Contents

Introduction
1
A Filthy Look at Shakespeares Lolita
17
Art as Afterglow Bend Sinister
46
Perversion in Pnin
74
Hermophobia On Sexual Orientation
105
Lolita in the Real World
148
The Allegorical Poetics
181
Nabokov
233
Epilogue What If Nabokov
269
Acknowledgments
285
Index
301
Copyright

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About the author (2010)

Eric Naiman is Professor of Comparative Literature and Slavic Languages and Literature at the University of California, Berkeley. He is author of Sex in Public: The Incarnation of Early Soviet Ideology.

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