The work of writers in exile is generally expected to display the theme of nostalgia and the techniques of defamiliarization. It is seldom noted that the experience of a young emigrant is sometimes characterized by bouts of overwhelming poignant happiness, of joy yielded by the senses in response to the natural or even urban scenes. This happiness, against the background of a near-sublime self-sufficiency, is a distinctive feature of Nabokov’s experience of the twenties, despite the painful blows that he received; it is a recurrent theme in his poetry, fiction, and letters. By the late 1930s, for a variety of personal and political reasons, the waves of joy become rare. Instead, Nabokov’s other capacities deepen and gain further development, a modified axiology partly replacing the youthful happiness or compensating for the infrequency of its returns. This paper is devoted to the shift of emphases in Nabokov’s poetics and his thematic concerns after he could no longer base his eschatology on a recurrent experience of joyful oneness with the world.
In December 2019, Ms. Lan Yun interviewed Leona Toker during her academic visit to Shanghai Jiao Tong University. In this interview, Toker approaches the concept of cultural remission and Gulag and Holocaust literature from an ethical perspective, exploring the complex relationship between literary forms and their ethical consequences. She claims that ethical criticism is coming back in new ways and that analysis of the ethics of form may take over from that of the ethics of character behavior as a potential orientation for future studies.
Nabokov’s fictional retrospective first-person narratives rely on the “perfect-memory” convention, which is, however, sometimes laid bare or even subverted. This convention makes no inroads in Nabokov’s factorgraphic narratives, such as Speak, Memory and “Abram Gannibal.” This paper discusses the narrative techniques that replace the “perfect-memory” convention in the “childhood-adolescence-youth” part of Speak, Memory, and the way these techniques relate to Nabokov’s view of the workings of memory, in the context of some his literary and philosophical precursors.
Whereas the killing of the elites, whether as part of genocide, as a bid for enslavement of a community, or as an expression of a social ressentiment, dates back to ancient times, it is owing to the atrocities of the twentieth century that histories of elitocide assembled the critical mass for the concept to emerge. This paper is devoted to literary reflections of elitocide, many of which can likewise be recognized as such only after the phenomenon itself has crystallized in collective memory. Literary treatments of the issue of elitocide includes works by Dostoevsky (The Devils), H. G. Wells (The Time Machine), and Nabokov (Bend Sinister), but my main example is the theme of the destruction of the most talented in the Gulag stories by Georgy Demidov.
Devoted to the ways in which Holocaust literature and Gulag literature provide contexts for each other, the book shows how the prominent features of one shed light on the veiled features and methods of the other. The narratives are discussed against the background of historical information about the Soviet and the Nazi regimes of repression. Writers at the center of this work include Varlam Shalamov, Primo Levi, Elie Wiesel, and Ka-Tzetnik, and others including Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, Evgeniya Ginzburg, and Jorge Semprun illuminate the discussion. The twofold analysis concentrates on the narrative qualities of the works as well as on the ways in which each text documents the writer’s experience and on the ways in which fictionalized narrative can double as historical testimony. The analysis also comments on references to events that might have become obscure owing to the passage of time and the cultural diversity of readers.
An updated translation of ch. 10, “Discourse of Lent: Kafka's 'A Hunger Artist' and Shalamov's 'The Artist of the Spade,'" of L. Toker Towards the Ethics of Form in Fiction: Narratives of Cultural Remission (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 2010).
“Varlam Shalamov's Sketches of the Criminal World.” In Born to Be Criminal: The Discourse on Criminality and the Practice of Punishment in Late Imperial Russia and Early Soviet Union, 233-45. Ed. Riccardo Nicolosi and Anne Hartmann. Bielefeld: Transcript, 2017.