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Demon or Doll. Images of the Child in Contemporary Writing and Culture (review)

From: Nabokov Studies
Volume 7, 2002/2003
pp. 218-222 | 10.1353/nab.2010.0008

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218 Nabokov Studies sian and French painters (especially H. Rousseau and B. Kustodiev), evoked in the novel. She also explicates the function that these mixed-media quotations assume within Nabokov's concept of the novel. She also expands the range of the mixed-media cross-fertilizations with sculpture and other arts. Her most crucial contribution in this chapter, however, is to the very important theme of painting as the moving force behind Nabokov's imagination. Nora Buks' book is a valuable and well-rehearsed contribution to Nabokov studies. Her goal, it seems, was to reconstruct the role that cultural memory played in Nabokov's creative process. Signals of that memory are carefully conveyed and require an almost ideal reader: The pattern of organization in the novel The Gift is the principle of encoding, by which the very structure of the text becomes a crossword.... The crossword rules out a process of interpretation . It calls for ingenuity, culture, knowledge, and not exclusively creative capacities. Thus, actually, it rules out entirely an unrestrained mutually creative collaboration with the author on the part of the reader. In the crossword all the moves are set in advance, all the answers are already there and what is left to the reader is only to find them.... The alleged 'openness' of the book turns out to be an ostensible freedom of the crossword, so that the reader, once stimulated by the author's invitation to create together with him, finds on his head not the laurel wreath of a poet but a frayed extemporizer's hat. (174) Buks is at her best precisely in solving Nabokov's intertextual crosswords, although her book cannot be reduced merely to this aspect. Many of Buks' discoveries will become indispensable to the scholarly work on Nabokov the Russian writer. In her book, readers of Nabokov will find a host of new insights that sometimes contradict and at other times complement interpretations by previous critics. Edited by Zoran Kuzmanovich and Mary Bellino Ellen Pifer. Demon or Doll. Images of the Child in Contemporary Writing and Culture. Charlottesville and London: University Press of Virginia, 2000. xii + 272 pp. ISBN 0813919630 (cloth); 0813919649 (paper). Review by Sarah Herbold, University of California, Berkeley Ellen Pifer will be familiar to many readers of Nabokov as the author of the well-regarded Nabokov and the Novel (1980) as well as several more recent essays on Nabokov's work. Demon or Doll is a study of the role played by Reviews 219 images of childhood in post-World War II fiction and culture. Besides Nabokov (Lolita), the other postwar writers whose work she discusses include Jerzy Kosinksi, William Golding, Doris Lessing, Milan Kundera, Salman Rushdie, Toni Morrison, Ian McEwan, and Don DeLiIIo. (There are also two chapters on Henry James.) Pifer divides these postwar writers into two camps. In the smaller camp dwell those who, despite all the horrors of modernity, still espouse a Romantic vision of childhood as a blessed state of innocence and creative freedom. Nabokov (along with McEwan and DeLiUo) lives here. In the larger camp live the others, for whom not even childhood offers an imaginative escape from historical or cultural catastrophe. Pifer draws a parallel between these writers' divided attitudes toward childhood and contemporary culture's "deep-seated ambivalence toward its young" (4), which she sees reflected in the current popular obsession with acts of violence committed both upon and by children. She also makes a connection between contemporary novelists ' belief (or lack of it) in the redemptive power of childhood and popular culture's persistent inability to accept what Freud perceived (and novelists before him had shown): that children are sexual, knowing, and aggressive as well as cute, innocent, and playful. Pifer's argument is broad—perhaps too broad. It is not clear, for example, whether she thinks the "'crisis' of children in today's society" (11) really is a crisis or rather a case of media-induced hysteria. It is also unclear whether Pifer thinks the belief that children are innocent is a delusion or not, because she at once discredits and supports this belief. Nor is it clear how or why childhood may play a more crucial role in...