Introduction
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I N T R O D U C T I O N FA M I LI A R FI CTIONS My interest in kinship grew out of an interest in literary form, especially how narratives represent themselves to the reader. One time-­ honored device of this kind is the mirror, which inherently stresses issues of representation and mimesis. In Nabokov’s 1925 short story“Guide to Berlin,”the narrator looks into a pub mirror and sees in it the same thing that the barkeeper’s child sees from an adjoining room: “the blue-­ gray cigar smoke . . . and his father behind the bar, filling a mug for me from the tap.”1 The narrator imagines he has “glimpsed somebody’s future recollection,”since the boy will treasure this scene in his memory in years to come. “Here lies the sense of literary creation,” the narrator declaims, “to portray ordinary objects as they will be reflected in the kindly mirrors of future times.”2 A scene like one this provides a metaphorical image of the larger text and functions, in Lucien Dällenbach’s words,“to give the work a strong structure, to underpin its meaning, to provide a kind of internal dialogue and a means whereby the work can interpret itself.”3 All the story’s major themes are staged in the mirror’s compact frame: aesthetic play with perspective, literary art as a bequest to the future, and how an imaginative Russian émigré makes“a boring, foreign city, and expensive to live in,” into a world of fascination and a lasting monument to himself.4 Often a metaphor for realism’s claims to faithfully reflect reality—“a novel is a mirror you take for a walk down the road,” writes Stendhal—the mirror can also figure art’s function to delude and to delight.5 The climax of Nabokov’s story belongs to a wide class of mirror scenes that is central to this book, scenes in which distinct characters are identified with one another through the mediation of a reflective surface.6 Often, as here, such scenes are accompanied by a more or less explicit statement about how art differs from ordinary experience, making clear that the mirror’s capacity to produce an unexpected image is a metaphor for art’s capacity to depart from reality. Indeed, the trick of perspective by which the mirror identifies the two people looking into it dramatizes the “same but different” mechanism of metaphor itself.7 The Russian symbolist Andrei Bely called the paradoxical “A = B” identity of metaphor the 2  Introduction essential building block of imaginative worlds; the same claim has been made by Western critics like Northrop Frye, who argues that, when it comes to fiction, “the formula ‘A is B’ may be hypothetically applied to anything, for there is no metaphor, not even ‘black is white,’ which a reader has any right to quarrel with.”8 This attitude assumes a radical difference between the real world, in which things are identical only with themselves, and the fantastic possibilities of art, in which anything can be made metaphorically identical with anything else. By exploiting these contingent identities, the smoke and mirrors of Nabokov’s story appear to humanize, even transfigure, the lonely and humdrum world of the narrator.9 In practice, however—in Bely’s fiction as in Nabokov’s, in Gustave Flaubert and in William Shakespeare, in mass as in canonical literature—the relationships articulated in mirrors tend to map onto family structure. Literary mirrors most commonly identify parents and children, and especially fathers and sons. The phenomenon we have just read as a declaration of fiction’s independence from the world seems from this point of view to be overdetermined by family relationships , which entail equivalences that are fundamental to the social economy: the exchange of generations and the inheritance of capital. “The conservatism of everyday life secures for children the social positions and functions of their parents,” wrote Aleksandr Bogdanov shortly before the Russian Revolution, and “develops the activities of a child in the image of his father or mother.”10 With this in mind, specular substitutions involving parents and children can be seen to express underlying economic relations of substitutability.11 Echoing ideologies of kinship identity and mechanisms of inherited class, they demand critical approaches that correlate economic structures and literary forms, like Claude Lévi-­ Strauss’s effort to formulate a “new science” capable of analyzing “homologies ”between kinship, language, and economics.12 Marxist criticism especially...


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Subject Headings

  • Families in literature.
  • Kinship in literature.
  • Modernism (Literature) -- Russia -- History -- 20th century.
  • Modernism (Literature) -- Soviet Union.
  • Bely, Andrey, 1880-1934. Peterburg.
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