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The Juice of Three Oranges: An Exploration in Nabokov's Language and World

From: Nabokov Studies
Volume 6, 2000/2001
pp. 75-124 | 10.1353/nab.2011.0006



This study presents a reconstruction of the workings of Vladimir Nabokov's language. Nabokov should be read not only on the level of narrative, but perhaps most plausibly on the level of recurrent motifs, contiguous allusions, and favorite verbal games. Reading on the micro-level and across his texts allows us to detect key motifs and to recognize the contours of different and more profound stories told within the surface stories. The context in which the orange motif acquires its Nabokovian meaning can be briefly defined as the fairground booth, the balagan, an overarching metaphor for the world within which all of Nabokov's stories take place. The balagan implies a false, unnatural and imposed life in which one is forced to play a prescribed role; only an artist, a creator, may stage his own spectacle, performing dazzling acrobatics, disavowing the heaviness of matter, and reaching celestial heights. The tension between these two aspects as expressed through the grotesque is the principal creative force in the world of the balagan. All Nabokov's novels and many short stories and plays make use of the orange motif dating back to Meyerhold's staging of Blok's Balaganchik in the Tenishev school in 1914 and Carlo Gozzi's The Love for Three Oranges, as well as to the magazine of the same title (1914-16). Concepts of Russian avant-garde theater, especially those of Blok, Meyerhold and Evreinov, are at the core of Nabokov's conception of the balagan, which seems to constitute the encompassing inner horizon of his world.

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