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Perversion in Pnin (Reading Nabokov Preposterously)

From: Nabokov Studies
Volume 7, 2002/2003
pp. 89-117 | 10.1353/nab.2010.0009



"Perversion in Pnin (Reading Nabokov Preposterously)" explores the issue of perverse hermeneutics in Nabokov's most innocent novel. After noting the anxieties that surround sexually oriented readings of Nabokov's work, the article argues that Pnin contains a series of genital references, some of which involve a perverse reading of Gertrude's rendition of the scene of Ophelia's drowning. The slandering of Ophelia—embedded, among other places, in the descriptions of a planned parenthood clinic and a Soviet May Day parade—provides a counterpart for the slandering of Pnin by various narrators in the novel. The article contends that in its many images of twisting and winding, the novel thematises the struggle for control over the turns (versions) taken by the narrative. The squirrel, the novel's obviously emblematic beast, should be read as a symbol (or as a familiar) of the necessary pairing of the poetic and the perverse. Central to this argument is the concept of "preposterous oversight"—a phrase that hints at the necessarily perverse and obsessive voyeurism promoted by the novel as the key to its "true understanding" by the reader. The article concludes with the suggestion that the novel transposes the moral question of Ivan Karamazov's theological "revolt" into a metafictive, procedural key.

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