- Amerikastudien/American Studies47:3 (2002)
This particular issue of Amerikastudienis guest-edited by Paul Neubauer and was compiled from papers given at a conference held in Freiburg to honor the centenary of Nabokov's birth. For all his complaints against the Germans, Nabokov has been served rather well by his German readers. Dieter Zimmer and Herbert Grabes are among his most sensitive and most knowledgeable readers, and this volume is an indication that those two pioneers are in the process of being joined by a small number of thoughtful and informed scholars.
After Paul Neubauer's economic but information-rich introductory essay [End Page 230]situating the volume and reviewing Nabokov's career, Herbert Grabes's "Nabokov's Worldmaking: The Marvellous Machinations of McFate" (335–43) first delivers a memorable meditation on the possible alignments of fate and human agency and then explores the consequences of those alignments in Mary, King, Queen, Knave, The Defense, Glory, Laughter in the Dark, Invitation to a Beheading, The Gift, The Real Life of Sebastian Knight, Bend Sinister, Lolita, Pnin, Pale Fire, Ada, Transparent Things, and Look at the Harlequins!Professor Grabes manages to squeeze into a single essay more thoughtful reflection than one finds in many a book. Along the way, he brings in insightful readings of Nelson Goodman's Ways of Worldmakingand concludes that Nabokov's novels "leave us quite uncertain about Nabokov's view of the possible existence and probable nature of a metaphysical agency called 'fate' or God or gods or otherwise" (343). In the informatively titled "The Architecture of the Mind: The Depiction of Consciousness in Selected Short Works by Vladimir Nabokov and Henry James" (345–57), Nassim Balestrini creates a matrix of characters from Nabokov's "Perfection" and "A Busy Man" and James's "The Pupil" and "The Beast in the Jungle." This matrix Balestrini dubs "lucid consciousness," a state of mind created when a character tries to balance "an expansive consciousness with successful human relationships" (357). Carl Carsten Springer, in "Nabokov's Memory at Play: Look at the Harlequins!" (359–74), joins Don Barton Johnson, Paul S. Bruss, Neil Cornwell, Maurice Couturier, Suzanne Fraysse, Herbert Grabes, and Richard Patteson in defending Nabokov's last completed novel from frequent charges of self-indulgence, solipsism, and narcissism. Instead of a "disappointing performance" (359) Carsten Springer finds Look at the Harlequinsto be Nabokov's most postmodernist work, because it revitalizes novelistic form: "Invention has been replaced by play; originality has been replaced by a rearrangement of old material," yet such replacement suggests the creation of what John Barth called "a new human work" (373–74).
Paul Neubauer, in "The Figure of the Fool in the Master's Later Novels: Commedia dell'arteAdaptations in Vladimir Vladimirovich Nabokov's English Novels" (375–85), follows Kordula Rose-Werle, Catriona Kelly, Stephanie Merkel, and Savely Senderovich in showing how Nabokov's preoccupation with the figure of the fool in Russian c ommedia dell'artemay have led to such works as Look at the Harlequins!Neubauer concludes that the persistent figure of the fool "draws increasing attention in the novels themselves to the intertwined fields of art and forgery, foolishness and folly, belief and fakery, mastery and mystery." The figure of the fool allows us to place Nabokov's work "between modernism's two trends, the work-centered concept of art, on the [End Page 231]one hand, and the performance-orientation of playful irony, combining the search for truth as quest of the master with the search for freedom as the Fool's plot" (385). Bernd Klähn closes the volume by juxtaposing Lolitaand Robert Coover's Spanking the Maid, in "The Postmodernist Dialectics of Master and Maid: Vladimir Nabokov and Robert Coover" (387–400). Without setting out to answer the kinds of questions Maurice Couturier, among others, likes to ask regarding Nabokov's modernity and postmodernity, Klähn lets Hegel's tutelary spirit guide him to the following provisional reconstruction of Nabokovian dialectic: "Nabokov's fiction empties fundamental elements of modernist art" but does so in...