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Nabokov Studies 4 (1997) STEPHEN H. BLACKWELL (Knoxville) Fated Freedoms: Textual Form and Metaphysical Texture in Nabokov1 I am your density. -George McFIy, in Back to the Future Life everlasting—based on a misprint! —John Shade If the human conception of the world is largely a function of language, then typos, misprints and slips of the tongue—even Freudian ones—might be seen as events with much broader implications than is commonly allowed. Fate—from Latin fatum, "that which has been spoken," metaphorically links reality (as conceived by humans) and language (as the medium of conception). In that Graeco-Roman mythology, the immutable flow of worldly events emanates from the words of die gods; their words are the law of existence (echoing the coincidence between Greek lexis, word, and Latin lex, law). Thus the human ascription of a textual nature to reality represents a longstanding tradition: as an old proverb affirms, "after word comes weird" ("weird" being the Old English word for Fate). 1. I am grateful to my anonymous readers for their thoughtful response to an earlier version of this article. 62 Nabokov Studies The implications of this metaphor are not trivial; in the pages that follow I will discuss how Nabokov confronts this venerable trope, explodes it and from the shards attempts to construct, or at least intimate, an entirely new edifice upon which to perch the gargoyles of human existence. Fate is a central character in much of Nabokov's work, achieving varying degrees of explicit personification in King, Queen, Knave, The Defense, The Gift, Lolita, Pale Fire, and Transparent Things—to name only the most striking instances. To a certain extent, this prominent role has not been ignored by scholars; the thematic function of fate is nearly always discussed in studies of these novels. What seems to me to be lacking so far is a detailed analysis of the specific uses to which fate is put; an effort to define (as far as possible) what Nabokov means by fate; and what, if any, might be the interpretive implications of this newly examined, pan-operatic fate. Given the metaphoric sweep of "fate" as a cultural and linguistic concept, to dismiss it or treat it as just anomer theme is to balk at exploring Nabokov's incarnation of one of humanity's most enduring narrational gestures. The present study attempts to fill that gap. Perhaps the central difficulty in approaching the problem of fate in Nabokov's works derives from the concept's elusive nature. Not only does Nabokov invoke several quite diverse versions of fate, but indeed the conceptual history of "fate" (by various names) points toward various interpretations of reality's "structure." There have been two main traditions of fate stemming from Greek antiquity: the first embodies magical or supernatural intervention in human affairs (the word's etymology links it to spoken prophecy and also to incantations which evoke events—specifically, death—through magic).2 The second envisions fate as predestination, the immutability and foreordination of worldly events, the notion that the future is fixed. Linking 2. On the evolution of human conceptions of fate in ancient times, see Goran, especially 114-121. Textual Form and Metaphysical Texture 63 the two variants is the fact that in the former, the doom, once uttered or evoked, is inescapable and unalterable. Thus the first type of fate, as something which intervenes in the otherwise organic or chaotic flow of a human life, appears vaguely or specifically , more or less, anthropomorphic, while the second is more closely analogous to a text or script for the drama of the universe. In Nabokov, we see a frequent embodiment of both these types of fate, although the manner in which each is treated is far from neutral and points instead toward an original, entirely different analogy for humanity's relationship with "reality." Elaborating the metaphorical implications of both conceptions of fate, Nabokov creates models for a newly imagined cosmology: the relationship between fate and nanative structure allows him to speculate solutions to the "riddle of the universe"; indeed, D. Barton Johnson demonstrates that Nabokov, in Bend Sinister and "Solus Rex" among other works, explicitly embodies the tiieme of humanity seeking after the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1548-9965
Print ISSN
1080-1219
Pages
pp. 61-93
Launched on MUSE
2010-10-13
Open Access
No
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