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Nabokov Studies, 2 (1995), 191-212. BRIAN THOMAS OLES (Madison, Wl, USA) SILENCE AND THE INEFFABLE INNABOKOV'S INVITATION TO A BEHEADING* No close reading of Vladimir Nabokov's opus can fail to reveal the trappings of a distinctly neoplatonic cosmology in the concept of the "otherworld" (potustoronnost').' The hierarchical relationship of this "otherworld" to that of empirical "reality" is perhaps best expressed by the character of Fyodor Godunov-Cherdyntsev in The Gift : he felt that all this skein of random thoughts, like everything else as well-the seams and sleaziness of the spring day, the ruffle of the air, the coarse, variously intercrossing threads of confused sounds—was but the reverse side of a magnificent fabric, on the front of which there gradually formed and became alive images invisible to him.2 The implicit judgment in the above, about the "magnificence" of the "otherworld," and the imperfection ("sleaziness") of this one, also has neoplatonic overtones, and is present in more than one Nabokov work. Whether this two-tiered, at times almost mystical ontological model, probed most exhaustively by Vladimir Alexandrov, can be read as attesting to Nabokov's personal religiosity is a question obviously open to debate. However, it does seem to me that Nabokov's art, inasmuch as it is underlain by such mysticism, can be linked to that of the Romantics or even that of the Symbolists, who posit art as a means to gaining access to a "higher reality" or heightened states of consciousness; in other words, the "other side of the fabric" that Godunov-Cherdyntsev refers to above. In positing characters possessing the narrowly-defined artistic "gift" described in the eponymous novel as the only people with such access * My thanks to Galya Diment for her help with this essay. 1. The translation is Nabokov's own; Alexandrov defends it in Nabokov's Otherworld (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1991), p. 5. 2. Vladimir Nabokov, The Gift (New York: Vintage, 1991) p. 314. All citations are to this edition. Russian citations are to Dar (Ann Arbor: Ardis, 1975). 192 Nabokov Studies to the "otherworld," Nabokov again resembles both the Romantics and the Symbolists, who also asserted the primary role of the artist in discerning and conveying the essence of the preternatural world. I realize that pasting on Nabokov the epithet "exclusionary" risks the appearance of a superficial reading. However, such exclusion of non-artists from "enlightenment" is, in fact, normative in Nabokov's universe. This exclusion applies equally to readers. Like Joyce, Nabokov had in mind a very specific, dedicated reader—an interlocutor—when he wrote. The Nabokov novel functions very much as a dialogue, but one in which the "rules" of aesthetic interchange are bent, broken, and recombined in patterns which must then be decoded based on an acquired knowledge of rules unique to Nabokov's own art. Though the novels may yield, on careful inspection, their concealed order to others, those with the "gift" make the best readers. The relevance of this dialogue between gifted artist and gifted reader again turns our discussion back to Plato, and is something we will want to consider as it relates to the central argument of this essay. A discussion of Nabokov's entire metaphysics cannot be contained in the space available here, and, in any case, has already been initiated by Alexandrov and Boyd, among others. Rather, I would like to begin a discussion of how those metaphysics are manifested on the level of language in one Nabokov novel, not in its "successful" revelation for the reader of the "otherwordly," but in its inadequacies, its failings, its nonuse . The absence of language, as well as its quite dazzling presence, is an important, often neglected aspect of many of Nabokov's works. It is my goal here to explore possibilities why this should be, why reported and actual silence (lacunae) and verbal stumbling are so common in the work of an artist whose range of verbal expression often seems virtually unlimited . In short, why does the expressive capacity of language seem to wane at crucial moments in the text? These are questions 1 will attempt to address specifically in the context of what is arguably Nabokov's most...


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