- Nabokov, Rushdie, and the Transnational Imagination: Novels of Exile and Alternate Worlds by Rachel Trousdale
“If we are to understand any given work of transnational literature,” Rachel Trousdale writes in the opening pages of her recent book Nabokov, Rushdie, and the Transnational Imagination, “we must understand not only the local allegiances of the writer but the broader framework of transnational fiction as a whole” (13). Aiming therefore to develop a new critical framework for reading transnational literature, Trousdale pursues how the “supernatural, science-fictional, and alternate-historical settings” of transnational fiction “create communities that replace national cultures” and “use the rhetoric and epistemology of nationalism to enlist readers and writers into a new kind of group identity” (2). This task, which Trousdale calls “transnational [End Page 317] world-fashioning,” reaches beyond the author and the text, and mobilizes the reader as a creative agent in the formation of “new communal identities” that rethink national identities as “intellectual and emotional, rather than geographical, affiliations” (2).
Trousdale’s theoretical rubric is driven by the interest in forging a new dialectic between the postcolonial and the postmodern. While these two theoretical approaches have traditionally been kept separate, according to Trousdale, the power of transnational literature not only reveals an otherwise unexplored intersection between the postcolonial and the postmodern, it also emerges as a “world-fashioning” at the site of this juncture. To begin, Trousdale’s postcolonial lens is shaped by Homi Bhabha’s concept of hybridity and Kwame Anthony Appiah’s notion of “rooted cosmopolitanism,” which is grounded in “a dialogic universalism” between the local and the global (8). For Trousdale, the critical interaction between hybridity and cosmopolitanism is not simply that it accounts for “the real-world political stakes in fiction written by migrant and multilingual writers,” but more precisely that it reveals the potential of hybridity “to redefine identity in imaginative, rather than reactive, terms” (2). As we enter into transnational spaces of fiction, we not only open the possibility of rethinking the terms and construction of national identity, we also inherit the work of postmodernism to invite the reader to accept the impossibility of fictional worlds. To elaborate this point, Trousdale takes up Brian McHale’s notion of the postmodern “zone” and explains how readers are continuously asked to balance “the real and the speculative” in fiction (2). She also, however, challenges the theoretical scope of the “zone” by arguing that transnational fiction urges readers to confront various national and cultural demarcations of space and identity in ways that simultaneously fuse borders and separate them. For Trousdale, the power of transnational literature reveals itself in the agency and authority of the reader to enable a “hybrid world-fashioning” that produces “durable changes in our understanding of group identity” (37). Together, then, the writer and the reader become coimplicated in the construction of alternate worlds in fiction—worlds in which readers and writers form new communities that supersede the nation (22), and thus offer a new “logic about the demarcation of national and cultural boundaries” (15).
The first chapter explores how we may read and understand the writings of Maxine Hong Kingston, Joseph Conrad, V. S. Naipaul, and Isak Dinesen as transnational. But the subsequent chapters, which take up Vladimir Nabokov and Salman Rushdie as “two of the most important practitioners of transnational world-fashioning” (2), establish the more compelling critique of the role of the reader in transnational fiction. Turning first to Nabokov’s Lolita, Pale Fire, and Ada, Trousdale pursues how these three novels forge a new relationship between geography and culture. Focusing in particular on the characters of Humbert in Lolita, Kinbote in Pale Fire, and Van in Ada as “unreliable hybrids” (37), Trousdale contends that Nabokov’s invented Americas—the site of his syntheses among culture and geography—at once represent and begin to solve “a fundamental problem facing transnational writers: how to bring their physical surroundings and their imaginary worlds into dialogue” (38). Nabokov’s writings therefore work out a kind of “world-fashioning” that layers the physical and the...