This article posits Nabokov’s Invitation to a Beheading as an allegorical novel that resists classical markers of allegory. Its narrative action unfolds without a history, setting, or temporality, and it becomes, in its self-containment, a system outside specific reference. Attributing this text to a critique of a particular totalitarian regime is difficult, as there are no Soviet or Nazi markers in place. The text denies orientation with reality outside the novel; it draws into itself, denying history, nationhood, and language; yet the political system in which Cincinnatus is stuck and to whose laws he is subject follows classic game-plays of totalitarianism. Nabokov uses the literary to enhance the absurdity of such political and social games. Nabokov’s counter-allegorical allegory functions according to a logic of ruins, which gives readable form to the text, the suggestion of a real-life politic, but at the same time exposes its instability and turns its reader-voyeur to its inner workings. The power system is an absurdly intricate theater with no playwright, no director, and no sovereign. It is self-perpetuating; it relies on absolute loyalty to what remains of central dynamism, but the edges of the stage illusion lie exposed. The system reveals nothing about its political inception, and this seems to be the point. In the novel’s prison ruins, we only have the remnants of a past political system, continuing to sustain itself from a previous momentum but unable to draw power from a specific historical past and unable to guarantee a sustainable future.


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pp. 35-67
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