Nabokov as Anti-Symbolist

  • Michael Glynn


In what has come to be known as his “lettre du voyant,” Arthur Rimbaud starkly outlined the Symbolist mission by declaring that “one must be a seer, make oneself a seer.”1 Vladimir Nabokov has himself been eagerly portrayed by some critics as a seer, as a transcendental writer intent upon adumbrating immaterial realms and exploring alternative planes of reality. Informing this critical tendency is, I believe, a fundamental desire to position Nabokov as a Symbolist. To conceive of Nabokov in such a way is, in my view, largely to misrepresent the man and his work. In subsequent chapters, therefore, I shall argue that Nabokov’s perceptual mode and thematic preoccupations were influenced by the ideas of both Henri Bergson and the Russian Formalist Viktor Shklovsky, two thinkers who, as will become clear, were themselves fundamentally anti-Symbolist. It is the case that Nabokov displays certain Symbolist affinities but in my view these are non-central. In anticipation of my discussion of Bergson and Shklovsky, then, I wish to examine Nabokov’s putative links with Symbolism.


Critical Tendency Subsequent Chapter Creative Consciousness North American Literature Lyrical Passage 
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© Michael Glynn 2007

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  • Michael Glynn

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