Nabokov and Russian Formalism

  • Michael Glynn


Though Nabokov might appear to manifest some Symbolist traits, we must seek elsewhere the intellectual currents that helped shape his epistemology and his specific fictional preoccupations. In this context two schools of thought are extremely germane: the intuitive philosophy of Henri Bergson and the theories of the Russian Formalists, particularly those of their chief spokesman Viktor Shklovsky. In an unpublished draft plan for his Cornell lectures, Nabokov incorporated the following declaration of intent: “special attention will be paid to individual genius and questions of structure.”1 We have in this sentence a neat demonstration of the way in which Nabokov seamlessly conflates elements of a Formalist aesthetic with a Bergsonian one. Nabokov’s Formalism is manifest in his invocation of structure, and his Bergsonian essentialism in his insistence on the centrality of the individual creative consciousness. I argue that Nabokov manifests a range of Bergsonian and Formalist influences, the most salient of which is what may be termed the Bergsonian/Shklovskyite notion of the deluded mind. Bergson is discussed in a subsequent chapter, it is to Nabokov’s affinities with Shklovsky and the Formalists that I now wish to turn.


Literary Evolution Material World Literary Form Individual Consciousness Average Reality 
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© Michael Glynn 2007

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  • Michael Glynn

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