Dissertation, The University of Chicago (1999)

Gregory Khasin
University of Chicago
This dissertation is an attempt to find a single framework for understanding two seemingly conflicting aspects of Nabokov's Russian novels---the metaphysical and the existential. The metaphysical aspect is analyzed according to Leibniz's "Monadology," with its key concepts of the monad, pre-established harmony, the optimization of the universe, and sufficient reason. The existential aspect is examined according to Sartre's theory of the gaze from "Being and Nothingness"; its main notions are being-for-another, radical individuation and intersubjective struggle. Concern with the level of being is assumed to be the most basic and unifying element of the Nabokovian worldview. It is shown that Nabokov conceives individual being as value, and that he understands self-authorship as self-ownership. The value of individual being is threatened by intersubjective contact: the other, via the gaze, can undermine its property status, and eventually alienate it. All particular plots are derived from these underlying premises. The key Nabokovian themes of blindness, non-transparency, loss, memory and art are demonstrated to refer back to the root concepts of the gaze and self-protection. ;The dissertation develops two original conceptual tools: a theory of unreliable focalization and a theory of paranoid experience ;Close readings of Nabokov's texts have resulted in several philological findings. Structural and textual parallels have been discovered between "Mashen'ka" and Shakespeare's "Hamlet," as well as between "Priglashenie na kazn'" and Descartes' "Meditations." It has also been shown that the protagonist's story in "Zashchita Luzhina" is repeated four times and not two
Keywords Nabokov, Narrative theory, Existentialism, gaze, focalization, Bakhtin
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