Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Unreal Life of Sergey Nabokov VII

The Unreal Life of Sergey Nabokov VII
Miss Gide’s Mise-em-abyme

“In his Diary, Gide defines
the mise-en-abyme technique
as a transposition of the work's
subject matter on the level
of its characters.”—Leonid Livak,
Vladimir Nabokov's Apprenticeship
in Andre Gide's "Science of Illumination":
From The Counterfeiters to The Gift,”
Comparative Literature, Summer 2002

How did Nabokov use the “compositional principle of the mise-en-abyme,” a term Gide had coined some twenty years earlier, and how did Nabokov use multiple narrative voices that recounted the same story from different viewpoints?

“In his Diary, Gide defines the mise-en-abyme technique as a transposition of the work's subject matter on the level of its characters. More precisely, this procedure consists of placing a discourse within another discourse, whereby the incorporated text resembles or "mirrors:' as Gide puts it, the incorporating one, emphasizing the formal structure of the work as a whole and drawing attention to the relationship between the author and his creation. The Counterfeiters is a system of textual mirrors…”

Lately, I’ve been thinking about this “mise-en-abyme” method in Nabokov’s Sebastian Knight novel: the way some parts of the novel mirror-text other parts. Which is what I was doing with the preveious “Oleg Danchenko” postings of “The Unreal Life of Sergey Nabokov V & VI." Inventing mirror-texts like Leonid Livak suggests in his essay can be an interesting exercise in authorial mise-am-abyme technique—as opposed to the usual linear mise-en-scene approach.

The same can be said for the “pseudo-Lolita” texts here—as well as the “Pale Fire” poem earlier in the archives: the pseudo-commentaries by charming Princess Zinaida Shakovskaya and the fascinating perverts Humbert Humbert and Vlad Shade. These various gay subversive gender-fuck renditions of Nabokovian texts into more homoerotically nuanced Gide mirror-texts within texts open up ‘stylistically’ the “real life” of much more than just Sebastian Knight or Miss Humbert or Queen Kinbote...

The two “Oleg Danchenko” stories posted earlier were written from a mirror-text angle approach using the Gide “mise-en-abyme” technique. A mirror-dialog within another dialog. In some ways it’s pretty much rather virgin territory I suppose since most gay & str8t critics and writers haven’t quite got up to Miss Gide’s mise-en-abyme homoerotic textuality technique yet. Why would this sort of 'style closetry' exist one might ask.

Livak alludes to Nabokov keeping Miss Gide in the closet somewhat—as far as his Berlin exiled literati community was concerned. Of course, any indication of Miss Proust would be surely seem a giveaway of too gauche, too gay literary influences to a young writer extremely still rather closeted—perhaps one would think? One could assume that Vladimir didn’t want to be homosexually pigeon-holed so early with the other Russian gay intelligentsia exiled literati & as a result became involved with several fascinating bitch-fights over over his supposedly ‘str8t’ Berlin liteary façade. Nabokov even set up one of his most severe critics (a gay poet) by using a false persona to illicit glowing reviews only to reveal his own identity later on.

But whether closeted or coquettish it’s definitely there, as Nabokov mentions in the Foreword to The Gift:“The tremendous outflow of intellectuals that formed such a prominent part of the general exodus from Soviet Russia in the first years of the Bolshevist Revolution…” Many of whom were gay like Sergey. Who ended up in Paris rather than Berlin. And who flourished there as Lev Grossman’s Salon article mentions.

There’s something rather strange going on here. Denial of Proustian includences. Using but not alluding to Miss Gide. A kind of authorial counterfeiting and unreliable narrative already forming. A literary style that opens up in Lolita and flies away like a butterfly into Hollywood and literary history. A mise-em-abyme style worthy of "The Creature With a Million Eyes."

Some sort of rather gay style it seems that gay readers can pick up on. Is that what they mean by ‘synchronicity’ perhaps? I was typing last night these Sergey notes, when suddenly out of nowhere a giant white moth went flying and scittering off to the side of my vision. And then it disappeared somewhere in my den. I looked for it but couldn’t find it. I shrugged. I’m no lepidopterist but the connection with Nabokov seemed strange to me. It’s still here in the book shelves somewhere I’m sure.

1 comment:

  1. You will find a detailed treatment of your query (re: Homosexuality-Nabokov-Gide) in the final chapter of Leonid Livak's book, How It Was Done in Paris: Russian Emigre Literature and French Modernism (2003).