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Nabokov’s Brain

Interesting article from the Sydney Morning Herald on the writer/illustrator Art Spiegelman. Chris Ware, another graphic novelist, discusses how graphic novels approximate human thought in a way that few pure novelists can manage, though he singles out Nabokov as an exception:

Ware says Spiegelman, through Maus, ushered in a visual language of expression that was both mature and exciting. “He actually knows what his wordplay, visual puns and aesthetic rhymes will provoke in the reader’s mind, and he builds on them very carefully. There are only a handful of prose writers who can manage that; Nabokov comes to mind.” In the great debate of highbrow versus lowbrow, with comics often unfairly dumped into the latter category, Ware notes that Nabokov himself criticised Joyce for relying too much on language for his simulacra of streams of consciousness in Ulysses, pointing out that humans think in pictures as well as words.

Readers interested in a fuller discussion of this topic should check out Brian Boyd’s American Scholar article, in which he too mentions Nabokov’s thoughts on Joyce:

He revered Joyce’s verbal accuracy, his precision and nuance, but he also considered that his stream-of-consciousness technique gave “too much verbal body to thoughts.” The medium of thought for Nabokov was not primarily linguistic: “We think not in words but in shadows of words,” he wrote. Thought was for him also multisensory, and at its best, multilevel. As cognitive psychologists would now say, using a computing analogy foreign to Nabokov, consciousness is parallel (indeed, “massively parallel”), rather than serial, and therefore cannot translate readily into the emphatically serial mode that a single channel of purely verbal stream of consciousness can provide.

Further reading: Lisa Zunshine’s Why We Read Fiction: Theory of Mind and the Novel, which includes a fascinating analysis of the ways readers process Humbert’s narration in Lolita.


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Call For Papers: NEMLA 2014

UPDATE: I received several excellent abstracts and have selected three. They are:

  • Rebecca Freeh-Maciorowski, “Nabokov’s Crosswords of Composition”
  • Lyndsay Miller, “Vladimir Nabokov’s Extra-Textual Revisions”
  • Simon Rowberry, “‘Efface, expunge, erase, delete, rub out, wipe out, obliterate’: Nabokov’s composition TOoL”

Should be an excellent panel! Thanks to all who submitted. –MR


I am hoping to sponsor a panel at the 2014 NEMLA conference, in Harrisburg, PA (April 3-6). Please see the CFP below and email me your abstract by September 30!!

Vladimir Nabokov and the Art of Composition
This panel invites papers focused on Vladimir Nabokov and the art of composition. This panel will consider all aspects of Nabokov’s writing process, including the question of how his approach came to shape both the form and subject of his novels; his approach to revision; and the relationship of his methods to larger theories of composition. Please email a one-page abstract to Matthew Roth, Messiah College,

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A Systematically Correlated Assemblage

In the first sentence of his foreword to Speak, Memory, Nabokov says that his memoir is “a systematically correlated assemblage of personal recollections.” My hope is that this blog will develop into a more or less scholarly assemblage of ideas, impressions, sources, and interpretations related to Nabokov and his works. If I can manage to assemble those elements into some sort of useful, correlated system, all the better!

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