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"The Center of This or That Masterpiece": Nabokov's Lectures

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Organizer: Elizabeth Geballe

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Vladimir Nabokov is a staple figure for comparatists interested in translation, self-translation, and polyglot authors—in short, a looming presence in discussions of world literature. But Nabokov himself, in his American years, was busy evaluating translations, reading practices, and the Western canon: assigning grades to various authors (Dostoevsky was a C-) and labeling Proust’s opus a “fairy tale.” This seminar seeks to approach Nabokov through the lectures he delivered to his students Wellesley and Cornell, collected in Lectures on Literature, Lectures on Russian Literature and Lectures on Don Quixote. Taking Nabokov-the-Critic as our starting point, we will see, first, whether coherent strategies and concerns emerge from his studies, second, whether Nabokov’s fiction resonates with his critical writings, and finally, what new insights he offers into the work of other writers. Mistaken or ingenious, Nabokov’s readings of other novels can—when taken together—offer a model of how expectations and standards can be handed down across time: first to a set of students, and then to readers at large. We welcome papers on any of the lectures—those that focus on literature, translation, or common sense—from scholars primarily interested in Nabokov, the authors he wrote so stridently about, or his pedagogy more generally. Ideally, contributions should think through, theoretically or practically, the ways that a critical piece of writing can become a primary text, a repository of cultural value, a type of adaptation, or a work of art.

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