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Nabokov's Invitation: Literature as Execution

Dale E. Peterson
PMLA
Vol. 96, No. 5 (Oct., 1981), pp. 824-836
DOI: 10.2307/462126
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/462126
Page Count: 13
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Nabokov's Invitation: Literature as Execution
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Abstract

Although Nabokov enjoyed high acclaim as a serious artist, his work never pretended to the high seriousness of "moral fiction." Yet he obviously intended, through his forbidding forewords and enticing texts, to invite his readers to reflect on the engagement with "reality" that serious fiction encourages. With principled wit, his compositions shatter the durable illusion that "realistic" characters and readers can somehow cocreate the structures that hold them captive. Nabokov's characteristic refusal to finish off his compositions frees both characters and readers to create a posttextual existence. His novel Invitation to a Beheading, although often misunderstood as a transparent allegory, is an opaque parable that resists the complicity of writer and reader, of leader and follower, to execute identities and meanings. Nabokov's modernistic narrative-as much as, if not more than, the conventional moral fictions of mimetic realism-is an ethical form that values the irreducible density of human experience.

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