The Objective Reader and Nabokov

I can tell you right now that the best temperament for a reader to have, or to develop, is a combination of the artistic and the scientific one. The enthusiastic artist alone is apt to be too subjective in his attitude towards a book, and so a scientific coolness of judgement will temper the intuitive heat. If, however, a would-be reader is utterly devoid of passion and patience - of an artist's passion and a scientist's patience - he will hardly enjoy great literature. (41)

Nabokov has proven to be highly controversial for his analysis of what makes a good reader and a good writer (actually for more than that, but that’s a different story). I disagreed with a fair amount of what he said at first, but as I read and reread what he wrote, I realized I agreed with him more than I thought I would.

Nabokov feels that a reader must be paradoxically detached from a story and still attached to it enough to analyze what’s going on, which made no sense to me when I first read it, but I realized that all he meant was that the reader shouldn’t attempt to relate themselves to the story at all. Which I still felt made the enjoyable act of reading too cold and detached from the original story. But I realized that Nabokov’s idea of literature was not the same as mine, he views literature as a truly “pure” art form, one that must create a world and a story free of outside influences, and one that must be consumed in the same vacuum. It might sound cold and almost heartless, which is true to an extent, but view it more as (as a reader) jumping into a new world with no recollection of the world outside, rather than viewing a world from outside a glass box.

One could almost say that the reader must see the work on the same “level of power” as they are on, it is not their story, it is not their world, but it is a world that the author made that the reader is stepping into. The reader cannot impose their personal experiences on their interpretation of the world the author has created, or try to mold the story to fit their own without placing themselves “over” the unique, well-written story Nabokov hopes every author would create. To experience a story in this way requires a mutual agreement of the author and reader to abide by the guidelines Nabokov has laid out, consciously or not, to create a brand-new world unlike any either party had ever seen, to fashion a spectacular, never-before-experienced story, featuring characters nobody’s ever met. To relate this brand-new world to anything in the author or reader’s life (either in its creation or consumption), would completely spoil this pristine vacuum-packed world. It would be like taking a foreign delicacy you had never tasted anything like before and covering it in ketchup, at least according to Nabokov.

2 thoughts on “The Objective Reader and Nabokov

  1. PATRICK HEALY

    The idea of a story being a detached experience and therefore that being the reason why you shouldn’t try to relate to it is an idea I never thought of and would’ve been a great idea to incorporate into my piece.

    Like

  2. Camila R

    I think you did a great job at interpreting and analyzing Nobokov’s writting on good readers. I was also intrigued by your comparison at the end about the foreign delicacy covered in ketchup.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s