What does Nabokov want?

If you have read what makes a good reader and a good writer then you should understand what Nabokov wants. He, quite explicitly, says he wants “an artistic harmonious balance between the reader’s mind and the author’s mind.” However, I disagree. Nabokov, in my interpretation of his writing, doesn’t know what he wants from readers. I know what he wants from writers, he wants enchanters, he wants wizards, and he wants deceivers. This is clearly stated when he says “A major writer combines these three—storyteller, teacher, enchanter—but it is the enchanter in him that predominates and makes him a major writer.” But, when it comes to readers, he is unclear. He says that a reader must have an imagination, not a first-rate one, but an expansive imagination capable of comprehending the story, interpreting the story, then reinventing the author’s story. But he also says that “the worst thing a reader can do, he identifies himself with a character in the book. This lowly variety is not the kind of imagination I would like readers to use.” The source of imagination is inspiration, and we take inspiration from everything we see, everything we do, and everything we know. The way I see it, Nabokov is saying that to be a truly greater reader, someone who is able to achieve a true artistic harmonious balance between author and reader, they must be able to imagine the world in an entirely different way. Real writers reinvent the world, they are not bound by a specific subject or event. They simply take a normal story or idea and reinvent it in a way that the reader has to utilize their imagination to understand it. But Nabokov says that if you relate to a character, then your imagination is lowly and undesirable. This perturbs me because it’s as if Nabokov is discrediting an entire approach to reading, interpreting, and envisioning. It’s as if he is gatekeeping his imagination to a specific interpretation. And this, I believe, muddies his claim as there are multiple ways of reading and writing and they shouldn’t be bound by an idyllic measure. I think that all reading and writing intrinsically have their own value and none are inherently better or worse. While Nabokov does say that he doesn’t want the reader to think this way and that he doesn’t explicitly say that relating to a character discredits the reader’s imagination, I believe that his claim of proper reading being an artistic harmonious balance is unable to be achieved or is at least fundamentally flawed when a writer sets a precedent upon the reader. The writer had a set of expectations for how a reader should or should not think upon beginning to read a piece of literature is something Nabokov himself warns against, “Nothing is more boring or more unfair to the author than starting to read, say, Madame Bovary, with the preconceived notion that it is a denunciation of the bourgeoisie. We should always remember that the work of art is invariably the creation of a new world, so the first thing we should do is to study that new world as closely as possible, approaching it as something brand new, having no obvious connection with
the worlds we already know.” While I do personally think Nabokov’s claim is inherently flawed and is contradicting in nature, I still think there is still value in it, just as there is still value in every form of imagination and interpretation.

2 thoughts on “What does Nabokov want?

  1. Ben Koritz

    Your point of the gatekeeping being done by Nabakov is something I had thought about but I love how in detail you go to analyze this observation.


  2. HANK S

    I agree that some of Nabokov’s statements are very limiting. In defining what makes a good reader, he automatically limits the incredibly diverse and individual experience of reading to a very small box.


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