hsn - LELAND DE LA DURANTAYE Kafka's Reality and Nabokov's...

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LELAND DE LA DURANTAYE Kafka's Reality and Nabokov's Fantasy. On Dwarves, Saints, Beetles, Symbolism, and Genius 1. The Metamorphosis It is not difficult to hear echoes of Kafkan steps in the early works of Vladimir Nabokov. Critics have detected faint echoes in his early Russian novels The Eye (1930) and Despair (1933) (see Hyde 104, 109; and Foster) and more definite sounds in Invitation to a Beheading (1938). In the latter novel, a harmless hero in an abstracted world is interred in a castle, brought before an incomprehensible tribunal, and charged with the vaguest of crimes ("Gnostic turpitude"). This the- matic similarity was strong enough for Nabokov to protest in a 1959 foreword to the English translation of the novel that he had not read Kafka until after he wrote it (Invitation 6). When asked about the matter in an interview ten years later, he replied: "I do not know German and so could not read Kafka before the nineteen thirties when his La mr&amorphose appeared in La nouvelle revuefran- faise, and by that time many of my so-called 'kafkaesque' stories had already been published" (Strong Opinions 151-52). In Bend Sinister (1947), the first novel Nabokov wrote in America, a beetle- shaped bootjack is referred to as Gregoire (the name Kafka's protagonist bears in La mitamorphose), and, more to the Kafkan point, the novel not only includes a miraculous transformation in its closing lines, but also depicts a nightmarish world of absurd bureaucracy that at certain shadowy moments recalls Kafka (Bend Sinister 33-34; cf. also Foster 445). And in Nabokov's final novel, Look at the Harlequins! (1974), when the protagonist Vadim Vadimorovitch (a special refraction of Vladimir Vladimirovitich [Nabokov]) provides a list of his works that darkly mirrors Nabokov's own, the novel corresponding to Invitation to a Beheading on the narrator's CV is entitled The Red Topper, which tells of "the strange pangs of a strange transformation"r-a description that displaces one Kafkan world (that of castle and court) for another (that of a metamorphosis) (Harlequins 120). Whether Nabokov was wrong in his estimations of Kafka's influence, or mis- chievously misleading about the date of his first familiarity, cannot be answered
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COMPARATIVE LITERATURE/316 with certitude. But they are not the only questions we might pose. Though critics have been most attracted by the sport of potential influence,' in the following I argue that there are other and. more interesting grounds for studying Nabokov's reflections on Kafka and that these are to be found in Nabokov's singular inter- pretation of The Metamwphosis and what that interpretation has to say about his rules for good reading and good writing. 2. Dwarves and Saints
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hsn - LELAND DE LA DURANTAYE Kafka's Reality and Nabokov's...

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