PRESENTATION: Nabokov’s Compositional TOoL

April 5th, 2014 § Comments Off on PRESENTATION: Nabokov’s Compositional TOoL § permalink

Abstract: When Dmitri Nabokov finally decided to publish his father’s famous unfinished last novel, The Original of Laura (TOoL), he took the unusual decision of presenting it as a facsimile of Nabokov’s index cards along with a transcription. In the aftermath of TOoL’s publication, the reception of Nabokov’s artistry has not shifted, and many critics have shunned the publication. Although the fragments reveal Nabokov’s declining power, they offer a powerful entry point to Nabokov’s mode of composition to the popular imagination. The original edition of the fragments encourages this behaviour as the cards are perforated, so the reader can remove the cards from their binding and shuffle them into any order they wish. The materiality of the text confronts the reader with ontological questions about Nabokov’s processes of composition.

The current paper argues that the value of TOoL lies in reading it as material evidence marketed to the mass public rather than remaining available only to those who can access the original. While the materials in the Library of Congress are now available for any interested party, unless they have access to the Library or funds to receive microfilm copies, the manuscripts are inaccessible. TOoL is an entry point into understanding Nabokov’s mode of composition. For an author with such an aura around his genius and his reluctance to conform to the norms of the book trade, such a document unravels the compositional artifices.

The facsimile of TOoL bear material witness to Nabokov’s hypertextual composition method, as the cards are ordered in a multi-linear fashion rather than conforming to an ascending number system. Several of the index cards feature rough drafts or material that has been worked in elsewhere, offering further insights into Nabokov’s material reliance on index cards to compose his complexly structured novels. Thus, Dmitri’s Nabokov’s choice of presentation for his father’s unfinished novel reveal new perceptions of Nabokov’s computational method of composition to the wider public, uncovering another way in which Nabokov can be connected to the history of hypertext.

’Efface, expunge, erase, delete, rub out, wipe out, obliterate’: Nabokov’s composition TOoL. Vladimir Nabokov & Composition Panel. NeMLA. April 2014. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.