Nabokov's Invitation to Plato's Beheading

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Nabokov's Invitation to Plato's Beheading

A. Moudrov. “Nabokov’s Invitation to Plato’s Beheading

works, however, is still largely unexamined in spite of the apparent affinities between the

two writers and the critical interest in the metaphysical aspect of Nabokov’s prose.

Nabokov, for his part, seemed to discourage this line of inquiry. When an

interviewer mentioned that “Pale Fire appears to some readers to be in part a gloss of

Plato’s myth [which] suggests a conscious Platonism,” Nabokov curtly responded that he

was not “particularly fond of Plato” (Strong Opinions 70). He was unmistakably clear in

his letter to Edmund Wilson, when he simply stated: “I detest Plato. I loathe Lacedaemon

and all Perfect States” (Nabokov-Wilson 159), referring to Plato’s utopian vision of the

perfect political system which Nabokov carelessly confused with fascism or communism.

In spite of such an unequivocal stance, however, what was endlessly fascinating about

Nabokov is that he had an amazing habit of standing very close to those whom he

despised and parodied. In his desire to demonstrate his artistic superiority over his

intellectual opponents, Nabokov often adopted and subverted their techniques, borrowed

themes from their works, and even imitated their style, so that it often becomes easy to

confuse his stance with those of his opponents. Despair, for example, appears to be at

once a parody and a tribute to Dostoyevsky’s style. In Lolita, Humbert Humbert’s

confession adapts and playfully uses psychoanalytic literature, which demonstrates

Nabokov’s elaborate technique of incorporating and subverting the techniques of others.

In The Gift and Despair he mimics his critics so well that their views almost seamlessly

merge with what one assumes to be Nabokov’s own. Is it possible, therefore, that

Nabokov’s admission that he was “afraid to get mixed up with Plato” (Strong Opinions

69) was his invitation to explore the artistry of his subtle parody of Plato—Nabokov’s

invitation to Plato’s beheading?

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