A. Moudrov. “Nabokov’s Invitationto 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?
NOJ / НОЖ: Nabokov Online Journal, Vol. I / 2007 The case in point is Invitationto a Beheading, a short novel which, in spite of Nabokov’s avowed disdain for “literature of ideas” and Plato, is laced with Platonic references and what Vladimir E. Alexandrov once called “Nabokov’s ‘Neoplatonic’ beliefs” (88). It recounts the last days of Cincinnatus C., an extraordinary man sentenced to death for some unmentionable crime that scandalized an entire town. Confined in a shadowy prison, Cincinnatus spends his last days in contemplation of a better world and the afterlife that nonetheless constantly escape his imaginative efforts. Whether the theme of the novel was influenced by the subject of Plato’s works becomes too tempting to ignore. The atmosphere of the novel, for example, immediately evokes Plato’s famous Allegory of the Cave, a vision of everyday reality as a shadowy realm whose inhabitants are barely aware of the artificiality of their existence. Only few of them dream of the other, perfectly original world, let alone actually reach it. Those who do escape, if only in their imagination, become persecuted upon their return by their fellow cavemen who do not share their awareness of what is real. 2 Nabokov’s Cincinnatus finds himself in the same predicament. Cincinnatus’ experiences apparently echo those of Socrates, the philosopher whose trial, imprisonment and subsequent execution are depicted in Plato’s in Apology, Crito, and Phaedo, a philosophical interplay of a doomed man’s hopes and fears. Many other Platonic references in the novel are equally suggestive. Pierre, Cincinnatus’ executioner, repeatedly demands sympathy from Cincinnatus, which recalls Socrates’ sympathy for his own executioner (Phaedo, 117a-b). Cincinnatus’ unexpected meeting with Cecilia, his mysterious mother who arrives to reveal the mysteries of his birth, corresponds with Socrates’ dream of “a beautiful, graceful woman” who tells him 2 Plato’s Republic, Book VIII (514b-517e).