The Zemblan Who Came in from the Cold

Steven Belletto

in No Accident, Comrade

Published in print December 2011 | ISBN: 9780199826889
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780199932382 | DOI:
The Zemblan Who Came in from the Cold

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Vladimir Nabokov has been taken by many readers to be pugnaciously apolitical in his work—indeed, until very recently, few critics have thought of Nabokov as engaging political questions at all. Chapter three shows, by contrast, how attention to chance changes our sense of Nabokov’s aesthetic project as it demonstrates a politics folded into the very texture of his writing. Reading Pale Fire (1962) in a Cold War context, the chapter suggests that far from being only an apolitical novel of wordplay, it in fact intervenes in mid-century controversies about Communism and homosexuality. By focusing on the way that one important character, Charles Kinbote, treats chance versus its presence in the novel as a whole, this chapter argues that Pale Fire demonstrates the absurdity of what I term the homophobic narrative (the tendency to equate homosexual people with everything from perverts to political traitors) which works by foreclosing chance in ways that echo the denial of chance by those totalitarian regimes haunting Kinbote’s own tale.

Keywords: Vladimir Nabokov; Pale Fire (1962); homosexuality during the Cold War; aesthetics and politics during the Cold War; Nova Zembla in the Cold War

Chapter.  8215 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Literary Studies (20th Century onwards)

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