Dmitri Nabokov unveils a Nabokov plaque, photo by Galya Korovina The Nabokov Centenary Festival, organized by Gavriel Shapiro, was held September 10-12, 1998, on the campus of Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, where Nabokov taught from 1948-1958. See below for the Program of Events. At left, Dmitri Nabokov unveils the plaque commemorating his father's tenure at Cornell . (Photo by Galya Korovina. For a complete photographic record of the Festival, go here.)

Nabokov Centenary Festival Casts the Literary Giant's Net Far and Wide
by James Stevens
(reprinted from The Cornell Chronicle with the permission of the author)

With a flurry of film screenings, dramatic readings, exhibitions, and conference sessions, Cornell University held a double celebration Sept 9-12 for the internationally renowned novelist and former Cornell professor Vladimir Nabokov. The Nabokov Centenary Festival observed both the golden jubilee of Nabokov's joining the Department of Russian Literature faculty and the inauguration of Nabokov centenary activities around the world for 1999. Such a rich weekend of activities was only appropriate for the writer and lecturer who not only composed over 17 novels and dozens of short stories, but was a playwright, translator, chess master, and expert lepidopterist -- that is, a butterfly collector and researcher.

During all of the weekend's activities, butterfly pins, earrings, ties, and patches swarmed among the crowds, consisting mostly of visiting academics as well as members of the Ithaca community and Cornell students, some of whom could occasionally be heard reciting lyrics from The Police's 1979 hit "Don't Stand So Close to Me": It's no use, he sees her; he starts to shake and cough / Just like the old man in that book by Nabokov.

That famous book, Lolita, led to Nabokov's celebrity, financial independence, and subsequent departure from Cornell. Appropriately, the centenary festival opened Wednesday night with one of the first U.S. screenings of the book's 1996 film adaptation, with background and commentary provided by the author's son, Dmitri Nabokov, and screenwriter Stephen Schiff. Far more explicit in its treatment of pedophilia and murder than Stanley Kubrick's 1962 adaptation, Adrian Lynne's Lolita has met nearly as much controversy as the novel during the late 1950's and early 1960's.

"I sometimes think of these two films as cultural bookends," Schiff told the sellout audience after the screening. "The first Lolita marked a moment where the liberation of the culture began; the near-banning of our Lolita marks a moment where we see how the culture is shrinking back from its earlier risks and pursuits."

Dmitri Nabokov informed the audience that his "little sister Lo" came to life in Ithaca as a series of note cards later developed into the celebrated novel which, he added, "ranked in the German press behind jazz, The Beatles, and Playboy as one of the 'evils of our permissive society'."

As many Nabokovians such as biographer Brian Boyd have observed, the expatriate author's eleven years in Ithaca (1948-1959) comprised one of the most stable and productive periods in a literary career marked by frequent relocations around the world. According to University of Washington professor Galya Diment, "Nabokov's Cornell years produced many of his most memorable and mature works," including Lolita, the autobiography Conclusive Evidence (later revised and republished as Speak, Memory), and Pnin, which was nominated for the National Book Award and featured the fictional "Wendell University."

"Some wonder, however, whether Nabokov enjoyed teaching at all, but did it primarily because he needed a steady paycheck," Diment said. "Something similar to the host-houseguest relationship between [James Joyce's characters in the novel Ulysses] Leopold Bloom and Stephen Daedalus happened between Cornell and Nabokov: for the guest, Cornell offered the relative security of a domicile and a study where Nabokov could write some of his best work; for the host, Nabokov could offer some of his talent and intelligence as well as the possible satisfaction of watching one of Cornell's own become a gloriously famous author."

On Thursday afternoon, the College of Arts and Sciences commemorated its satisfaction with Nabokov's success and his tenure at Cornell with a plaque installed outside of room 278 in Goldwin Smith Hall, near the spot where Nabokov's office once stood prior to the building's renovation.

That evening, Nabokov's personality and literary career were remembered in a lukewarm performance of Terry Quinn's "Dear Bunny, Dear Volodya" -- a dramatization of selected letters between Nabokov and Edmund Wilson. With William F. Buckley, Jr. in the role of Wilson and Dmitri Nabokov reading his father's letters, the remarkable friendship and bitter falling out between these literary giants from opposite ends of the political, aesthetic, and personal spectra nearly came alive.

Nabokov's labyrinthine plots and literary puzzles were better remembered in the festival's three-day centenary conference, the inaugural conference of its kind and only the second to be held at Cornell since 1983's Nabokov Festival, hailed by this year's festival organizer and Chair of Cornell's Department of Russian Literature, Gavriel Shapiro, as "the benchmark of all Nabokov celebrations to come."

A vocal music concert, including Dmitri Nabokov singing bass, and a Saturday-evening private banquet for conference participants helped bring the festival to a close, though an exhibit of Nabokovia, including first editions of his novels in English, international editions of Lolita, Nabokov's butterfly net, and samples from the author's butterfly collection will be on display at the Carl A. Kroch Rare Book and Manuscript Collections through September 30.

* * *

Cornell Nabokov Centenary Festival
Program of Events

Thursday, 10 September 1998

Nabokov scholarly conference (all sessions held in the Guerlac Room, A.D. White House)

9:00 am: Opening remarks by Gavriel Shapiro, Festival Director

9:15-10:45 am: Session I

Chair: D. Barton Johnson (University of California, Santa Barbara)

Maxim D. Shrayer (Boston College): "The Perfect Glory of Nabokov's Exploit"
Alexander Dolinin (University of Wisconsin, Madison): "The Marvelous 'Indrik-Beast' Against the 'Black Beastie' of Eschatology: On Some Contexts and Subtexts of Nabokov's Glory"
Marina Kanevskaya (Georgetown University): "Semiotic Validity of the Mirror Image in Nabokov's Despair"
D. Barton Johnson: "Nabokov's Despair: Fact and Fiction"

11:15 am-12:45 pm: Session II

Chair: George Gibian (Cornell University)

Christine A. Rydel (Grand Valley State University): "A Pictorial Chronicle of the Nabokov Museum at Rozhestveno"
Stacy Schiff (writer, New York City): "Toward a Real Life of Véra Nabokov"
Galya Diment (University of Washington, Seattle): "Nabokov and Cornell: A View of the Outsider"
Stephen Jan Parker (University of Kansas, Lawrence): "Nabokov Studies: The State of the Art, II"

1:00-1:30 pm: Dedication of the Nabokov Commemorative Plaque, 278 Goldwin Smith Hall.

3:00-4:30 pm: Session III

Chair: Clarence F. Brown (Princeton University)

Gavriel Shapiro (Cornell University): "Nabokov and Early Netherlandish Art"
Susan E. Sweeney (Holy Cross College): "Enchanted Hunting: Classical Ballet, Modernist Aesthetics, and Lolita"
Clarence F. Brown: "Krazy, Ignatz, and Vladimir: Nabokov and the Comic Strip"

5:00-6:30 pm: Reception for the exhibition of Nabokov materials, Carl A. Kroch Library.

8:00 pm: Dear Bunny/Dear Volodya, a dramatic dialogue adapted from the letters of Edmund Wilson and Vladimir Nabokov by Terry Quinn.
William F. Buckley, Jr. in the role of Edmund Wilson.
Dmitri Nabokov in the role of Vladimir Nabokov.
Statler Auditorium

Friday, 11 September 1998

9:00-10:30 am: Session IV

Chair: Christine Raguet-Bouvart (Université de Nice-Sophia Antipolis, France)

Stephen H. Blackwell (University of Tennessee, Knoxville): "Toward a Theory of Negative Pattern in Nabokov"
Sergei Davydov (Middlebury College): "Metapoetics and Metaphysics"
Christine Raguet-Bouvart: "Lolita: Myth and Representation"

11:15 am-12:45 pm: Session V

Chair: Nancy Pollak (Cornell University)

Omry Ronen (University of Michigan, Ann Arbor): "The Triple Anniversary of World Literature: Goethe, Pushkin, Nabokov"
Nora Buhks (Université de Paris-Sorbonne, France): "Replacement as a Device in Nabokov's Despair"
Lisa Zunshine (University of California, Santa Barbara): "Vladimir Nabokov and the Age of Reason"
Ellen Pifer (University of Delaware): "Her Monster, His Nymphet: Nabokov and Mary Shelley"

3:00-4:30 pm: Session VI

Chair: Walter I. Cohen (Cornell University)

Vladimir E. Alexandrov (Yale University): "The Fourth Dimension of Nabokov's Laughter in the Dark"
John M. Kopper (Dartmouth College): "The Evolution of Nabokov's Evolution"
Robert Dirig (Cornell University): "Theme in Blue: Vladimir Nabokov's Endangered Butterfly"
Brian Boyd (University of Auckland, New Zealand): "Pale Fire: The Vanessa atalanta"

5:00-6:30 pm: Reception for the exhibition of Kathryn Jacobi's illustrations for Nabokov's Invitation to a Beheading, Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art.

8:00 pm: Concert of music, Barnes Hall

Saturday, 12 September 1998

9:00-10:30 am: Session VII

Chair: Patricia Carden (Cornell University)

Vera Proskurina (Wesleyan University): "Nabokov's Exegi Monumentum: The Immortality in the Quotation Marks (Nabokov, Pushkin, and Gershenzon)"
Irena Ronen (University of Michigan, Ann Arbor): "Nabokov the Pushkinian"
Leona Toker (Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel): "Nabokov's Nikolai Gogol: Doing Things in Style"
Julian W. Connolly (University of Virginia): "'Broken to Bits': Nabokov Rewrites Dostoevsky"

11:15 am-12:45 pm Session VIII

Chair: Ellen Pifer (University of Delaware)

Zoran Kuzmanovich (Davidson College): "Suffer the Little Children"
Thomas Seifrid (University of Southern California): "A Salad of Racial Genes: Rilke as a Possible Target of Lolita"
Daniela Rippl (Literaturhaus-München, Germany): "Mirror-Writing: Pnin Reread in the Shadow of Lolita"
Charles Nicol (Indiana State University): "Buzzwords and Dorophonemes: How Words Proliferate and Things Decay in Ada"

3:00-4:30 pm: Session IX

Chair: Slava Paperno (Cornell University)

Nina Demourova (University of Russian Academy of Education, Moscow, Russia): "Nabokov as Translator of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll"
John Burt Foster, Jr. (George Mason University): "Nabokov and Malraux: A Franco-Russian Criss-Cross"
Magdalena Medaric (University of Zagreb, Croatia): "The Place of Simultaneity in Nabokov's and Pasternak's Aesthetics"
Joanna Maria Trzeciak (University of Chicago): "Silentology in Nabokov"

6:00 pm: Banquet, Taylor Room, Statler Hotel (by invitation only)
Keynote address: Dmitri Nabokov

The Festival was sponsored by:

The Office of the President, the Office of the Provost, College of Arts and Sciences, Cornell Society for Humanities, Cornell Council for the Arts, Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University Library, Cornell Center for Theatre Arts, Deptartment of Music, Mr. Jon A. Linseth '56, Mr. Joseph F. Martino, Jr. '53, Department of Russian Literature.

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