How Do I Join?The IVNS celebrates its 20th anniversary in 1998.

"The Vladimir Nabokov Society is dedicated to the appreciation of the writings of Vladimir Nabokov, to the exchange of views and information concerning these writings, and to the fellowship of their readers."
--from the bylaws of the International Vladimir Nabokov Society.

Under its original name of the Vladimir Nabokov Society, the International Vladimir Nabokov Society was founded on December 29, 1978, about a year and a half after the author's death. Establishment of the society and election of its officers took place at its first business meeting, following a special Nabokov session sponsored by the Modern Language Association. The decision to found the society had been taken the previous year, after another MLA special session on December 27, 1977, and Stephen Jan Parker had already published the first issue of The Vladimir Nabokov Newsletter in the Fall of 1978.

A copy of the society's bylaws is available in the Spring 1991 issue of The Nabokovian (Number 26).

The current officers of the organization are as follows:

President: Zoran Kuzmanovich, Editor
Nabokov Studies
Professor of English
Davidson College

Julian Connolly
Professor of Russian
University of Virginia

Secretary-Treasurer & Editor of The Nabokovian: Stephen Jan Parker
Professor of Russian
The University of Kansas

Members join the Society by subscribing to The Nabokovian, so that there is no membership fee as such. The dues are synonymous with a subscription to The Nabokovian, which currently costs $19 per year for individuals and $22 per year for institutions. Higher rates apply to international members.

History of the Society's Activities

The International Nabokov Society became an allied organization of the Modern Language Association in time for the 1983 MLA Convention in New York City. Since then it has regularly sponsored paper-reading sessions at the MLA; it has also organized similar sessions at the American Association for Teachers of Slavic and Eastern European Languages (AATSEEL), at the American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies (AAASS), and, more recently, at the American Literature Association (ALA).

The practice of encouraging close co-operation between Slavists and Americanists dates back to the first years of the Nabokov Society around 1980. When American Nabokov scholarship got its start in the later 1960s and the 1970s, the Russian side of Nabokov's career was frequently ignored.

Initially lacking other venues, the Society began to sponsor a paper-reading session at the annual AATSEEL convention, which often met concurrently with the MLA. For the first time, Americanists and Slavicists who shared an interest in Nabokov found themselves at the same meetings, and young Nabokov scholars in American Literature could observe the still live connection between our author and Russian language and literature. As a result of this history, the Society alternates its presidency between scholars based in English and Russian departments and has taken a leading role in integrating American and Russian studies of Nabokov.

The Society's programs at the MLA have evolved in several directions during its period as an allied organization. From 1983 to 1985 it sponsored a single session, focused on a previously announced topic. Beginning in 1986, it responded to the need to accommodate more papers by holding two sessions, each with its own topic. Then in 1991, as a result of giving new responsibilities to the vice-president it was decided that one of the two sessions should be an open one, thus making it a forum for the best work on Nabokov from any perspective. Sessions have regularly been well-attended, even when scheduled at seemingly inconvenient hours; they have drawn a wide range of participants; and the Society remains satisfied that this side of its activities is helping to increase scholarly understanding and appreciation for Nabokov's work.

Another way to describe the society's programs at the MLA Convention would be to comment on the nature of the topics chosen. One area of emphasis has been the impact on Nabokov criticism of changing methods and approaches in contemporary literary study. From the start, the society has been particularly responsive to the growing importance of feminist approaches, as witnessed by its first program as an allied organization, "Lovers, Muses, and Nymphets: Women in the Art of Nabokov." It returned to this topic in 1991 with a panel on "Feminist Approaches to Nabokov," which already looks ahead to what is now called gender studies; and feminist issues were also addressed in a 1989 panel on "Sexuality in Nabokov's Narrative." Several other trends in contemporary literary study were examined in the 1988 session on "Nabokov and Contemporary Literary Theory," including reader-response criticism. Issues of canonicity were discussed in the 1989 session on "Approaches to Teaching Nabokov."

A second major trend has involved placing Nabokov's achievement in cultural perspective. In the early 1980s, just before the society's affiliation with the MLA, Nabokov's lectures on both European and Russian fiction were published, as well as his lively correspondence with Edmund Wilson, the famous American critic. This wealth of new material on Nabokov's literary opinions eventually sparked a wide variety of studies and reassessments of his connections with both his literary predecessors and his contemporaries. Most notable in this regard was the 1988 session on "Nabokov and Others - Affinities and Arguments," but the 1990 session on "Nabokov and Romanticism" as well as several presentations in the 1992 General Session also follow this pattern. The Society has thus provided a forum for work on Nabokov's attitude toward and creative appropriation of Kafka, Proust, Joyce, Flaubert, Melville, Poe, Wordsworth and Coleridge, Pushkin, Cervantes, and Shakespeare. In a related vein there have also been papers discussing Nabokov's impact on later writers, ranging from Roberta Smoodin's Inventing Ivanov and David Thomson's Suspects to his role as a stylistic alternative to minimalist fiction in creative writing programs or as a model for hypertext novels.

A third trend has been interdisciplinary, building on Nabokov's own claim (based on his work as an entomologist) to have bridged the gap between the two cultures of literature and science, on the questions posed by his extreme antipathy to psychoanalysis, and particularly on the varied aesthetic, metaphysical, and religious issues raised by his work. The first two topics were the subject of the 1984 session on "Nabokov and the Passion of Science" and the 1986 panel devoted to "Nabokov on Freud and Freud on Nabokov," though the debate with psychoanalysis would surface again in papers drawing on Lacan that were presented in 1989 and 1992. The interlinked issues of Nabokov's aesthetics, metaphysics, and religion have been an especially lively topic, in part because on the surface Nabokov seems to violate the Russian tradition of using fiction to address the "big questions," in part because his self- proclaimed aestheticism is liable to misinterpretation in an Anglo-American setting, and in part because his wife Véra insisted on the crucial role in all his work of "potustoronnost'" (transcendence, or reaching toward another world) in her preface to a posthumous collection of Nabokov's Russian poetry (Stikhi, 1979). Following these various impulses, the society has organized sessions on "Nabokov, Philosophy, and the Arts" in 1987, on "Nabokov and Religion?" in 1993, and on Nabokov's provocative formula of "Aesthetic Bliss" in 1994. The issue of interdisciplinarity was also raised by a paper in the 1989 session on "Approaches to Teaching Nabokov."

A fourth trend has ostensibly been commemorative, beginning with the 1986 session on "Lolita at Thirty," and continuing in 1987 with "The Posthumous Nabokov," marking the tenth anniversary of the author's death, and in 1992 with "Nabokov's Discovery of America." In fact, however, these panels (like the more recent general sessions) have normally presented a variety of approaches, including the cultural and interdisciplinary ones already discussed. But they have also raised more specific questions of literary interpretation, which provides another major focus for the society's programs. Along with Lolita, Pale Fire is a perennial favorite in this regard; but a 1986 panel was devoted to "Nabokov and the Short Story," and a 1990 session on "Nabokov as a Stylist" also included papers on his autobiography Speak, Memory and on one of his short stories. Over the years Ada and Pnin have also drawn repeated attention, but the Russian fiction is almost always underrepresented despite the society's efforts to spread knowledge about the whole of Nabokov's career. It should be noted, however, that sessions at both the concurrent AATSEEL meetings and at the November meetings of AAASS have stressed the Russian works, with emphasis falling on Invitation to a Beheading and The Gift.

Other relevant information would include the fact that the eleven years since the Society's affiliation with the MLA in 1983 have witnessed a major consolidation in Nabokov's international reputation. Especially significant was the moment of glasnost in the former Soviet Union, when his works were published for the first time in his native land; previously they could only be read in smuggled editions which had to be passed from hand to hand on a day-to-day basis. The glasnost-inspired rediscovery of Nabokov culminated in 1988, when Gorbachev authorized a five-volume edition of his works, with a print-run of several hundred thousand copies.

Other less dramatic landmark events also occurred around this time both in the United States, where Nabokov launched a new career as an English writer after 1940, and in Germany and France, where he had lived in the 1920s and 1930s as a Russian émigré and where he had published some of his early fiction in translation. Thus major translation projects involving his works have been undertaken into both French and German. A Pléiade edition is now in progress under the supervision of Professor Maurice Couturier of the University of Nice, and much of the 25-volume deluxe German edition has already been published at Rowohlt under the direction of Dieter E. Zimmer, the cultural editor of Die Zeit. Both Professor Couturier and Mr. Zimmer are members of the Society. In the United States, the rights to Nabokov's collected works were acquired in the late 1980s by Knopf, where they now appear in the prestigious Vintage International series. In 1996 the Library of America published a handsome three-volume collection of Nabokov English fiction, edited and annotated by Brian Boyd. Another key event occurred in 1991 when, in a major acquisition, the Nabokov archive was purchased by the Berg Collection at the New York Public Library, thereby supplementing the substantial collection of Nabokov materials already on deposit at the Library of Congress. Finally, though most gaps in Nabokov's multilingual career had been filled by the early 1980s, The Enchanter, a precursor to Lolita that was originally written in Russian in 1939, was translated into English by Dmitri Nabokov in 1986. Nabokov's correspondence with his sister Elena Sikorsky was published in Russian in 1985, and his Selected Letters, 1940-1977 followed in 1989. Nabokov also made a television appearance on PBS when Christopher Plummer re-enacted his lecture on Kafka, originally presented to Cornell students in the 1950s.

The period since 1983 has also been a time of harvest for Nabokov scholarship, to which Society members have made important contributions. Meaningful commentary on Nabokov takes many forms, of course, not all of them connected with our society. For example, the philosopher Richard Rorty's Contigency, Irony, And Solidairty (1989) includes a major essay on Nabokov, and the physicist and human rights activist Andrei Sakharov refers to Nabokov at a crucial point in his Memoirs (1990). One whole section of John Updike's Odd Jobs (1991) consists of essays on Nabokov, while distinguished scholarly books like Paul John Eakin's Fictions in Autobiography (1985) or Matei Calinescu's Rereading (1993) draw on Nabokov for crucial theoretical insights.

Nonetheless, this period has witnessed a variety of noteworthy publications by members of the Nabokov Society. In 1984 Phyllis Roth brought out the first anthology of major critical essays on Nabokov; Michael Juliar's new bibliography of his much-scattered writings, involving major breakthroughs in both accuracy and scope, appeared in 1986; Brian Boyd's impressively documented two-volume biography and critical study was published by Princeton in 1990 and 1991; and A Small Alpine Form (1993), edited by Charles Nicol and Gennady Barabtarlo, was the first attempt to assess Nabokov as a writer of short fiction. D. Barton Johnson studied the complex reflexivity of Nabokov's fiction in Worlds in Regression (1985) and also edited a special issue of Canadian-American Slavic Studies devoted to European scholarship on Nabokov. Aspects of Nabokov's relations with his contemporaries are discussed in Geoffrey Green's Freud and Nabokov (1988), in a forum edited by Dale Peterson in the Slavic and East European Journal (1989), and in John Foster's Nabokov's Art of Memory and European Modernism (1993), while the role of his metaphysical interests is explored in Nabokov's Otherworld (1991) by Vladimir Alexandrov, who also edited the Garland Companion to Nabokov (1994), with 75 article-length entries (over 40 of them by Society members) which present the current state-of-the-art in Nabokov studies and thus provide a basis for future research. Other notable scholarship by society members includes two general overviews of Nabokov's career (David Rampton's Vladimir Nabokov in 1984, and Stephen Jan Parker's Understanding Nabokov, 1987), two detailed studies of particular novels (Priscilla Meyer's Find What the Sailor Has Hidden on Pale Fire, 1988, and Gennady Barabtarlo's Phantom of Fact on Pnin, 1989), and three thematically oriented critical studies (Leona Toker's Nabokov, The Mystery of Literary Structures, 1989, Julian Connolly's Nabokov's Early Fiction, 1992, and Gennady Barabtarlo's Aerial View, on Nabokov's art and philosophy, 1993).

In 1993 D. Barton Johnson launched NABOKV-L, the Nabokov Electronic Discussion Forum, which now (1996) has about 350 members world wide. Johnson also launched the annual journal Nabokov Studies in 1994 with Jeff Edmunds as Associate Editor. In 1996 the editorship passed to Zoran Kuzmanovich.

(Compiled by John Burt Foster, Jr. with additions by D. Barton Johnson)


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