Musical Analogies in The Defense
The Author and The Reader
Although Luzhin senior, "the writer of books," "the Luzhin who wrote books" [in case we missed it the first time], is treated with condescension, it is he who carries the theme of the relatedness of art, chess and life. Unfortunately he is a self-deceiving amateur in music and chess, and a sentimental fraud in his literary composition. He writes to the conventional requirements of his audience and is safely insulated from conflict in doing so.
But perhaps this is not the whole story: there is the "forgotten novel called Fumes" [p. 25] about which we may puzzle. In contemplating a return to writing, a planned inverse version of this novel, he is given, perhaps unconvincingly, a central Nabokovian concern: the interplay between the work of fiction as a universe unto itself and its engagement with the shared, interactive world of the author and reader. A war can not be ignored: "This amounted to a genuine violation of the writer's free will" [p. 80].
This mirrors the distinction between the Chess Problem and Chess Game suggested above. It is particularly significant that Nabokov composed elegant Chess Problems while having a disaffection for the Game. Of course this paragraph and the hateful emphasized words were chosen specifically to violate his rules! In literature, as in chess problems, Nabokov had asked that his reader forgo meta-analysis. Historically, this request, often denied, activated a formidably coercive array of commentary. 'Violation of free will' is a strong phrase, an authorial point of view sustained over a lifetime.
If the reader chooses to view Nabokov's work as less than sacred text, questions arise about how this particular author transmuted his experience into art. In the quest for better appreciation and understanding, it should be permissible to wonder if the boudoir scene between Luzhin and his mother is a parody or an acknowledgment. The character of "she" raises questions about the valences and permutations of love, use and abuse which recur in many of the following works. Perhaps such questions arose in life, in finding the workable Nabokovian balance? Should the ending of this novel be viewed as a brief episode of depressive Berlin cynicism or as consistent with an over-all optimism about man and his universe? How is it that in Nabokov's most entertaining and thoughtful works, he creates monsters with whom readers identify and then wish, mistakenly, to extend that identification to Nabokov himself? From what creative well does a Luzhin spring? How does the benign other world relate to the childhood from which adults are exiled? Like it or not, Life will intrude on these Puzzles.
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