Vladimir Nabokov and Arthur Schopenhauer

Savely Senderovich, Cornell University, and Yelena Shvarts, Independent Scholar

Arthur Schopenhouer was a major philosophical influence in Russian culture of the second half of the nineteenth century (esp. Tjutchev, Turgenev, Fet, L. Tolstoj), but his major impact can be seen in the beginning of the twentieth century, with the Symbolists and more widely with the artists of avant-garde. While his importance in the nineteenth century has been more or less studied, early twentieth century remains in this regard little illuminated. But the reliance of the next generation of Russian writers on Schopenhauer's philosophy hardly has been touched on. Vladimir Nabokov is a case in point.

Brought up in the atmosphere of the Silver Age of Russian culture, Vladimir Nabokov fully absorbed it, and his own art is permeated by it in the most profound way. The Silver Age was centered on the avant-garde theater, the theory of which was largely based on Schopenhauer's conception of the world as will and representation. The main metaphor used by the philosopher for the representation of his world was theater which made his philosophy a splendid tool for treating theater as the most important phenomenon in the world. Vjach. Ivanov, Sologub, Blok, Mejerxol'd and Evreinov used it just in this sense. Nabokov conceptualized the avant-garde theater as the phenomenal foundation of his novelistic world. A number of our papers have been dedicated to the illumination of this point. This paper is intended to show that Schopenhouer's philosophy became a favorite frame of reference of his intertextually oriented language.

The paper is going to analyze several passages from Nabokov's novels and demonstrate that they can be understood vis--vis corresponding passages in Schopenhauer and then explain the significance of the language of these passages for the novelist's artistic world and in the broad context of the philosopher's thought. In this light, minuscule components of Nabokov's language will become seen as indices of principal features of his world