Chapter 4: The Beetle and the Butterfly: Nabokov’s Lecture on Kafka’s ‘The Metamorphosis’

in Vladimir Nabokov’s Lectures on Literature
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In his lecture on Kafka’s ‘The Metamorphosis,’ Vladimir Nabokov introduces his audience to his own views on beauty, his understanding of the relationship between reality and fantasy and his dismissal of symbolizing approaches to art in general and Kafka’s stories in particular. Commentators of Nabokov’s lecture have pointed out incongruities between these theoretical reflections and his actual reading of Kafka’s story and have accused Nabokov of a ‘lack of sensitivity’ in his discussion of crucial aspects of Kafka’s art. The contradictions in Nabokov’s lecture, the excessive quoting and paraphrasing of Kafka’s text and the narrow, radically formalist conclusion are indeed striking. However, rather than considering these aspects of Nabokov’s lecture as mere flaws, one can regard them as an effect of Nabokov’s unsettling encounter with the force of Kafka’s story.

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