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A notorious detractor of Finnegans Wake, Vladimir Nabokov was nevertheless persistent in referring to Joyce’s book of the night throughout his English writings. Taking up his two earliest allusions to the Wake, found in “The Vane Sisters” and Bend Sinister, this project unveils a novel conjuncture between Nabokov and Joyce in the alphabetic letter, and a peculiar poetics of graphemically oriented writing.
Beginning with a re-evaluation of Nabokov’s relationship to Finnegans Wake as one of ambivalence rather than rancor, I establish Rimbaud and Mallarmé’s interest in the letter as one literary-historical frame within which Joyce and Nabokov’s alphabetic interest may be located.
Reading “The Vane Sisters,” I orient the story’s allusion to Finnegans Wake to the letter and the alphabetic concern common to both works. À la lettre, I then work through the semiotic claims of graphically directed writing towards understanding Nabokov’s engagements with iconicity—the resemblance between signifier and signified or sign and thing. Within this intense little story, I argue that Nabokov’s engagement of an alphabetic poetic in tandem with Finnegans Wake problematizes canonic readings of the story’s as a definite enunciation of the author’s “Otherworld” qua transcendental signified.
Bend Sinister, Nabokov’s “anti-totalitarian” novel, is then treated. Departing from the strictly letteral realm, this project’s second part forwards a speculative reading of the novel in alignment with the fragmentary, anti-fascist politics of Finnegans Wake through their common valuation of linguistic materiality.
Finally, an elementary theory of alphabetic poetics is set forth.
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Szepessy, Jacob Béla, "Alphabetic Poetics: Between Joyce and Nabokov" (2021). Senior Projects Fall 2021. 10.
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