Is telling one's life inventing it? Narration and subjectivity in Nabokov's autobiography

by Jacqueline Hamrit

August 16, 2013


In the wake of works by Paul Ricoeur and Gerard Genette on one hand, Jacques Derrida and Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe on the other hand, I intend to explore the notion of narrative identity -that is to say, how one constructs one's identity- in Vladimir Nabokov's autobiography. The analysis of the putting into intrigueof his subjectivity will be dealt with through the notions of time and memory, as well as narrative criteria such as the narrative voice (Ricoeur), the order of narration, its speed (Genette), its rhythm (Lacoue-Labarthe). I would like to show how telling one's life (through an autobiography or theray) can lead to the invention of a subjectivity.


Is telling the story of one's life inventing it ?

Narration and subjectivity in Vladimir Nabokov's autobiography.



When a patient tells the story of his/her life in the course of  therapy, his/her objective, according to Paul Ricœur, is to create a story which will make his/her life more intellegible and more tolerable. Ricoeur considers that « somebody's life is the story of that life, in search of narration. To understand oneself is to be able to tell about oneself stories which are at the same time intelligible and tolerable, mainly tolerable. »[1] Thus psychoanalysis underlines the role of narrative aspects in what are called case histories. When a writer takes to writing an autobiography he/she also chooses to tell his or her own life. A literary analysis may therefore be used as an instructive laboratory with a view to facilitate the comprehension of the therapeutic action. My intention here is therefore to wonder about the notion of narrative identity in a text with a hybrid status, namely Speak, Memory. An Autobiography Revisited, an autobiographical novel written by Vladimir Nabokov and published in 1967. Ricœur explains the notion of narrative identity as follows: « to tell the identity of an individual or of a community is to answer the following question 'who did this or that action' who is the agent, the author?. . . The answer can only be narrative… To answer the question 'who', that is to tell the story of a life. The narrated story corresponds to the 'who' of the action. The identity of the who is just a narrative identity. »[2]But what are we doing when we tell the story of our own life? Are we constructing it? Is it a self-construction? Or are we inventing our life? Is it instead a self-invention?


            Before answering these questions, I would like to introduce the autobiography of  Nabokov (1899-1977), a novelist, poet and translator born in Russia but who became an American citizen. As an autobiography, according to the definition given by Philippe Lejeune, it is « a retrospective prose account given by a real person about his or her own life. »[3]The author (who writes the text), the narrator (who tells the story), the character (who acts) are identical. Thus, although for Ricœur, any autobiography combines at the same time a historical aspect, based as it is on past and real facts, and a fictive dimension since it admits the part  played by imagination,  Speak, Memory constitutes , according to its author, a specific enterprise. Indeed in 1946 Nabokov wrote to an editor at  Doubleday that: « this will be a new kind of autobiography, or rather a new hybrid between  that and a novel. »[4]On April 7, 1947 he declared in a letter sent to his friend Edmund Wilson that he was busy writing « a new type of autobiography - a scientific attempt to unravel and trace back all the entangled threads of one's personality. »[5]   Nabokov's intention was therefore to question  his identity, to answer the question raised by any autobiography, namely 'who am I ?' And indeed as early as the first part of the first chapter, Nabokov tells how by exploring his childhood he reached, he said,  "the inner knowledge that I was I".[6]


            Including fifteen chapters, most of them written between 1948 and 1951, Speak, Memory was first published in 1951,in the United States under the title of Conclusive Evidence. The book was later translated into Russian and published in 1954 in the United States under the title of Drugie Berega to eventually reappear under the title of Speak, Memory. An Autobiography Revisited in 1967. Nabokov says in the preface to his autobiography: « This re-Englishing of a Russian re-version of what had been an English re-telling of Russian memories in the first place, proved to be a diabolical task. »[7] Effectively, the autobiography covers the first forty years of Nabokov's life, namely the period from his birth to his departure for the USA in 1940. It thus describes his childhood, his adolescence and the first years of his adult life. Nabokov refers to the various parts of his life in his autobiography, comparing his life to a spiral. He writes:

                         A colored spiral in a small ball of glass, this is how I see my own life. The twenty                      years I spent in my native Russia (1899-1919) take care of the thetic arc. Twenty-one                 years of voluntary exile in England, Germany and France (1919-40) supply the                                  obvious antithesis. The period spent in my adopted country (1940-60) forms a                          synthesis- and a new thesis.[8]

Resorting to the metaphor of a spiral to represent his life, Nabokov shows how there exists in his life a plan, a schema, a well-ordered structure. For Ricœur, any narrative supposes the invention of a plot which synthesizes heterogeneous elements thanks to the temporal unity of a total and complete action.


            My purpose is therefore to analyse how Nabokov put into question his own subjectivity through the notions of time, memory and the arrangement of the related facts. I will try first to show how the narrative identity is connected to self-construction.


From the first volume of Temps et récit [Time and Narrative], Ricœur considers that time becomes human when it is articulated in a narrative mode and that it is therefore through narration  that time is organized. As such narration is significant when it deals with temporal experience. As for Nabokov, he writes «  . . . the beginning of reflexive consciousness in the brain of our remotest ancestor must surely have coincided with the dawning of the sense of time. »[9] Self-awareness is, thus, for Nabokov linked from the beginning to a consciousness of time. So it is not surprising that he begins his autobiography with the story of his origins, more particularly of his birth. The first lines of the book are:

                        The cradle rocks above an abyss, and common sense tells us that our existence is but                  a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness. . . . I know, however, of a                    young chronophobiac who experienced something like panic when looking for the                  first time at homemade movies that had been taken a few weeks before his birth. He                     saw a world that was practically unchanged – the same house, the same people – and                       then realized that he did not exist there at all and that nobody mourned his absence.[10]


Nabokov here explains how he became aware of time, in his adolescent years, when he realized thanks to old films made before his birth that the world already existed before him. This awareness of time passing away is further made clear in the extract above by the opposition between the 'I' of the mature narrator (who writes in 1950, the date of the publication of that chapter) and the 'he' of the young teenager. The book thus presents through the various dates of the remembrances, the ages which punctuate his story. The past appears as a world he enters, and time is spatialized by the creation of diverse worlds such as those of childhood and adolescence. But telling the story of one's life, mainly in an autobiography, is to remember past moments. Memory therefore plays an important part in self-awareness. In his text, Nabokov  conveys to us that memory is first associated for him to the perception of the body, for, indeed, if to remember is to see, to imagine visual images it is also to hear and touch. He describes one of his childhood games which consisted in forming a narrow passage by pushing a sofa away from the wall, and  roofing it with  bolsters and closing it at both ends by a couple of cushions. He remembers :


I then had the fantastic pleasure of creeping through that pitch-dark tunnel, where I lingered a little to  listen to the singing in my ears . . . and then, in a burst of delicious panic, on rapidly thudding hands and knees I would reach the  tunnel's far      end, push its cushion away and be welcomed by a mesh of sunshine on the parquet .[11] 


The sensations of vision (the darkness in the tunnel, then the explosion of light) of hearing (the humming in his ears) of feeling (his hands and knees pounding the ground), combine to reinforce and become condensed into a remembrance which pervades the whole body. The recollection is first an image which may either look like a sudden and intermittent flash or gradually appear after a determined effort. Nabokov describes the birth of consciousness using these words :


I see the awakening of consciousness as a series of spaced flashes, with the intervals between them gradually diminishing until bright blocks of perception are formed, affording memory a slippery hold.[12]


The recollection can also suddenly appear like an echo, a musical tune. Nabokov relates how certain moments in his past make him see various objects or faces again, but how sounds, noises, voices suddenly loom up from the same past. He explains:


                                 And then, suddenly, just when the colors and outlines settle at last to their various duties – smiling, frivolous duties – some knob is touched and a torrent of sounds comes to life: voices speaking all together, a walnut cracked, the click of a nutcracker carelessly passed, thirty human hearts drowning mine with their regular beats; the sough and sigh of a thousand trees, the local concord of loud summer birds, and, beyond the river, behind the rhythmic trees, the confused and enthusiastic hullabaloo of bathing young villagers, like a background of wild applause.[13]


Recollections can also be tactile. Whereas famously for Proust, the sensation of the taste of a madeleine soaked in tea brought the recollection back to him, Nabokov relates the remembrance of the sensation he experienced when he kissed his mother's cheek through the veil adjusted on her face, or when he pressed  his lips against the fabric that veiled a windowpane in his house in Saint-Petersburg.


            But this body which can remember his past experience as if it had a new perception of the world is mortal. Indeed, any autobiography is essentially, according to Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe, « the narration of a mortal agony, literally. »[14]  Telling the story of one's life in an autobiography is to project oneself towards what Nabokov calls 'the prenatal abyss', and to  become aware that the story will end in  death - one's own death, but also the death of one's fellow creatures. In fact, death is present in the whole autobiography and from the very first lines of Speak, Memory : the pram that Nabokov briefly sees a glimpe of in one the films made before his own birth, is compared to a coffin. The same word - coffin - closes the first chapter, and this end indirectly announces the death of Nabokov's father. Likewise, the second chapter ends with the evocation of Nabokov's dead relatives. He writes:


                        Whenever in my dreams I see the dead, they always appear silent, bothered, strangely depressed, quite unlike their dear, bright selves. . . . They sit apart, frowning at the floor, as if death were a dark taint, a shameful family secret. It is certainly not then – not in dreams – but when one is wide awake, at moments of robust joy and achievement . . . that mortality has a chance to peer beyond its limits. And although nothing much can be seen through the mist, there is somehow the blissful feeling that one is looking in the right direction.[15]


In Nabokov, memory is thus of course plunged into grief but it is also cheerful, light even happy. Indeed, if memory has a strong connection with happiness, it is for two reasons. First, because Nabokov relates the happy moments of his childhood and his adolescence, and second because the recalling of these recollections makes him happy. He writes: « Nothing is sweeter or stranger than to ponder those first thrills. They belong to the harmonious world of a perfect childhood and, as such, possess a naturally plastic form in one's memory, which can be set down with hardly any effort. »[16]The  private inner world Nabokov describes when he talks of his childhood, is characterised by the pleasure derived from games, dreams, beauty and imagination. Nabokov actually was lucky enough to live a perfectly happy childhood with his father and mother whose love he relates with a sense of reserve and delicacy, without forgetting his French and English governesses as well as his Russian tutors. The love he felt for his relatives is at the heart of the various portraits of them he made with such great skill. That of his mother, for instance, radiates an atmosphere of peace, well-being and security. Those of his nurses and school masters punctuate the history of his childhood. According to him, a schema exists in the story, a particular disposition. He tells us how his father would intentionally engage tutors from various classes and races in order to expose his children to the social diversity which characterised the Russian empire. He comments on that situation as follows : « I doubt that it was a completely deliberate scheme on his part, but in looking back I find the pattern curiously clear, and the images of those tutors appear within memory's luminous disc as many magic-lantern projections. »[17] A retrospective look reveals a structure, an arrangement of various facts and actions which cluster and resemble each other thanks to the centripetal part played by memory and consciousness. Nabokov writes: « I witness with pleasure the supreme achievement of memory, which is the masterly use it makes of innate harmonies when gathering to its fold the suspended and wandering tonalities of the past. » [18]


Nabokov thus constructs his narrative identity not only from the awareness of time and the work of memory but also thanks to the way he perceives the schema constituted by all the  heterogeneous facts of the past. It is a structured and well-ordered totality. Indeed, in the preface to his autobiography, Nabokov describes his book as follows: « The present work is a systematically correlated assemblage of personal recollections. » [19] An autobiography, even if it is composed of chapters written at various dates, constitutes a whole characterized by obviously marked beginnings and ends of chapters. Ricœur recalls how for Aristotle a whole is that which has a beginning, a middle and an end. He then makes clear that « to follow a story means moving forward among contingencies and incidents, led by an expectation which meets its fulfillment in the conclusion. That conclusion puts the story to an end which in its turn brings the new point from which the story can be perceived as a whole. »[20] And there is no doubt that the way Nabokov closes his chapters and his book is significant as the end of each chapter contains a purple passage approximating to an epiphanic experience. An explosion of joy then closes the last chapter of the book when Nabokov tells how he  looked forward to the happiness his young son would experience when he caught sight of the liner which was to take them to the United States. These endings the various elements of the story to fit together following the example of the fragments of the jigsaw puzzles which Nabokov said his mother  was so keen on. He thus describes the pleasure she experienced fitting the various pieces of the puzzle into each other:


Under her expert hands, the thousand bits of a jigsaw puzzle gradually formed an English hunting scene; what had seemed to be the limb of a horse would turn out to belong to an elm and the hitherto unplaceable piece would snugly fill up a gap in the mottled background, affording one the delicate thrill of an abstract and yet tactile satisfaction. [21]


Likewise, according to Nabokov, « the following of such thematic designs through one's life should be . . . the true purpose of autobiography. »[22]An autobiography is thus much more than a simple succession of narrated events. It is a narrative construction in which actions are made intelligible by a unique consciousness which organizes the whole. The subject is developed from this full and intense awareness that Nabokov praises in the following extract : « How small the cosmos . . . , how paltry and puny in comparison to human consciousness, to a single individual recollection, and its expression in words. »[23]Likewise Nabokov experiences a real expansion of this awareness, when he starts writing, describing the phenomenon as follows: « But then, in a sense, all poetry is positional: to try to express one's position in regard to the universe embraced by consciousness, is an immemorial urge. The arms of consciousness reach out and grope, and the longer they are the better. » [24] He adds that the poet must be able to think of several things at a time. He then reaches a state close to euphoric ecstasy which he later depicts with these words : « This is ecstasy, and behind the ecstasy is something else, which is hard to explain. It is like a momentary vacuum into which rushes all that I love. A sense of oneness with sun and stone. »[25]  The  vacuum appeals, attracts and is filled with love. The subject is thus full of ecstasy and love.


            We could then conclude that, yes,  to tell the story of  one's life is to build it by controlling and mastering it. It is to fashion  one's identity and say in a self-confident voice :' that's what I have become'. In fact, psychoanalysis, Ricœur reminds us, has contested that certainty which it claims is often the effect of illusion.Nabokov tells how when he had finished writing his first poem he believed in his foolish innocence that he had done something beautiful and amazing and how in the mirror his mother handed to him, he had, he said « the shocking sensation of finding the mere dregs of my usual self, odds and ends of an evaporated identity which it took my reason quite an effort to gather again in  the glass. » [26] Nabokov experiences the diffraction of his identity, the splitting and breaking up of his subjectivity. The description of this experience begins to resonate with the one given by Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe in Le Sujet de la Philosophie, when he writes « what we are interested in. . . is . . .  what is at stake in the subject, what in the subject deserts (has always deserted) the subject itself, and which, prior to 'self-possession' (and on a mode different from that of the dispossession) is the dissolution, the defeat of the subject in the subject, or as the subject : the desconstitution of the subject or the loss of the subject. »[27]  The almighty subject loses its arrogance, as disorder appears in the core of order.

            So, if we have first seen  that narrative identity is built from the combination of facts and events which formed a coherent whole, we will secondly see  how the order of this coherence essentially revealed by the closure of the narrative is shaken by a fragmentation which destabilizes it. My purpose is therefore to show how narrative identity keeps undoing itself, initially by analysing the nature of the structure of the literary work and thenby analysing certain narrative criteria such as rhythm and the narrative voice.


            Just as the self fragments when it experiences a change, the puzzle formed by the narrative breaks up and fragments, as shown by the beginnings and ends of the chapters. Thus, the first chapter of the autobiography, dedicated to the themes of birth and death, comes to a dead end. Nabokov shows that the wish he has to throw himself back towards the time of his birth, even the time of his conception is doomed to failure and anguish. Moreover, Nabokov builds his narrative by opposing two contrary movements, as he turns continuously backwards in retrospection (towards his birth, then when he was four, next when he was subsequently sixteen, twenty, et.) and at the same time throws himself forward in an anticipatory mode, constantly playing on the knowledge he had of the facts which would occur after the various ages he evokes, zigzaging continuously along the retroactions and anticipations from various dates, thus multiplying the landmarks and viewpoints. Ricœur claimed above that the end of the narrative gave the conclusion from which a retrospective look could interpret the story in its entirety. Now, even the ends of the chapters of Nabokov’s autobiography are not totally closed because they open onto the future. Thus the last sentence of chapter ten, and in particular his statement that « my marvelous future ready to be delivered to me »[28] is  in abeyance, waiting for what will be his literary vocation. Likewise, the end of the last chapter of the autobiography opens at the beginning of a boat-trip. This structure which constantly opens the perspective and creates suspense and surprise is thwarted by another regressive movement which at the same time closes and opens  the areas of the spiral which represents Nabokov's life. He writes: « The spiral is a spiritualized circle. In the spiral form, the circle, uncoiled, unwound, has ceased to be vicious; it has been set free. » [29] It is the same for the narrative which folds or rather bends before opening and unfolding.


            This structure creates a rhythmic effect in the progress of the narrative. According to Gérard Genette, rhythm is produced by differences in speed due to the succession of the various narrative movements, mainly the summary, the pause, the scene and the ellipsis. Thus, the speed of the narrative is defined according to Genette « by the ratio between a duration, that of the story measured in seconds, minutes, hours, days, months and years and a length, that of the text measured in lines and pages. »[30] The various narrative movements are thus defined. The summary is « the narration in a few paragraphs or few pages of several days, months, or years of existence without details about actions and words ».[31] The pause is essentially descriptive whereas the scene is in most cases a focus of dramatic concentration. The ellipsis I would like to analyze concerns the way Nabokov provides the information about his father's death in the autobiography. There are four references to it  in the whole text, all of them very brief but increasingly explicit. Thus the first allusion appears indirectly and very rapidly in chapter two dedicated to his mother's portrait when he mentions the fact that his mother, exiled in Prague in 1930, was a widow. The death itself is not related, but Nabokov refers to it two paragraphs later when he states  that during the night of March 28th 1922, at 10 p.m., the telephone rang.  No explanation is then given. In chapter three, a reminder is to be found. Nabokov says his paternal grandfather died on March 28th 1904, exactly, he says, eighteen years to the day before his father. Then in chapter nine, which is dedicated to the portrait of his father he explains that he was assassinated in 1922 by « a sinister ruffian whom, during World War Two, Hitler made administrator of émigré Russian affairs. » [32] Finally, at the closure of the same chapter, Nabokov clarifies the circumstances of his father's assassination. It occurred, he says, during a lecture in Berlin when his father protected the lecturer (his old friend Milioukov) from bullets fired by two Russian fascists, and though he  knocked down one of the assassins, he was mortally shot down by the other. Thus Nabokov moves forward from the implicit to the explicit, and the oblique and fleeting allusions paradoxically show the importance he attached to his father's death. He resorts to narrative ellipsis, which allows him to refer to it in a discreet and reserved mode, and so  remain silent on the grief caused by that bereavement. Just as in therapy where the patient has to face up to real or symbolic bereavements, autobiography is confronted with the writing of death.


            The speed generated by ellipsis in the narrative creates a rhythmic effect which reinforces the rhythm resulting from the alternation between the pauses and the temporal accelerations. Thus chapter six of the autobiography is entirely dedicated to the passion Nabokov had for butterfly hunting and creates a pause which is like a spotlight revealing the interest and taste experienced by the writer for another speciality: entomology. Likewise, the writer must follow the meanderings of the genealogy of the Nabokov family during  the  chapter devoted to it. The effects of slowness created in the narrative by these pauses are perhaps unintentional on the writer's part. On the other hand, he has been perfectly successful in creating the impression of time passing by slowly, sometimes provoked by his waiting for his tutor on long crepuscular late afternoons  when he would arrive late, or when in chapter nine he recounts his reaction to  the news of his father's intention to fight a duel. In this scene he describes how he came back home from school in a hired sleigh, noting his anxiety, how he imagined the worst, and the emotion he experienced in recalling the happy moments spent with his father, before the expectation and at last the arrival at home and the denouement : he was finally informed the duel had been cancelled. Thus this succession of pauses and temporal accelerations creates a rhythmic movement which we also find, in the book in the awakening of self-awareness. According to Philippe Lacoue Labarthe, « rhythm is the condition of existence of the subject. »[33] Actually, Nabokov reveals how conscious he was of the rhythm in his body, when he relates one of his childhood games, which consisted of him climbing up the stairs with his closed eyes and letting his mother guide him and warn him of the presence of steps, telling him 'step, step, step.' He writes:


A dreamy rhythm would permeate my being. The recent 'Step, step,step,' would be taken up by a dripping faucet. And, fruitfully combining rhythmic pattern and rhythmic sound, I would unravel the labyrinthian frets on the linoleum, and find faces where a crack or a shadow afforded a point de repère for the eye.[34]


Nabokov supplies an instance of the presence of that rhythm when on chapter eleven, dedicated to the remembrances of the writing of his first poem, he describes the moment when it sprang up : « A moment later my first poem began. . . the instant it all took to happen seemed to me not so much a fraction of time as a fissure in it, a missed heartbeat, which was refunded at once by a patter of rhymes. . . »[35] The allusion to heart-beats shows the parallel that exists  between the rhythm present in any poem or text, and the rhythm of the body. The body, as the frame of the subject relives  that rhythmic movement experienced by the subject, alternating between periods of full self-awareness as in the movements of ecstasy mentioned above, and those of emptiness, destitution and decomposition. Even the world disintegrates and fragments. Nabokov writes: « To fix correctly, in terms of time, some of my childhood recollections, I have to go by comets and eclipses, as historians do when they tackle the fragments of a saga. »[36] The blanks and hollows caused by oblivion are gaps of memory. However even oblivion may be positive as the subject regenerates itself through the promise of the future.  He/she goes on speaking and writing, his/her voice can be heard.


            For Ricœur, « the narrative voice is the one which, addressing the readers, presents them the narrated world. »[37] Actually to tell the story of one's life supposes a speaker, a subject who delivers a message and an addressee, a subject who listens. The presence of some other person prevents the subject from merely developing in the idealistic and solipsist illusion of an exalted self or in the simple depression of a broken self. One must discover oneself, imagine oneself, create oneself or rather invent oneself as one alternates between the periods of full exaltation and those of emptiness, always becoming other when faced with otherness. Derrida insists on this point when he asserts: « deconstructive initiative or inventiveness can only consist in opening, enclosing, destabilizing structures of forclusion to let the other pass. But you can't invite the other, you can just let the other come and get prepared to the coming. »[38] The awareness of the other is made clear in Nabokov's autobiography when he relates the moment when, at the age of four he realized he existed. He writes: « . . . the inner knowledge that I was I and that my parents were my parents seems to have been established only later, when it was directly associated with my discovering their age in relation to mine. » [39] The awareness of his identity is the result of his awareness of the difference of ages, of the relation existing in reality between him and his parents. It is therefore when he discovers the other, when he becomes aware of difference and otherness, that Nabokov can first identify himself  and then become singular. Derrida, however, explains « The other calls to be invited and that's possible only if there are several voices. »[40] That polyphony of voices Mikhail Bakhtine alludes to in his work is obvious in Nabokov's autobiography for we can certainly hear the voice of the writer who does not hesitate to use the "I" of the first person singular, but we can also hear the voice of his mother who  used to read him English books before he went to bed and the voices of the other characters in the book, including the voice of his French governess, Mademoiselle O, who used to read certain  classical passages to him from  French literature. When the author tells us his moments of happiness, he also arouses recollections in the reader or sometimes a feeling of repulsion. The reader will either identify with the author and experience a feeling of sympathy, or resist and refuse identification. But in either case writer and reader meet, whether in harmony or in conflict. Even if Nabokov addresses his autobiography to his wife when in the text he says 'you', he addresses the reader too. Genette explains: "The real author of the narrative is not only the one who tells the story but also and sometimes much more, the one who listens, and who is not necessarily the addressee. There are always people nearby.  »[41]As in therapy, interpretation is generally played out with two actors in literature, where the confrontation between the author and the reader allows subjectivity to make  a new start. For sometimes it is necessary to fantasize, to dream one's life, to project one's self towards the future. To narrate one's life certainly allows one to understand it, to interpret it, but one can also invent one's life to come. The point is not to invent a life for oneself in the sense that  one makes it a false identity, a false past. The question is to invent one's life by transforming it, as one transforms for instance, recollection into something which resembles a work of art even if imagination has a role to play. One can also invent one's life by making it a work of art, by signing it, as Jean-François Lyotard did in his biography of André Malraux which  he dedicated to him and gave it the title  Signé Malraux.(SignedMalraux)


[1]    « Une vie, c'est l'histoire de cette vie, en quête de narration. Se comprendre soi-même, c'est être capable de raconter sur soi-même des histoires à la fois intelligibles et acceptables, surtout acceptables. » quoted by Olivier Mongin in Paul Ricoeur (Paris: Seuil, 1994)130.

[2]    « Dire l'identité d'un individu ou d'une communauté, c'est répondre à la question: qui a fait telle action? Qui en est l'agent, l'auteur? . . . La réponse ne peut être que narrative. Répondre à la question 'qui?'. . . c'est raconter l'histoire d'une vie. L'histoire racontée dit le qui de l'action. L'identité du qui n'est donc elle-même qu'une identité narrative. »  Paul Ricoeur, Temps et récit III.Le Temps raconté (Paris: Seuil, 1985) 355.

[3]    « un récit rétrospectif en prose qu'une personne réelle fait de sa propre vie. »  Philippe Lejeune, Le Pacte autobiographique (Paris: Seuil, 1975) 14.

[4]    Vladimir Nabokov, Selected Letters 1940-1977, ed. Dmitri Nabokov and Mathew J. Bruccoli 1989 (New York: Vintage, 1991)111.

[5]    Vladimir Nabokov, The Nabokov-Wilson Letters, ed. Simon Karlinski 1979 (New York: Harper Colophon Books, 1980)188.

[6]    Vladimir Nabokov, Speak, Memory. An autobiography Revisited 1967 (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1969) 18.

[7]    Nabokov, Speak, Memory 10.

[8]    Nabokov, Speak, Memory 211.

[9]    Nabokov, Speak, Memory 18.

[10]  Nabokov, Speak, Memory 17.

[11]  Nabokov, Speak, Memory 20.

[12]  Nabokov, Speak Memory 18.

[13]  Nabokov, Speak, Memory 134.

[14]  My translation of « le récit d'une agonie, littéralement » by Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe, Le Sujet de la philosophie. Typographies (Paris: Aubier-Flammarion, 1979) 266.

[15]  Nabokov, Speak, Memory 41.

[16]  Nabokov, Speak, Memory 21

[17]  Nabokov, Speak, Memory 120

[18]  Nabokov, Speak, Memory 134.

[19]  Nabokov, Speak, Memory 7.

[20]   «Suivre une histoire, c'est avancer au milieu de contingences et de péripéties sous la conduite d'une attente qui trouve son accomplissement dans la conclusion. Cette conclusion . . . donne à l'histoire un 'point final', lequel, à son tour, fournit le point de vue d'où l'histoire peut être aperçue comme un tout, »  Paul Ricoeur, Temps et récit I (Paris: Seuil, 1994) 104.

[21]  Nabokov, Speak, Memory 35.

[22]  Nabokov, Speak, Memory 23.

[23]  Nabokov, Speak, Memory 21.

[24]  Nabokov, Speak, Memory 169.

[25]  Nabokov, Speak, Memory 109-10.

[26]  Nabokov, Speak, Memory 176.

[27]            «  ce qui nous intéresse ici . . . serait . . .ce qui est en jeu dans le sujet, . . . ce qui, dans le sujet, déserte (a toujours déserté) le sujet lui-même et qui, antérieurement à toute 'possession de soi' (et sur un autre mode que celui de la dépossession), est la dissolution , la défaite du sujet dans le sujet ou comme le sujet: la (dé)constitution du sujet ou la 'perte' du sujet. . . »  Lacoue-Labarthe, Le Sujet de la philosophie 151.

[28]  Nabokov, Speak, Memory 166.

[29]  Nabokov, Speak, Memory 211.

[30]           : « par le rapport entre une durée, celle de l'histoire, mesurée en secondes, minutes, heures, jours, mois et années, et une longueur, celle du texte, mesurée en lignes et en pages, » Gérard Genette in Figures III (Paris; Seuil, 1972) 123.

[31]           : « la narration en quelques paragraphes ou quelques pages de plusieurs journées, mois ou années  d' existence, sans détails d'actions ou de paroles, »  Genette, FiguresIII 130.

[32]  Nabokov, Speak, Memory 138.

[33]            «  le rythme serait la condition de possibilité du sujet., » Lacoue-Labarthe   Le Sujet de la philosophie 285.

[34]  Nabokov, Speak,Memory 68.

[35]  Nabokov, Speak, Memory 168.

[36]  Nabokov, Speak, Memory 22.

[37]   « la voix narrative est celle qui, s'adressant au lecteur, lui présente le monde raconté. » Paul Ricoeur  Temps et récit II. La Configuration du temps dans le récit de fiction (Paris: Seuil, 1984) 131.

[38]   « . . . l'initiative ou l'inventivité déconstructive ne peuvent consister qu'à ouvrir, déclôturer, déstabiliser des structures de forclusion pour laisser le passage à l'autre. Mais on ne fait pas venir l'autre, on le laisse venir en se préparant à sa venue. » Jacques Derrida Psyché. Inventions de l'autre (Paris: Galilée, 1987) 60.

[39]  Nabokov, Speak, Memory 11.

[40]   « L'autre appelle à venir et cela n'arrive qu'à plusieurs voix. »  Derrida  Psyché. Inventions de l'autre 61.

[41]            «  Le véritable auteur du récit n'est pas seulement celui qui le raconte, mais aussi et parfois davantage, celui qui l'écoute, et qui n'est pas nécessairement celui à qui on s'adresse: il y a toujours du monde  à côté. » Genette Figures III 267.

To cite this article, use this bibliographical entry: Jacqueline Hamrit "Is telling one's life inventing it? Narration and subjectivity in Nabokov's autobiography". PSYART: A Hyperlink Journal for the Psychological Study of the Arts. December 15, 2009. Available August 16, 2013 [or whatever date you accessed the article].
Received: November 20, 2012, Published: August 16, 2013. Copyright © 2013 Jacqueline Hamrit