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Objection, What subject?


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Introduction –– Elkin’s “Representation and Performance”

1To preface my lengthy discussion of the definite article which indexes the word “subject” in the title of this conference, I am going to analyze a story we heard at a conference not unlike the present one which I organized twenty years ago on a rather pompous topic, “Representation and Performance in Postmodern Fiction.” The conference brought together a number of writers (Michel Butor, William Gass, Stanley Elkin, Malcolm Bradbury, Clarence Major) and critics specialized in contemporary American fiction. The Saturday morning session was supposed to end with Stanley Elkin’s paper around noon but the previous speakers had been so voluble, or the moderators so tolerant, that it was well past noon when Stanley, dressed in baggy blue overalls and propping his clumsy and obese body with a walking-stick came up to read his piece with a big smile on his face (he had multiple sclerosis, “suffering by the miles, but dying by inches,” as he put it). We were all starving and our attention and intellect, already overtaxed by the previous papers, were wavering. Yet, when he started to read with his deep voice and elegant inflexions, lending an entrancing rhythm to his long-winded and metaphorical sentences, we soon forgot our deplorable condition as if he had suddenly injected us with fresh energy.

2His paper was humorously entitled “Representation and Performance,” no doubt as a friendly joke at my expense for choosing this topic. It started like this: “There is in literature an element of what I shall call ‘crossover’.” (Representation and Performance 181) Stanley was apparently embarking upon a critical discourse, entering what Bourdieu would have called the “cultural field,” a field we had been zealously and tediously raking since the beginning of the conference. After seemingly acknowledging himself as one of us, he went on to give a few literary examples of what he meant by “crossover” which he defined as “the lifting of one occasion to enhance another” (182). Suddenly, he shifted his attention to himself, saying that he once thought to entitle a collection of his Stanley Elkin’s Greatest Hits, taking this occasion to state, half-humorously, his ideals and desires in life: “All I ever wanted, as I tell my friends, is to be rich and famous and to live forever without pain. My title, I felt, was pure crossover ironic, not in the least cute, pure art.” (182) He was referring not only to the title of his aborted collection but of the actual paper he was reading, changing horses in mid-stream, riding his artistic hobby horse rather than our lame critical one. He was no longer one of us but above all that body of unswerving words, of signifiers, through which we had collectively become acquainted with Stanley Elkin, the writer, before actually meeting him.

3Pursuing this decentering process which kept us at bay, awaiting some reassuring closure, he then gave a first twist to his paper: “Let me tell you about the flamenco dancer” (182), using a reifying deictic which induced us, as listeners, to suspend our critical reason and to activate our imaging faculty instead. There followed a long representation of the café, of the bailora, and of the flamenco dancer rising from his chair “sausaged into his clothes […], the bulge of his genitals customized, everything, all, all bespoke, fitting his form, seamless as an apple peel,” a fabulous creature “whose body is one taut line of mood […], whose art is to defy physics” (184). In this description of the flamenco dancer, Stanley was obviously trying to project in our minds the picture of the ultimate antithesis of himself the obese cripple unable to stand on his two feet, to create an icon, his anti-ego, as it were, which, in contrast, led us to focus our attention on the tragic decrepitude of his own body. Yet, he never openly made the connection, leaving us, his audience, to sense or create the crossover effect. He was only concerned with representing the dancer, tapping all his verbal virtuosity, advising us in parenthesis on how to achieve the perfect image: “[you must come back; you must return and use everything; you must use up your material; you must move the furniture around].” (186) He was therefore doing two things at the same time, representing the flamenco dancer and showing how to properly represent him, assuming two different personas, that of the creative writer on the one hand and of the teacher of creative writing on the other, inducing us in the process to play two different roles, that of the passive reader bubbling with admiration for his artistic performance, and that of the student or prospective writer eager to learn the ropes.

4Pre-consciously or unconsciously, he was fashioning, with a body of words, the paradigmatic phallus, not as a desiring object but as the signifier of the distance between desire and its object, that is the signifier pointing towards the various effects of the signified in Lacanian terms. The flamenco dancer is consistently described as deprived of desires, “deadpan as a saint, solemn as Christ” (183), “with layers of indifference on his face like skin, like feature itself, some fierce inappetency (…), some smoky nonchalance of the out-of-love.” (184) To be honest, this was a dimension of Stanley’s performance I was not fully aware of at the time of that public reading, not only because I was yet perhaps insufficiently versed in Lacanian esotheoretics but because, having difficulties like most members in the audience to follow the drift of Stanley’s fragmented and highly metaphorical discourse, I had little mental leisure to apply to it the hermeneutic tools then at my disposal. This aspect of the text was a kind of blind spot, but I secretly sensed that the signifying process wouldn’t stop when Stanley ended his reading. In other words, borrowed from Lacan, I was not unaware of knowing that a great deal was happening between the lines, of which I had nothing to say at the time; the awareness of my lack of understanding paradoxically led me, and no doubt many others in the audience, to assume the role of the analyst or of the subject of science.

5The flamenco dancer is then described nonetheless as simulating the histrionics of desire, producing the analogue or rather the parody of an orgasm. Unexpectedly, unconventionally, the flamenco dancer starts grinning: “He is grinning; not smiling, grinning; not pleased as punch; probably not even happy, but grinning, grinning. And not just grinning, not simple human cheer or the Cheshire risibles of pleased teeth, but the original, paradigmatic, caught-out, pants down, caught-in-the-act, shit-eating smirk of grin itself!” (186) This sentence teems with sexual innuendoes but Stanley chose not to explore them This twist produces the crossover which he needed, as a writer, both to make us understand what he meant by that word and to induce us to see the scene, not simply an archetype, an indefinite flamenco dancer: “There must, that is, be a grafting of one condition upon another.” (186) And he proceeds with an extended evocation of similar crossovers in Hemingway, or Evelyn Waugh, a literary artifice which he redefines as “the queer, protuberant salience of the obliquely sighted,” or “the strange displacement of the ordinary” (188), reverting therefore to his original persona as a critic after having shown in the meantime that, as a writer, he was fully capable of achieving this kind of effect. When, during his reading, he reverted to this rôle as critic and mentor, we felt slightly let down and experienced a kind of anticlimax: Stanley was seemingly telling us that he had used the flamenco dancer simply as an exemplar, as an illustration of his theory of the crossover. Though he was erasing the comparor, the signifier, and promoting the compared, the signified, what remained prominently in our imaginations was the flamenco dancer as a signifier, and not the writing strategy this signifier was meant to illustrate. I confusedly felt, as budding analyst, that the extended literary comment amounted to a denial of what had been said, suggested, or unsaid before; Stanley was paying lip service to the topic of the conference in order, unconsciously no doubt, to cast aside the troubling signifier he had unwittingly produced in our presence.

6Hardly had I vaguely (naïvely?) glimpsed what amounted to a defense mechanism when Stanley gave another radical twist to his text, abandoning his didactic discourse once again and reverting first to an autobiographic and then to a fictional one, forcing me to renounce my analytic smugness and to resume the aesthetic stance I had adopted during his marvelous evocation of the flamenco dancer. This last section of his text begins like this: “I went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It was one of those fine, rare spring days in New York when optimism flows like an energy, when, mysteriously, there is a kind of astonishing democracy in the air, the pollen count zero and the ego and envy in abeyance, not even coveting my neighbor’s wife, not coveting at all” (188). The only connection, at first, between this section and the previous one about the flamenco dancer is precisely this total absence of desire that Stanley claimed to have experienced on that occasion: he simply felt at one with the world around him, as if participating in a communal spring ritual, exuberantly sacrificing his selfhood and merging into a collective entity, while remaining aware of the children’s awareness of him as a cripple in a wheelchair: “I wave to the toddlers in strollers. ‘Hi kids’, I say, amusing myself that I know what each is thinking, struggling to say. Not, ‘Hey look at the cripple’, but ‘Mommy, Mommy, there goes the biggest toddler in the world!’ I’m having a marvelous time, my heart in high for once.” (189)

7When Stanley reached this point in his text, we all laughed, temporarily relieved of the burden cast upon us by the tragic presence of this amiable and highly talented cripple who had antithetically portrayed himself through the description of the flamenco dancer. We had the feeling that the milk of human kindness was flowing profusely between Stanley, who was coaxing us to abandon our tragic view of him, and us, who had been switching back and forth between admiration and pity. Stanley obliquely referred to this bond through the evocation of a concert: “I don’t much care for music (…), yet whenever I go to a concert I weep. It’s the cooperation that gets me every time, that dedicated sense of the civil –– not the music but the musicians, the useless fiction of harmony they perpetuate. It is this that gets me now.” (190) In this brief note which punctuated the passage, he was naturally reverting to the present of enunciation and claiming that he felt in harmony with us as a result of his verbal performance, our laughter being as it were the equivalent of his weeping at concerts.

8But our relief was a little premature, and our sense of harmony sentimental hogwash. Immediately after this, he mentioned that his visit to the museum had happened on a Saturday, and that, after this initial moment of elation, he had suddenly noticed that the kids were perhaps not as happy as he thought: “suddenly I recognize these kids. They are Saturday’s children, and they are here by court order, by official decree, sentenced by a judge and their own mixed loyalties” (190). He had suddenly realized that these were the children of divorced parents. He was telling us, not in so many words of course because he meant to “halve the matter amicably” with us as Tristram Shandy would have put it, that he had in fact projected his sense of elation on the scene and on those children, as we tend to project our feelings and presuppositions on a text, until he realized that the scene was teeming with a multitude of individual tragedies perhaps infinitely more poignant than his own since they affected children.

9Turning away from the scene and from his own plight, he then said, still in the present tense: “And I get an idea for a short story. Perhaps it was my private joke in the wheelchair which set it off, my vision of myself as a giant toddler” (190). The protagonist, named Julian (an oblique reference to his wife mentioned earlier in the text, Joan, a wonderful lady who was present in the audience, by the way), is the son of divorced parents and is spending his Sunday with his father; except that he is thirty two, unmarried, and still lives with his mother. All the ingredients that have been stirred since the beginning of the text will enter into the composition of the story, including the flamenco dancer who will be represented by the waiter, the “man in the suit,” in the Russian Tea Room. Stanley concludes his text like this: “The story is not yet written, or even begun, but I am satisfied that it satisfies my criteria, that it has all the elements –– the shit-eating grin on the flamenco dancer’s face, the idiosyncratic, the strange, the mysterious, the queer protuberant salience of the obliquely sighted, crossover and what the periscope saw, surprise, and all the rest of these strange displacements of the ordinary.” (191)

10What persona was Stanley assuming in these concluding words? Was he simply posing as the imaginative and skilled writer showing the ropes on which he did his balancing tricks and thereby seeking to dazzle his audience, or as the teacher of creative writing giving an assignment to his students (here are the elements of the story: now write it!), or as the cripple who wished to transcend his tragic plight by means of creating an artistic artifact, or as the Lacanian subject of desire unconsciously unreeling his private chain of signifiers? He obviously meant to foreground his crippled body in his listeners’ imagination, not, however, as his substance (in Aristotelian lingo) or “esse subjective,” that which designates the existence of the thing per se as opposed to “esse objective,” that which designates the object as represented in the mind (in scholastic parlance), but as his source of inspiration, the depthless well of his images. Stanley was not raising an ontological dilemma but conscientiously and consciously giving his personal view of the topic, “Representation and Performance,” while giving a compelling example of what he meant through a poetic exploitation of his own infirmity.

I - The Implied Author Fallacy

11My purpose in analyzing this story was a playful attempt to address the topic of the present conference, “The Poetics of the Subject.” The reifying deictic (the definite article) present in this title as well as in the titles of half of the papers, raises problems in our academic debate which do not arise when it is used to promote the Bedeutung, to borrow Frege’s terminology, of the flamenco dancer: it seems to imply that the subject is a well-defined entity even in its post-Nitezschean debasement or dissolution, its destitution we would say in French. We are fully aware of the difference between the Aristotelian and the Cartesian subject, between Kant’s transcendental subject and the Lacanian subject, but we spontaneously tend to use this deictic in an attempt to get a firm hold on a signifier and a concept which elude us. It is not the referent (to use Osgood and Richards’ term) which the deictic designates of course, that is the individual, the self, but the very concept of subjecthood propounded by this or that philosophical system of which we try to be the interpreters.

12In my analysis of Stanley’s text, I have identified a number of what I called personas or masks, considering Stanley’s performance (his writing of the text plus his reading of it in that particular context) as an analogue of a theatrical performance. I do not claim for a moment, of course, that all these personas put together would constitute the subject as we are jointly trying to define it or better say to fleshit out, especially as some of them were less inherent in the author-reader than imposed on him by me as critic-listener; yet, in this capacity, I was unwittingly claiming to be the representative or interpreter of the Lacanian Other as scientific monitor of Stanley’s discourse and as such entering the field of him as subject of his unconscious. My way of incorporating his body with its infirmity in my analysis of his text was not only my personal contribution to the construction of that text but my particular response to his way of theatrecalizing himself, his self, as “giant toddler.” The personas I have been assuming in turn throughout my analysis were my personal response to Stanley’s way of artistically projecting himself in our presence as subject of his unconscious. The subject of writing is borderless and incorporates to an undecidable extent the various interepreters. To be sure, the writing and reading process are asymmetrical, but they overlap constantly in an obscure manner.

13In the last two or three generations, we have learned to do without the author’s intention or even a bookish knowledge of the biographical data about him. The only subjects we agree to take into consideration and analyze in a novel, a genre which I have always taken as my chief corpus, are the narrators, reflectors and characters, which are mere puppets reconstructed by us as fictional subjects. Through a process of identification not unlike the one exemplified in my analysis of Stanley’s text, we pick up a set or network of determinate signifiers and, playing now this part, now that other, we dilute ourselves in a fictional welter. This allows us to intensify our awareness of being here now as existential subjects on the one hand, and performers on the other. Such, in my opinion, is the goal we seek to reach when reading novels. The modern novel is not only “a small tale usually of love,” to borrow Dr Johnson’s definition, nor simply “a laboratory of discourse” as Butor claimed in reference to the Nouveau Roman, but above all, perhaps, a laboratory of subjecthood. The reader of the more elaborate novels like Pamela, Tristram Shandy, Madame Bovary, Bleak House, Ulysses, Hopscotch or Pale Fire, to name only a few, doesn’t only wish to discover a parallel world but to explore the confines of his subjecthood, his selfhood, by confronting himself with fictional subjects engaged in an endless process of assertion, denial and erasure. Even the deconstructionist and Lacanian glozes of Joyce’s analysts, the exceptional ones proposed by Jacques Aubert as privileged interlocutor of Lacan for instance, bear witness to this in my opinion.

14Bad faith, in its ethical acceptance as defined by Sartre in L’Etre et le Néant, as opposed to irony, as used by literary critics like for instance Wayne C. Booth to account for narrative distancing in a novel like A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, plays a prominent rôle in the writing and reading process as I have tried to demonstrate in Roman et censure, ou la mauvaise foi d’Eros. Neither the fiction writer nor the critic claim to be asserting truths; the propositions they set forth have no truth value, as John Searle points out. (67) Writing and reading are not genuine but tangential forms of communication. This play on language, this way of giving du jeu as we say in French to language, is a way for all the subjects involved to free themselves from the tyranny of language which assigns a rôle, a name, a responsibility to the individual; it allows us to explore and experience, playfully that is, the boundaries of subjechood.

15Let me revert to the somewhat dated discussion on the so-called implied author. Chapman, one of the best analysts of these concepts, didn’t agree with Wimsatt and Beardsley’s indictment of the pathetic fallacy and their understanding of the word intention; he preferred to speak of “intent” “to refer to a work’s ‘whole’ or ‘overall meaning, including its connotations, implications, unspoken messages. The concept of an implied author ensures against simplifying the real reader’s relations with the text” (Chapman 74). Foucault stated the problem a little differently when he claimed that the author, or rather the author’s name is “the principle of a certain unity of writing.” (151) Both Chapman and Foucault felt the need, one as critic, the other as philosopher, to posit a unifying entity, one calling it the implied author, the other the author as function to counter our fear of “the proliferation of meaning,” as Foucault put it. (159) The author they speak of is a Janus-like figure wearing the face both of the real author and of the critic, and not that of the or even a subject.

16It is the distance in spatial and temporal terms between author and reader (a distance absent during Stanley’s performance) which, combined with complex narrative strategies, confuses the enunciative situation and leads critics like Monika Fludernik and others to disqualify the author once and for all as useful anchoring of their analysis of the text. One could almost agree with Derrida who, when he denounced phonocentricism, claimed, in De la Grammatologie, that “the constituting and dislocating principle of writing is other than the subject” (100, my translation). But, as Sean Burke helplessly confesses in the conclusion of his excellent book The Death of the Author in which he analyzes Derrida’s theory, among others, the denunciation of phonocentricism, of authorial presence, doesn’t resolve the question: “As we have seen, the essential problem posed by the author is that whilst authorial subjectivity is theoretically unassimilable, it cannot be practically circumvented.” (173) This disturbingly reminds me of Saint Augustine’s candid statement about what time is in the eleventh book of his Confessions: “What, then, is time? I know well enough what it is, provided that nobody asks me.” (264) Burke’s dilemma is hardly different from that of Wayne C. Booth and Gérard Genette, or again from that of Monika Fludernik.

II - The Aesthetic Function of the Authorial Figure

17Reading a novel is a communication act of a highly complex nature: it doesn’t simply conflate oral and written communication (as we see for example in so-called free indirect style), but also involves commercial exchange through the book industry and the participation to a whole set of cultural, social, and ethical fields. The author and the reader, both love and hate each other, both passionately depend upon each other but also resent the other’s intervention, which can lead to dramatic disclosures. They are never face-to-face, except in such exceptional situations as poetry readings like the one I described earlier. The author has no other instruments at his disposal than those ciphered into his text to guide or mislead his reader, even though, at times, he may make belated attempts to put his reader on the “right” or the “wrong” track in his non-fictional, a posteriori, pronouncements. And the reader, wary of the intrinsic differences in terms of truth and sincerity between fictional and non-fictional discourse, cannot ask him any question, supposing he was in a position to do so; neither does he dare to summon biographical data, which, if they might provide a genetic explanation of the text, would not guarantee the legitimacy of one’s interpretation, if only because the author is capable of bad faith. The author puts himself in the one-up position (that of the Kantian genius), but, as he tries to indulge his desires, to gain admiration and promote the best possible image of himself (three contradictory priorities, as it were), he unmistakably feels that he is surrendering too much of himself and exposing himself to the analyses that will be proposed by his readers. The complex narrative strategies used in modernist and post-modernist fiction serve all these contradictory purposes at one and the same time: they dazzle the reader and make him wish to commune with the magician who invented them, but they also constitute shrewd denials and indirectly invite the reader to decipher the unwritten, somewhat guilty, pages of the text, and to play the part of the compassionate or complicit analyst. The reader resents as well as takes pleasure in the authorial law ciphered into the text; he would like to appropriate the literary object and use it as the lame depository of his intellectual, aesthetic or erotic desire, but he also enjoys the resistance, the pull, which comes from the absent and often dead author. It is in this complex interplay of desire, resistance, and challenge that the web of the text which Barthes writes about in The Pleasure of the Text is woven.

18Over-determination or determinacy has not sufficiently been taken into consideration in recent criticism. William Gass clamored, at the same conference as the one mentioned above, and probably in reaction to our deconstructionist posture at the time:

when readers read as if the words on the page were only fleeting visual events, and not signs to be sung inside themselves –– so that the author’s voice is stilled –– the author’s hand must reach out into the space of the page and put a print upon it that will be unmistakable, ineradicable. With lipstick, perhaps. And if, in their new-found yet unearned annoyance, the critics ululate at the death of the author –– one more god gone –– we shall merely remind them that we were never myths, rode our lovers to death long since, and before they drew breath, and shall henceforth create texts so intelligent they will read themselves. (41)

19It is probably true that many of the hermeneutic grids applied in the last century to the literary text have tended to ignore or play down the elements of over-determination present in it. At the same time, new sciences, like linguistics and genetics, have been developed which clearly help to have a better appreciation of these elements, that is a better understanding of the real authors’ choices. And the living authors have been increasingly called upon to teach creative writing in universities (except in France, by the way), that is to show budding writers some of their artistic ropes, as Stanley does in the text analyzed earlier. One could say that creative writing is largely the antidote to literary criticism as practiced in the last generations: it reintroduces a dimension absent from such critical discourses, namely the aesthetic one which Henry James kept insisting upon in his articles and introductions.

20Once this dimension is introduced, one cannot help making reference to the prime enunciator, as Genette, interpreting Danto, explained recently in La relation esthétique which I am going to summarize briefly. Genette first tries to define aesthetic attention which consists in considering this or that object natural or artifactual, not in terms of the practical or functional usage it may have in the real world but for its intrinsic beauty (a beautiful landscape or a ready-made à la Duchamp, as opposed to a poem by Rimbaud). Then he defines aesthetic appreciation and the criteria taken into account in aesthetic judgments. Here is, perhaps, the key passage: “For an object to be considered as a work of art, it is both necessary and sufficient that such an object (or, more literally, that a producer, through that object) aspire, exclusively or among other things, to such an aesthetic appreciation, preferably a favorable one.”(137) In the third part entitled “The artistic Function,” Genette attempts to define what constitutes a work of art. Turning away from Beardsley’s rejection of the intentional fallacy, he shows how important it is that an aesthetic intention be presupposed for an object (say a sculpture in the shape of a rock, as opposed to an actual rock found in nature) to be acknowledged as an artistic object liable to be submitted to an aesthetic judgment or appreciation: “the type of aesthetic attention which confers the status of a work of art consists precisely in the ascription of an aesthetic intention to the producer of the object: just as an object is for me an aesthetic object when and only when I develop with it a relationship of an aesthetic type, it is for me a work of art only when, rightly or wrongly, I refer this relationship to an authorial intention.” (172)

21In his definition of taste, Kant did not make of the “ascription of aesthetic intention” a requirement: “Taste is the faculty of passing judgment on and appreciating an object or a mode of representation through pleasure or displeasure, independently of any interest. One calls beautiful the object that generates such pleasure” (139, my translation).The pleasure he talks about is of a highly intellectual nature, divorced from man’s most passionate desires, as his emphasis on disinterestedness implies. Nietzsche strongly reacted against such a view of a dispassionate and reasonable taster or spectator: “If only the philosophers of the beautiful had known this ‘spectator’ intimately enough! That is as a great reality, a great personal experience, as a plenum of events, desires, surprises, rapture, intense and peculiar in the aesthetic domain!” (120) The word “desire” present in this passage shows that, in Nietzsche’s opinion, aesthetic and artistic appreciation is not the philosopher’s private domain. He makes the distinction between aesthetic theory as promoted by Kant, and the aesthetic experience as sampled by a given desiring subject.

22I consider the authorial figure as the foundation of a critical system in which the critic seeks to identify the elements of over-determination in the text, to defeat its network of resistance and denial, in an attempt to develop an aesthetic relationship with the object standing here and now for the absent author, reconstructed as figure, as prime enunciator. The text as hyphos, as a web of sense, results, as effect, from the conflicting desires of the two subjects involved in the literary process, the individual reader (no doubt nurtured upon numberless sciences and hermeneutics) and the real author (bred upon what Bourdieu calls cultural fields). The aesthetic function of criticism, which entails a quest for textual over-determination and a recognition of what Foucault calls “the author function,” guarantees the critic against identifying his interpretation of the text with the text itself. It conflates the formalist and hermeneutic functions of criticism with the pragmatic one which involves the individual reader’s taste and desires.


23To conclude, allow me to pay tribute to my mentors whose names, I think, will show you the founding principles of my discourse. The first one, chronologically, was Roland Barthes who, after proclaiming the death of the author in 1968 promoted the figure of the author in 1973: he is the one who taught me the importance of the formalist approach. The second one was Vladimir Nabokov, a challenging author to whom I have devoted many years of my academic life and a number of books: it is through my confrontation with his highly sophisticated novels, as lately when I translated Lolita into French, that I developed my aesthetic awareness. The third one was of course Lacan with whom I flirted for much of my career without striking a strong relationship with him until I finally wrote a book entitled: The Cruelty of Desire: a Psychoanalytical Reading of Nabokov: his theory of the subject of desire has allowed me to make more sense of what I was trying to say in La Figure de l’auteur. But it is perhaps above all my lasting, and yet not totally fulfilled, desire to be myself an author which induced me to sound the depth of authorhood.

24I will conclude with an anecdote about yet another conference like the present one. It won’t reflect too favorably on me as a literary critic and theoretician, I am afraid, stamping me as an inveterate blunderer. In 1992, I organized a conference on Nabokov to which I invited the most prominent specialists of this author. Dmitri Nabokov, the author’s son, hearing about this, got in touch with me through Gallimard asking if he could come. I knew from various sources that he could be a nuisance on such occasions, so I was not too anxious to have him. As I had made no effort to meet Nabokov himself when he was alive, though I lived only a hundred miles from him for a while, I saw no reason for meeting his son. Yet, I sent Dmitri a clumsy invitation which contained the following sentence suggesting that he might not choose to stay with us the whole time: “We would be pleased for you to make an apparition,” a word which in English can mean both appearance and apparition. My unconscious was unfortunately more devious than my verbal mastery: I addressed the fax not to Dmitri but to Vladimir Nabokov who had been resting in his grave in Montreux for over fifteen years, as if I were challenging him, the Commander, to appear in person at the conference, a clear sign that “je n’avais jamais fait mon deuil de l’auteur,” which can tentatively and unsatisfactorily be translated as “I had never kissed the author goodbye.”

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Maurice COUTURIER, « Objection, What subject? », E-rea [En ligne], 2.2 | 2004, mis en ligne le 15 octobre 2004, consulté le 27 mars 2017. URL : ; DOI : 10.4000/erea.428

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Maurice Couturier, professeur émérite, a enseigné la littérature anglaise et américaine contemporaine dans plusieurs universités françaises et américaines. Critique littéraire, spécialiste de Nabokov, il a publié de nombreux essais dont Textual Communication, Nabokov ou la tyrannie de l'auteur, La Figure de l'auteur, Roman et censure ou la mauvaise foi d'Eros, et Nabokov ou la cruauté du désir. Il a Ègalement traduit de nombreux romans, dont Lolita, et dirige la Pléiade Nabokov

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