Looking forward to Nostalgia?

Retrospection Anticipated in Nabokov's Short Stories



José Ángel García Landa

Universidad de Zaragoza, 2004-

(Paper in progress)


This paper will be part of a wider exploration of the retroactive dynamics of representation in narrative, a topic which has far-reaching implications for the study of the structure of narratives (temporal structure, point of view, closure, etc.) as well as for the narrative structuration of reality. "Anticipated retrospection", a notion first used in the study of plot dynamics by Peter Brook, is a temporal figure which invites further theoretical development using the concept of the hermeneutic circle, especially in its recent formulations in the work of Gadamer and Ricoeur. It can also be further grounded and its implications expanded with reference to the analysis of "backshadowing" and "sideshadowing" in narrative as developed by Gary Saul Morson and Michael André Bernstein. The concept of "anticipated retrospection" will also benefit from the many recent contributions to the topic of the 'hindsight bias' in the field of the theory of action. Such will be the guidelines for the theoretical underpinning of the paper. This analysis will be developed with reference to Vladimir Nabokov's poetics of prose. The peculiar mode of temporal experience described in the paper, anticipated retrospection, was explored by Vladimir Nabokov in a variety of contexts, most prominently in his short fiction. Nabokov conceived of anticipated retrospection as a deliberate experiment in the narrativization of reality, in order to counter and deconstruct the compulsion to nostalgia which was pervasive among the émigré Russian circles after the Revolution. This mode of temporal representation is thus associated in Nabokov to the experience of emigration and its consequences for a sense of personal identity. The paper will focus on the stories "A Guide to Berlin," and "Time and Ebb", although some links will be drawn to Nabokov's longer works, especially to his autobiography Speak, Memory, to his English novels, and to the use of this temporal figure by other Modernist writers (notably Proust).