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READING AND WRITING IN NABOKOVS INVITATION TO A BEHEADING BY LILY CARBONE A Thesis Submitted to the Division of Humanities New College of Florida in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree Bachelor of Arts Under the sponsorship of Dr. Alina Wyman Sarasota, Florida May, 2013
ii Acknowledgements I would like to thank my thesis sponsor, Dr. Alina Wyman, for deepening my understanding of Nabokov, patiently supporting me throughout the writing process, and encouraging me to stay true to my artistic sense. It has truly been a greatprivilege working with you. I would also like to thank the other members of my committee, Dr. Jos Alberto Portugal and Dr. Glenn Cuomo, for being my readers. As Cincinnatus put it, without a readerI might as well tear it all up. Finally, I would liketo thank my family and friendsespecially my beautiful sister, Mia Rosefor listening to my woes and offering their unceasing encouragement and support. I love you so.
iii Table of Contents Acknowledgements ii Abstract iv Introduction 1 Chapter One: The Gaze of a Predatory Eye: Reading and Writing in Invitation to a Beheading5 Chapter Two: Inspiring the Meaningless with Meaning: The Role of Reader in Invitation to a Beheading24 Chapter Three: With the Ear of a Different World: Cincinnatuss Writing in Invitation to a Beheading39 Conclusion 55 Bibliography 57
iv READING AND WRITING IN NABOKOVS INVITATION TO A BEHEADING Lily Carbone New College of Florida, 2013 ABSTRACT This thesis explores the role of reading and writing in Vladimir Nabokovs novel Invitation to a Beheading. I argue that these two activities allow Cincinnatus C., the novels protagonist, to temporarily escape his imprisoning world by granting him the opportunity to utilize his imagination, and function as a link between the worlds of author, reader, and protagonist. The first chapter highlights the interconnectedness of reading and writing inthis novelthrough a close examination of the framed novel Quercus The second chapter focuses exclusively on the role of reading in Invitation addressing the question: what does it mean to be a reader in and of this novel? Reading is a necessarily active process for Cincinnatus and the readers of Invitation ; it is thelinking together of separate entities such as words, pictures, and chapters. While this activity offers Cincinnatus the hope of connecting to a separate realm, I argue that it is not a permanent escape from the fictional world he has been inserted in. The final chapter addresses how Cincinnatuss writing overcomes the shortcomings of his reading. I elucidate how writing allows this opaque protagonist to create something akin to himself and, ultimately, form a connection with his author, Nabokov. Dr. Alina Wyman Division of Humanities
1 Introduction Vladimir Nabokov wrote Invitation to a Beheading, a novel originally drafted in Russian in 1934 and later translated into English in 1959 by his son Dmitri Nabokov, in one fortnight of wonderful excitement and sustained inspiration (Strong Opinions68). Invitation isNabokovs most esteemed creation (although Lolita is his favorite), and exemplifies his interest in the way an artist interacts with his surroundings, a question that never lost its relevance for Nabokov throughout his longcareer.1 Cincinnatus C., the novels protagonist, is both an astute readerwhat Nabokov might call an artist-reader (Lectures on Literature4)as well as a poet. He occupies a peculiar place within his respective world, being the only person who is alive and real ( Invitation 70) in a realm that is otherwise filled with dummies (142). As the narrator observes: Cincinnatus is the lone dark obstacle in this world of souls transparent to one another (24). It is exactly for his conspicuous relationshipto his surroundings, his inability to fully integrate himself into them, that Cincinnatus has been accused of the most terrible of crimes, gnostical turpitude, so rare and so unutterable that it was necessary to use circumlocations like impenetrability, opacity, occlusion [and] sentenced for that crime to death by beheading (73). Each of the twenty slim chapters of Invitation represents one of the final days leading up to Cincinnatuss execution and depicts the ways in which this artist attempts torespond to the hostile environment of his 1 Many of Nabokovs novels and short stories center around the lives of artists, often writers, and highlight the ways in which these artists perceive, interpret, and respond to the worlds encompassing them.
2 imprisoning fortress. We find that Cincinnatuss gradual liberation is achieved through the process of reading and writing, two activities that allow the prisoner to make use of his criminal (33) imagination. Because Invitation depicts a totalitarian society and was written in the midst of Stalin and Hitlers grim regimes, many scholars view this novel as a political allegory opposing dictatorial rule. Yet, as one scholar points out, if we view Invitation as a political allegory, we have to invent a Nabokov who can make light of totalitarian threats by suggesting that the acts of individual imaginative noncompliance and transcendence can dismantle them (Peterson 826). Nabokov himself makes clear his opinion on the matter in the foreword of the English translation: I composed the Russian original exactly a quarter of a century ago in Berlin, some fifteen years after escaping from the Bolshevist regime, and just before the Nazi regime reached its full volume of welcome. The question whether or not my seeing both in terms of one dull beastly farce had any effect on this book, should concern the good reader as little as it does me. ( Invitation 5) How then are we to view Invitation? In his essay entitled Good Readers and Good Writers, Nabokov beckons us to view each of his works as an entirely new world: We should always remember that the work of art is invariably the creation of a new world, so that the first thing we should do is to study that new world as closely as possible, approaching it as something brand new, having no obvious connection to the worlds we already know (Lectures on Literature1). This thesis approaches the world presented in Invitation as an entirely new realm. I try, as Nabokov beckons, to caress the
3 detail, the divine detail (Lectures on Literature1) of this novel in hopes of illuminating its peculiar world. Details in the world of Invitation can be fickle; in entering this novel, we enter an overtly fictional world where everything is subject to question and change. For example, we learn that the table that shrieked with rage (28) across the floor in one scene has actually been bolted down for ages (30). In another instance, we find that a frock coat, which the lawyer soils by leaning against chalk, is actually worn by the prison director (43-44). Indeed, Invitation encompasses a world that is so inconsistent and overtly fabricated, that even the weather is staged and characters seem to rather frankly consult a scroll-like crib (152) in hopes of remembering their lines, etc. We are left to wonder whether incongruous details are oversights on the part of the narrator or Cincinnatuss jailers, or whether they speak to a higher truth about the world of Invitation a world, as Cincinnatus puts it, which seems not a bad example of amateur craftsmanship (91). We, along with the prisoner, must ask: is there in this world, can there be, any kind of security at all, any pledge of anything, or is the very idea of guarantee unknown here (70)? One thing remains consistent throughout the novel: Cincinnatuss desire to read and write. While this artist is the only character in his respective world that is truly alive and real (70), we find that the acts of reading and writing connect him tobeings akin to him (223): his author and the readers of Invitation In reading this novel, we, like Cincinnatus, are confronted with the horrors of an overtly fictional world and, because of this, we are beckoned to come to terms with our own beheading.Every act of reading is, after all, a beheading of sorts; our bodies remain in one realm while our minds enter
4 another. Cincinnatus attempts, through reading, to escape the totalitarian realm imprisoning him by entering a new one (such as the one contained in the novel Quercus) Through writing, the prisoner attempts to move away from his approaching death and link himself to the world from which he originatedthe world of his author. While reading Invitation we must take solace in the fact that at leastI shall test for myself all the insubstantiality of this world of yours (70). This thesis explores the role of reading and writing in Nabokovs Invitation to a Beheading The first chapter serves as an introduction to these two activities, highlighting their interconnectedness in this work through a close examination of the framed novel Quercus ; I will show how both reading and writing offer Cincinnatus a temporary escape from the imprisoning walls of the fortress, and function as a link between the worlds of author, reader, and protagonist. The second chapter focuses exclusively on the role of reading in Invitation addressing the question: what does it mean to be a reader in and of this novel? In this chapter, I will show how reading is necessarily an active process for Cincinnatus and ourselves; it is the linking of separate entities such as words, pictures, and chaptersa task, as we shall see, which harbors a lot of potential, but ultimately falls short of rescuing Cincinnatus from the fictional worldhe has been inserted in. The third chapter focuses on the role of writing in Invitation In this chapter, I will address how Cincinnatuss writing overcomes the shortcomings of his reading by not only granting him the opportunity to create something alive (92) but also by connecting him with beings akin to him (223): his author and the readers of Invitation
5 The Gaze of a Predatory Eye: Reading and Writing in Invitation to a Beheading While many of his novels and short stories center around the lives of artists often writersNabokov rarely endows his characters with great talent, let alone artistic gifts equal to his own. Cincinnatus C., the protagonist and prisoner of his most esteemed novel, Invitation to a Beheading, is an exception. We findover the course of twenty slim chaptersthe final twenty days of Cincinnatuss lifethat this prisoner, a man sentenced to death for the crime of being opaque in a world of souls transparent to one another ( Invitation 24), is both a capable reader and talented writer. Indeed, reading and writing prove to be Cincinnatuss activities of choice as he waits to done the red top hat and leave behind the totalitarian world that has imprisoned him for so long. Significantly, these two activities remain a constant occupation for the prisoner in the transparent and overtly fictional world of Invitation a world where everything seems to be subject to question and change. This chapter explores the role of reading and writing in this novel, especially with regard to Nabokovs most talented protagonist, Cincinnatus C. By offering a close reading of the framed novel Quercus I will show how these two activities are intimately connected for both the prisoner as well as the reader of this novel. The acts of reading and writing function as a means for Cincinnatus to temporarily escape the totalitarian world encompassing him and link his world to our own. As one scholar has observed: Many of [Nabokovs] more substantially drawn charactersoften seem to labor under the same recursive burden in the narratives they
6 inhabit. Like their author, the lucid lovers seek just such an exist, seek to tear a hole in the fabric of time and escape to some contiguous realm (Kuzmanovich 24). For Cincinnatus, the act of reading inspires hope that he may escape from the slippery realm that surrounds himto read a novel, after all, is to imagine, and thereby to enter, another world. Cincinnatus devotes much of his time in the fortress to imagining the world contained within a novel. Quercus is the biography of [an] oak (Invitation 122) that is surrounded by shadows of fleeting characters; it is a story that aptly mirrors Cincinnatuss own position within Invitation to a Beheading. Because the oak tree and Cincinnatus share the trait of being solid forms in an ephemeral world, and because this is the only novel we encounter within the pages of Invitation we must hold Quercus in a special place and use it as a tool in our endeavor to understand the role of reading and writing in Invitation to a Beheading By the time we are introduced to Quercus we are aware that Cincinnatus spends a good deal of his time in the fortress reading; we have observed him rummaging through the pages of the daily paper, contemplating the scattered writings on the walls and reading the list of prison rules posted beside his cell door. Cincinnatuss eagerness to obtain books from the prison library is sparked by what the act of reading allows him to do: the process of reading temporarily allows the prisoner to defendhimself against his surroundings, including the eyes that always seem to prey upon him. The narrator observes: Cincinnatus would become aware of the predatory eye in the peephole following him and lie down or sit at a table and open a book (122). Dale Peterson aptly points out in his article Nabokovs Invitation: Literature as Execution that, for Nabokov, the observer of character is always in essence a predator who needs to expose
7 the vital parts of the maddeningly elusive, opaque prey (Peterson 831). Thus, this predatory eye following him (Invitation 122), this observer through the peephole (20), is not only the transparent characters who imprison Cincinnatus, but also us, the readers of Invitation The process of reading a book allows Cincinnatus to take on the role of observer rather than observed,2 and grants him the opportunity to make use of his imagination, the very thing Cincinnatus claims to be his savior (114). We should consequently view the prisoners time with Quercus as one of his attempts to flee from his physical surroundingsfrom the eyes of those who imprison him as well as the eyes of those who read Invitation by way of imagining a world other than his own. Imagination is a vital force in this novel; nearly all of the prisoners temporary escapes from the walls of the fortress and, consequently, almost all of the glimpses we are offered of the realm beyond the small world of the stone cell (65), are by way of Cincinnatuss imagination. This is observed as early as the first chapterCincinnatuss first day in confinementwhen he seems to effortlessly walk out his jail, down the steep slope of the mountain upon which the fortress dwells, and through the streets of his familiar town. Just as he opens the door to his home, however, he steps back into his cell and we learn that the entire outing was an act of his imagination. He turned around, but already he was locked in. O horrible! (20). Indeed, we find that Cincinnatuss imaginative wanderings are repeatedly interwoven into the novels narrative, a clear example of which occurs again in the sixth chapter. Here, the narrator relinquishes his own point of view for that of Cincinnatus: 2 Seeing and being seen is a constant theme in Nabokovs works, including some of his earliest novels: Mary The Eye and Despair A question arises: when someone is undertaking the predatory role of observer, are they also being observed?
8 Cincinnatus C. felt a fierce longing for freedom, the most ordinary, physical, physically feasiblyfreedom, and instantly he imagined, with such sensuous clarity as though it all was a fluctuating corona emanating from him, the town beyond the shallowed river, the town, from every point of which one could seenow in this vista, now in that, now in crayon, and now in inkthe tall fortress within which he was  Marthe, eyes lowered, is walking with an empty basket from the house along the blue sidewalk, followed at a distance of three paces by a darkmustachioed young blade; the electric wagonets in theshape of swans or gondolas, where you sit as in a carrousel cradle, keep gliding in an endless stream along the boulevard  the smell of lindens, of carburine and of damp gravel is in the air  Marthe, her eyes lowered, is walking homeward with a fullbasket, followed at a distance of three paces by a fair-haired fopThese are the things Cincinnatus saw and heard through the walls as the clock struck  but then the clock finished ringing, the imaginary sky grew overcast, and the jail was back in force. (73-75) Cincinnatuss imagination is so powerful, vivid, and somehow real, that its wanderings do not only become interwoven with the novels narrative, but the very world imprisoning Cincinnatus seems to rely on his active participation, his belief in its existence with the eyes of habitual imagination (129). Forexample, once Cincinnatus no longer uses that false logic of things that had gradually developed around him (213) and resists arguing with a hallucination (213), the fortress falls apart.So too at the novels end do we find that the prisoners surroundings crumble once he questions his own participation in his execution: Why am I here? Why am I lying like this? (222).
9 The prisoners imagination, an unequivocally powerful force in this fictional world, is indeed a criminal matter; his jailers expressly forbid him from even dreaming of such things that are not in accordance with the law (49). We are invited to wonder whether the world of Invitation to a Beheadingis just as dependent on Cincinnatuss imagination as it is on our own. Whatever the case, we must view the act of reading as a means for the prisoner to utilize his powerful imagination and, in so doing, to take on the role of observer rather than observed. We are introduced to Quercus moments after Cincinnatus senses his observers, those predatory eyes following him through the cell peephole. The narrator notes: The novel was the famous Quercus and Cincinnatus had already read a good third of it, or about a thousand pages (122).With this, we are offered a few key pieces of information. First, Quercus is well known among the inhabitants of the transparent world. And we will learn that this work was unquestionably the best that his age had produced (123). This is to say, Quercus is by no means a good book. Rather, it is reflective of the transparent world that produced it, a world, as Cincinnatus puts it, which seems not a bad example of amateur craftsmanship... (91). Second, Quercus is a long novel, roughly three thousand pages in length; we find that the prisoner, being about a thousand pages into the book, has already devoted a fair amount of time to reading it. Indeed,this is the book that Cincinnatus spends the most time with during his imprisonment; this is the fictional world that he inhabits the most, save the one imprisoning him. While we cannot say Quercus is a work of high artistic caliber, we can say that all books in this novel possess a certain amount of credibility. In the world of Invitation books are always bound in black (32, 54, 67, 122), a fact that speaks to their inherent
10 opacity and to the kinship they possess with their pitch-black reader, Cincinnatus, a man who appears as though he had been cut out of a cord-size block of night (25). Not surprisingly, many of the transparent characters surrounding him, especially Rodion, the jailor, flout the prisoners predisposition toward reading. (Books Rodion scoffed huffily and locked the door behind him (48).) Books, which possess the criminal quality of being black in an otherwise transparent world, are indeed more human than the prisoners jailers. It seemed to Cincinnatus that, with the book dust, a film of something remotely human had settled on the librarian (178). In opening a book, even one created within the confines of this transparent world, Cincinnatus is able to enter a realm that is more human and opaque, a realm that is more conducive to the criminal exercise (33) of using his imagination. After reading an ancient magazine, he reflects: With this weighty volume I went down, you know, as with a ballast, to the bottom of time. An enchanting sensation (54). In his attempt to flee from the predatory eyes surrounding him by way of the novel Quercus the prisoner does not only temporarily escape his jailers, who in fact were everyone (73), but also becomes an eye of sorts. He, like his reader, becomes an onlooker, an observer of a character not unlike himself. Its protagonist was an oak. The novel was a biography of that oak (122). BothCincinnatus and the oak tree are the protagonists of their respective novels and, as such, the novels are concerned with the events surrounding these characters. Because Invitation does not begin at Cincinnatus birth, we may not, at first, consider it a biography. However, the reader does come to learn the progression of Cincinnatuss life: we learn of the circumstances surrounding his birth, his childhood at the orphanage, his job as a kindergarten teacher, his marriage to
11 Marthe, his trial, and the final days before his execution. Similarly, within the pages of Quercus Cincinnatus learns of the shifting world surrounding the tree, from its birth onward. Both the tree, the black vespertine oak (125), and the prisoner, who appears to have been cut out of a cord-size block of night (25), and who in fact feels most alive at night (92, 120), are permanent and opaque protagonists surrounded by fleeting and vitreous characters. As the protagonists of our own lives, we might see ourselves as occupying a similar place in our reality as Cincinnatus and the oak tree do in their respective worlds. After all, we are the only permanent fixtures in our lives; everything and everyone else come in and out of our peripheries (our stories, so to speak) while we remain constant. Thus, while we observe Cincinnatus reading Quercus an image emerges: a reader enters a story about someone similar to him or herself, who likewise reads a story about an akin being. That is, the reader of Invitation preys upon opaque Cincinnatusas he observes the black vespertine oak. We must ask: does this image continue beyond our reality as the readers of Invitation ? Who might be reading us? Because the oak and the prisoner occupy similar roles within their respective novels, it should not surprise us that, throughout Invitation Nabokov repeatedly describes Cincinnatus in terms of a tree: Cincinnatus was light as a leaf (13), it was as if one side of his being slid into another dimension, as all of the complexity of a trees foliage passesfrom shade into radiance (121) etc. Even Cincinnatuss name forces us to see his connection to the novel he enters: Quercus is the scientific name of the oak whileCincinnatus is the scientific name of the fungus that grows on the oak, something I believe was not overlooked by Nabokov, a man with a passion for entomology and
12 biology at large. In this light, Cincinnatuss parasitic relationship to the novel he reads his dependency on its fictional worldis overt, as is his kinship to the tree itself. Unfortunately, Cincinnatus, who does not have the luxury of reading the narrative that he has been inserted into, does not immediately recognize his special connection to Quercus and its oak. He does, however, place special significance in other oaks found within Invitation. While most of novel takes place within the small world of the stone cell (65), we are often offered glimpses of the world beyond the fortress, including the very, very spacious Tamara Gardens (27) with their oak-covered hills. These gardens, along with their oaks, act as a sort of refuge for Cincinnatus that is not unlike the process of readingboth escapes are journeys by means of the prisoners imagination. The Tamara Gardens, which are in complete contrast with the constraining fortress in which Cincinnatus finds himself, are associated with the happier moments in his life. While the fortress represents the prisoners entrapment and was created in direct opposition to his opacity, the Tamara Gardens, including their oak groves, represent his longed-for freedom and seclusion, always being described as remote, embodying a certain solitude and, ultimately, being there in that longed-for place of liberty, rather than in the imprisoning and horrible here (93).3 There, where Marthe, whenshe was a bride, was frightened of the frogs and cockchafers...There, where, whenever life seemed unbearable, one could roam, with a meal of chewed lilac bloom in ones mouth and firefly tears in ones eyes... (19). 3 Tam is the Russian word for there. The Tam-ara Gardens should be viewed as partaking in what is over there ,rather than what is found in the imprisoning here
13 While the Tamara Gardens possess a seclusion and freedom that Cincinnatus desperately wants to obtain, the oak trees themselves have special interest to him. Cincinnatus relates the love for his wife to the oaks, telling Marthe, And still I love youAs long as the oaks stand in those gardens, I will (64). In telling his wife that his love will last as long as the oaks stand, Cincinnatus is telling her that his love will last forever. Perhaps it is paradoxical that Cincinnatus, a man all too aware of his impending death, should relate himself to the oaks, whose lives span centuries, or perhaps it is fittingafter all, the short and fragile life of man is made clearer in juxtaposition with the durability and longevity possessed by the oaks. Whatever the case, it is worth noting that Cincinnatus associates oak trees with solitude, freedom and endurancethere and not hereand that he uses them as a sort of measurement for his own life. Measure me while I live, after it will be too late (26) reads an inscription on the prison wall. The actof measuring is an extremely important endeavor in Invitation to a Beheading. Cincinnatus is constantly trying to gauge the length of his own life, just as we are constantly measuring the thickness of the right-hand still untasted part of the novel (12). We find, as Cincinnatus reads the story of the black vespertine oak, that the process of measuring is also important with regard to the framed novel Quercus : At the place where Cincinnatus had stopped the oak was just starting on its third century; a simple calculation suggested that by the end of the book it would reach the age of six hundred at least (122). Aside from being the opaque protagonists of their respective novels, the oak tree and Cincinnatus share another similarity. Namely, the reader of Invitation, as well as the reader of Quercus, is granted something that his protagonist is not: the reader is,
14 respectively, able to calculate how long the oak tree and Cincinnatus will live. Within the first of couple pages of Invitation the narrator reminds us: So we are nearing the end. The right-hand still untasted part of the novel, which, during our delectable reading, we would lightly feel, mechanically testing whether there were still plenty left (and our fingers were always gladdened by the placid, faithful thickness) has suddenly, for no reason at all, become quite meager: a few minutes of quick reading, already downhill, andO horrible! (12) Cincinnatus is able to feel the untasted part of Quercus and estimate how much longer the oak will liveat least three hundred more years. The narrator reminds us from the very beginning of Invitation that we, the readers of this novel,are able to make a similar estimation. Invitation is about two hundred pages in length and each chapter occupies roughly ten pages and represents one day. Therefore, we may calculate that Cincinnatus has, from the start of the book, about twenty days until his execution. The prisoners pencil, whose length remains in proportion with the right-hand still untasted part of the novel (12), is another means by which we can measure Cincinnatuss life. As the untasted part of the novel dwindles, our estimates become more accurate, while Cincinnatuss speculations become ever more uncertain. In some ways, it is ironic that Cincinnatus should be able to see so clearly the impending death of the oak and yet be unable to mechanically test the remainder of his own days, the very piece of information that he repeatedly asks for throughout the novel. Readers, who Nabokov tells us are actually re-readers (Lectures on Literature), are omniscient; we are able to literally feel the pages whither between our fingers as we progress through our worn books and, while this is occurring, we possess the knowledge
15 of everything that has happened and everything that will happen over the course of the pages. Further, we can control the speed at which the inevitable events take place, just as we can go back in time and relive our favorite moments. I, for example, often decline Nabokovs invitation to a beheading and rarely choose to re-read the last pages of this novel, Cincinnatuss execution. The prisoner knows the control a reader has over the speed and order of events within a book: Cincinnatus opened a book and buried himself in it, that is, he kept reading the first sentence over and over (87). It is very likely that Cincinnatus wishes he could bury himself in his past wanderings through the Tamara Gardens, or perhaps relive his happy days in the Floating Library, without having to experience the harsh prison walls surrounding him. Essentially, Cincinnatus might hope to read his own story and escape from being read by those predatory eyes that always seem to follow him. Such an escape, however, proves very difficult for the prisoner trapped in this transparent world. Cincinnatuss problem is unique. Unlike free men, he cannot live his life as though he were immortal, able to ignore his inevitable demise and spend his days with a certain happy oblivion. Cincinnatus is sentenced to death and is consequently all too aware of his limited time. Unlike most men who share this fate, however, he is withheld the time and date of his execution; he is a prisoner to the notion that his life is finite, and his preoccupation with the uncertain time of his death consumes him. Early on, Cincinnatus laments this fact, telling the director: The compensation for a death sentence is the knowledge of the exact hour when one is to die. A great luxury, but one that is well earned. However, I am being left in that ignorance which is tolerable only to those living at liberty (16).
16 Ironically, in trying to escape his dismal surroundings by entering the novel Quercus Cincinnatus enters a world where the temporality of mens lives is emphasized: Employing the gradual development of the tree (growing lone and mighty at the edge of a canyon at whose bottoms the waters never ceased to din), the author unfolded all the historic eventsor shadows of eventsof which the oak could have been a witness (122). Despite the fact that Cincinnatus is able to calculate the oaks death, the oak tree is presented as a virtually eternal character, growing very slowly over a long period of time. Furthermore, the oak is in complete contrast to the finite shadows of events that surround it. Now it was a dialogue between two warriorsnow highwaymen stopping bynow a brief drama in the life of some villagers (123) These shadows of events are men, all of whom cannot endure the lifespan of the old tree. Various images of life would come and go, pausing among the green macules of light (123). It is interesting to note that, although Cincinnatuss life is presented to us as finite, he, like the tree, is surrounded by fleeting shadows of characters who come in and out of his cell just as they come in and out of our own imaginations. Further, like the oak, Cincinnatus grows up lone and mighty at the edge of a canyon at whose bottoms the waters never ceased to din (122). That is, he grows up alone, being separated from his parentsthe only other people who partake in opacity in this noveland is forced to exist on the edge of this opacity (the canyon) and translucency (the water) in order to fit in. The narrator makes this clear toward the beginning of the novel, saying: He was impervious to the rays of othersas of a lone dark obstacle in this world of souls transparent to one another; he learned however to feign translucencebut he had only to forget himself, to allow a momentary lapse in self controland immediately there was alarm (24). And only
17 moments before we are introduced to Quercus the narrator reiterates this point, forcing us to see the connection between the two protagonists: It was if one side of his being slid into another dimension, as all the complexity of a trees foliage passes from shade into radiance (121). Trees, which stretch from earth to sky, and which withstand the changing conditions around them, are mans taller, mightier, slower, kindred. Significantly, trees occupy separate realms: the hidden space of soil and roots and the loftier realm native to branches and birds. For this reason, many faiths and cultures throughout the world have historically recognized trees, including the Tree of Life,4 as embodiments of the connection between two separate worlds. Trees have been perceived as a link between the heavens and the underworld, a threshold between life and death, a gateway between innocence and sin, etc. Cincinnatus, who recognizes that there is an invisible umbilical cord that joins this world to something (53), and who constantly perceives that a different world (92) must exist, is himself a connection between the world he has been written into and the worlds of his author and readers. Our perspective is always fixed through Cincinnatuss own eyes or focused on himwhether we watch him through the peephole, gaze upon him within the confines of his cell, or envision him as we gaze down through the eternal words of our worn books. It is only through this peephole view of Cincinnatus that we come to know the transparent and fickle world of Invitation and glimpse the distant world of Nabokov. The nature of opaque charactersthose who somehow occupy both here as well as there is not easily understood. The author of Quercus as well as the fleeting 4 According to Slavic folk belief, the Tree of Life was an oak.
18 characters within this framed text, cannot grasp the true nature of the eternal oak; they are only able to describe the tree in terms of the easily accessible viewpoints of dendrology, ornithology, coleopterology, mythology (123). In the same way, the narrator informs us only moments before Cincinnatus begins reading this opaque book, that the point where begins [his] submergence into the shimmer of a different element (121)that point of connection between the totalitarian world below and the liberated world above, between translucency and opacity, between author and readercannot be merely studied and analyzed (121). It is foolish of the author of Quercus to think that the nature of the black vespertine oak (125) can be gleaned through transparent lenses, just as it is foolish for the people surrounding Cincinnatus, including ourselves, to think that they can control his opacityindeed, prey upon and digest it. Cincinnatus remains unaware of his kinship with the oak and, in the end, it is the finite men surrounding the eternal being that he associates with himself, producing in him a melancholy feeling (123). He wonders, What matters to me all this distant, deceitful and deadI, who am preparing to die? (123). In his preoccupation with his own approaching death, Cincinnatus ignores the novels link to a world separate from the terrible, striped world (91) imprisoning him, a world comprised of prison bars and words strung across a page. Cincinnatus also ignores his power as a reader over the narrated oak. That is, the prisoner does not realize that by not finishing the novel he has preserved the life of the tree, truly establishing it as an eternal figurewe, too, have this power over Cincinnatuss life. The prisoner sees the authors descriptions surrounding the oak as being dead, ignoring the potent position he possesses as a reader as well as the special role of the author within this fictitious world.
19 It seemed as though the author were sitting with his camera somewhere among the topmost branches of the Quercus, spying out and catching his prey (123). Authors function as predatory eyes, the likes of which we have already seen spying Cincinnatus through his cells peephole. In creating the story of the oak, the author seems to have managed to actually enter a new realm, appearing to be seated atop the trees branches; the author is not only outside of the novel, but within it and, though within, his eye remains omniscient. This, of course, begs the question: how can one be omniscient if one exists withinthe realm of the observed? Even predators can become prey. And, in fact, Cincinnatus, who once performed the role of prey, having his entire skinny back, from coccyx to cervical vertebrae, exposed, to the observers (65), turns into a predator and victimizes the very author of Quercus by way of imagining his death: He would begin imagining how the author, still a young man, living, so they said, on an island in the North Seawould be dying himself; and it was somehow funny that eventually the author mustneeds dieand it was funny because the only real, genuinely unquestionable thing here was only death itself, the inevitability of the authors physical death. (123-124) We find that the prisoner is able to displace his role as someone who is read someone who is a preyed uponthrough the act of reading. Everything that is read has been written; every piece of writing has an author. In this instance of reading, Cincinnatus is able to reach the predatory realm of authors and envision, with his powerful andcriminal imagination, the death of Quercus s author, stunting him from catching his prey (123), from truly capturing the black vespertine oak. We, of course,
20 cannot help but think of Nabokov while this is occurring. We envision his death and, in so doing, we somehow breathe life into his most esteemed and talented protagonist, Cincinnatus C. While every author must needs die (124), their opaque creations must remain durable, eternally stretching from here to there Authors are inherently linked to readers just as the act of writing is always tied to that of reading. Stephen Blackwell, in his article Reading and Rupture in Nabokovs Invitation to a Beheading, nicely illuminates this connection with regard to Cincinnatus: Cincinnatuss writing seems very closely connected to his reading. Since it has been primarily through reading that Cincinnatus has attempted to build a world for himself, writing seems to be an effort to pass through the boundary of reading to its other side, its otherworldthe worldof writing. Significantly, his efforts at writing are most often preceded by some form of reading, as though he responds to the text by trying to get behind it and become its author. (Blackwell 42) Thus if reading allows Cincinnatus to temporarily imagine, build as Blackwell says, a separate world from the one which imprisons him, writing seems to offer him the possibility of fully choosing, rather than accepting, a new realm to enter. I believe this is illuminated by Cincinnatuss encounter with the acorn. After dismissing Quercus as distant, deceitful, and dead (123), Cincinnatus reenters the novel and reads a bit more. He is once again confronted with the finite and fleeting characters surrounding the Quercus. The author was already getting to the civilized ages, to judge by the conversation of three merry wayfarers, Tit, Pud, and the Wandering Jew (125) Reminded againin contrast to the longevity of the oakof the finite nature of mens lives, Cincinnatus is once more overcome with melancholy and
21 begs, Will no one save me? (125). With this, Quercus seems to come to life around him: The draft became a leafy breeze. From the dense shadows above there fell and bounced on the blanket a large dummy acorn, twice as large as real life, splendidly painted a glossy buff, and fitting its cork cup as snugly as an egg (126). Cincinnatus is not presented with the oak itself but rather with the very thing from which oaks are bornan acorn. Its as if Cincinnatus is being told to plant his own seed, to authorhis own world, to sit atop the branches of his own tree. The novel Cincinnatus thought had been so distant, deceitful, and dead has instead turned out to be full of the potential for life. Of course, the acorn, which appears to be a painted (126) prop, is subject to as much question as everything else in this overtly fictional world; Cincinnatus will have to write his own narrative to truly capture something alive (92). And, indeed, Cincinnatus will experience a tickling (91), a desire to express(91) himself. He will become the predatory eye that can see all: the writer. In his own words: I shall evolve a third eye on the back of my neck, between my brittle vertebrae: a mad eye, wide open, with a dilating pupil and pink venation on the glossy ball (92-93). Before the novel is over, Cincinnatus will have two more encounters with oak trees. Toward the end of the novel, the prisoner briefly escapes the walls of the fortress and sees an oak-covered hill (165), but it sinks into shadow and Cincinnatus is forced to return to his confinement. The oak-covered hill, of course, belongs to the Tamara Gardens and reminds Cincinnatus of the freedom he will not possess until the very last pages of the novel. He will spend the last moments of the book with Msieur Pierre, his transparent executioner, as well as something familiar. The narrator notes: [Cincinnatus] mounted the platform, where the block was, that is, a smooth, sloping slab of polished
22 oak, of sufficient size that one could easily lie on it with outspread arms. Msieur Pierre climbed up also (219). In the final moments of the novel, Cincinnatus finds himself pressed against oak, perhaps the predatory eyes final attempt to conform Cincinnatus to one of the transparent and fleeting characters always found near the oak tree in Quercus Lying against the oak, Cincinnatus asks, Why am I here? Why am I lying like this? (222) and exits the novel that has imprisoned him for so long, or at least for a couple hundred pages. Sergei Dadyov posits that in this last scene the character [Cincinnatus] returns to his creator [Nabokov], who has fashioned him in his own image and likeness (Dadyov 200). I, however, like to believe that Cincinnatus has fully immersed himself in the tingling of his spine, has actually become his own author, on his own branch of oak, finally escaping the predatory eyesfully becoming that eyeof the transparent beings that surround him as well as the readers of Invitation and Nabokov himself. Of course, this question of what happens to Cincinnatus at the end of the novel (Does he die? Does he live?) cannot, and certainly will not, be adequately answered. We must view and treasure this ambiguity as an intrinsic part of the novel, which is itself something that occupies a realm between the real and unreal, the here and there Cincinnatuss reading teaches us about his own position within Invitation. The novel Quercus illuminates the prisoners own circumstance as the protagonist (and therefore prey) of the novel he has been inserted into. As the narrator offers a description of Quercus the reader of Invitation learns of Cincinnatuss dilemma as a man hyperaware of both his impending death and of the fleeting shadows of events and characters that surround him. We, the readers of Invitation are made aware that, in order to
23 completely flee his current imprisoning world, Cincinnatus will have to author a new one, to become the predatory eye instead of the prey. The oak becomes a reminder for Cincinnatus of his relationship with the imprisoning world surrounding him, illuminating his role as protagonist and his potential role as author. It also forces us, the readers of Invitation, to become more aware of our own presences within Nabokovs novel; Cincinnatuss interaction with the oak mirrors the relationship we, as readers, have with the protagonist of Invitation In the end, it is fitting that the oak should serve as a chopping block, a gateway into a new realm. Although the novel Quercus is in many ways reflective (and illustrative) of Cincinnatuss position within the novel Invitation to a Beheading, it is important to keep in mind that its author is still a transparent figure and that, ultimately, it is a product of (and not permanent escape from) the totalitarian world that hasimprisoned Cincinnatus. Simply put, the only other author within the realm of Invitation that Nabokov endows with talents equal to his own is the poet and prisoner, Cincinnatus. Thus, in order to truly grasp the importance of reading and writing within this book, we must examine other instances of reading in Nabokovs fictive world as well as the ways in which Cincinnatus is able to transcend this world via his own writing.
24 Inspiring the Meaningless with Meaning: The Role of Reader in Invitation to a Beheading It is not an easy task separating reading from writing in Invitation to a Beheading becausethe two are so closely connected. The proximity of these two activitiestheir propinquity in time, space and functionis especially apparent with regard to the novels protagonist, Cincinnatus C., a man who is at once an enthusiastic reader and talented writer. We find, for example, that the prisoners writingis almost always prompted by an act of reading, as if his writing were an attempt to respond to his readings. This holds true from the very beginning of the novel, where Cincinnatuss reading of an ancient catalogue immediately compels him to write his first journal entry ( Invitation 50-51). As we have seen in the previous chapter, Cincinnatus is drawn toward these activities because of what they allow him to do: reading and writing allow Cincinnatus to temporarily escape the imprisoning walls of the fortress by way of entering a new world. They grant him the opportunity to make use of his criminal imagination and, in so doing, they allow him take on the role of observer rather than observed, predator rather than prey. The temporal closeness of these two activities in Cincinnatuss life, as well as their consequent spatial proximity on the pages of Invitation reflects their intimate ties to one anotherties that are not only enforced within the world of Invitation but also in our own reality as readers of this book. Every word we read becomes proof that another has undertaken the painstaking process of writing. While reading the prisoners journal entries, for example, we do not only think of Cincinnatus, the dear and childlike poet, but also of Nabokov, the man who endowed this character with talent equal to his own. The worlds of author, reader, and
25 protagonist are inherently connected in this way, relying on one another for support, as are the very processes that govern them: reading and writing. With this proximity in mind, it is the aim of this chapter to differentiate reading from writing in orderto truly understand the powerful role of reader in and of Invitation to a Beheading. Through a close examination of two instances of Cincinnatuss reading, I will show how this activity is necessarily an active process that requires the creation of an invisible link between separate entities such as words, pictures, and chapters. While the creation of such a link offers Cincinnatus the hope of connecting to something akin to himself, something alive and real (70), we will find that reading ultimately falls short of providing him a permanent escape from his transparent world. We learn early on in the novel that Cincinnatus spends a significant amount of time in the fortress reading. He is constantly scouring the fortress walls for new inscriptions, readingthe list of prison rules posted by his cell door, and requesting books from the prison library. Aside from Cincinnatuss reading of the novel Quercus however, there are only two instances of reading where we witness the prisoners process of decoding or interpreting meaning. This sort of active deciphering is reading at its barest.5 Thus, while these two readings might seem unusualthe first is an instance where Cincinnatus deciphers a series of pictures and the second is his interpretation of a series ofsoundsthey shed light on what it means to be a reader in this novel and, as we shall see, a reader of this novel. 5 I am defining reading broadly as an act of interpretation: to read is to decode and endow something with meaning. This interpretation ofreading relies on a traditional view held by semioticians (such as Yuri Lotman and Boris Uspensky) that language is a system of signs; for communication to be achieved, a message must be first transmitted and then received and decoded. I believe Nabokov also envisions reading this way; his works are full of hidden messages, patterns, and puzzles for his reader to discover and make sense of.
26 The first instance of reading that I will examine occurs in the fifth chapter, Cincinnatuss fifth day in the fortress, and begins with a desire. The prisoner wishes to see his wife, Marthe, who, as he has been repeatedly promised over the past four days, will visit him soon. We learn early on in the novel that, although Marthe is far from an ideal wife (she repeatedly cheats on him throughout the course of their marriage), Cincinnatus sees her as a sort of refuge from the transparent world imprisoning him. Indeed, we learn that Cincinnatus, at the age of fifteen, replaced the false shelter (27) he found in ancient books (27) and authors with Marthe. And, besides his approaching death, it is his wife whom Cincinnatus most often thinks of. Much to his despair, the prisoner learns on his fifth day in confinement that she will not be coming today after all. Cincinnatuss reaction is as follows: Tomorrow you will come, Cincinnatus said aloud What shall I say to you, he continued thinking, murmuring, shuddering. What will you say to me? In spite of everything I loved you, and will go on lovingon my knees, with my shoulders drawn back, showing my heels to the headsman and straining my goose neckeven then. And afterwardsperhaps most of all afterwards I shall love you, and one day we shall have a real, all-embracing explanation, and then perhaps we shall somehow fit together, you and I, and turn ourselves in such a way that we form one pattern, and solve the puzzle: draw a line from point A to point Bwithout looking, or, without lifting the pencilor in some other waywe shall connect the points, draw the line, and you and I shall form that unique design for which I yearn. (60) As a lone dark obstacle in a world of souls transparent to one another (24), we
27 learn that Cincinnatus wishes, more than anything, to draw a line from point A to point B and form that unique design (60) with another person. Namely, Cincinnatus wishes to terminate his position as the sole opaque occupant in his respective world by forming a real (60) connection with someone else. Just as Cincinnatus replaced reading ancient books with Marthe fifteen years earlier, we find that, in her absence, the prisoner searches for another false refuge (27) that will allow him to draw a line from point A to point B: the act of reading. Immediately after Cincinnatus laments the absence of his wife, the narrator informs us: He had to find something to keep him busy until tomorrowfresh books (61). Cincinnatus has just finished his first journal entry the day before and longs for new material with which to restart the cycle of reading and writing, a continuous cycle that allows the prisoner to temporarily escape the totalitarian world encompassing him and offers him the hope of forming a link to something or someone else. Much to his excitement, Cincinnatus remembers something he saw the day before scribbled among the pages of an ancient catalog, something he can potentially feast his eyes on. He remembers the drawings created by Emmie, the prison directors twelve-year-old daughter. The narrator reports the prisonersreading of these drawings: A childs hand, undoubtedly Emmies, had drawn a set of pictures, forming (as it had seemed to Cincinnatus yesterday) a coherent narrative, a promise, a sample of phantasy. First there was a horizontal line--that is, this stone floor; on it was a rudimentary chair somewhat like an insect, and above was a grating made of six squares. Then came the same picture but with the addition of a full moon, the corners of its mouth drooping sourly beyond the grating. Next, a
28 stool composed of three strokes with an eyeless (hence, sleeping) jailor on it and, on the floor, a ring with six keys. Then the same ring, only a little larger, with a hand, extremely pentadactyl and in a short sleeve, reaching for it. Here it begins to get interesting. The door is ajar in the next drawing, and beyond it something looking like a birds spurall that is visible of the fleeting prisoner. Then he himself, with commas on his head instead of hair, in a dark little robe, represented to the best of the artists ability by an isosceles triangle; he is being led by a little girl: prong-like legs, wavy skirt, parallel lines of hair. Then the same again, only in the form of a plan: a square for the cell, an angled line for the corridor, with a dotted line indicating the route and an accordionlike staircase at the end. And finally the epilogue: the dark tower, above it a pleased moon, with the corners of its mouth curling upward. (61) The prisoner, hungry for an escape and a connection, reads these drawings in much the same way we might read a comic strip or interpret a series of words as a single, coherent sentence. That is, Cincinnatus places significance in what happens between the frames, instilling therein an invisible umbilical cord (53) of sorts that conjoins what would otherwise remain separate and unrelated entities. To put it simply, he constructs a line out of a series of dots. In this way, the hand that reaches toward a set of keys in one drawing comes to life and forms a narrative with the doodles surrounding it. The prisoner, who has imbued continuity, timeand intent, into the space between these drawings, believes he has solved the puzzle (60), and deciphered its pattern (60) and design (60); he discovers a plan for his own escape. We will repeatedly find throughout the pages of Invitation that every act of
29 readingevery act of forming a connection and deciphering meaninginstills in Cincinnatus the hope that he may escape from the imprisoning walls of the fortress, if not the very world that encompasses them. Here, however, the narrator assures us that this hope is only self-deception, nonsense. The child had doodled aimlessly... (62). If we are to rely on the narrator, who functions as the lens through which we observeindeed, prey uponthe opaque prisoner, we must disregard Cincinnatuss interaction with these drawings and move forward with our own reading of Invitation ; we must accept that Cincinnatus was wrong to forge into a chain those things which were never intended to be linked. 6 I propose we go a separate route, however, and give credence to his reading of the childs doodles. After all, when we enter the world of Invitation we enter a world where everything [is] subject to question (136), and the narrator is no exception. To discredit this instance of reading, which will inspire Cincinnatus to write just as much as his more traditional (and perhaps more warranted) readings, is to miss a potential lesson on the readers role in this novel. Cincinnatuss encounter with Emmies drawings reflects two important things about his overall reading. First, reading is an extremely active process for the prisoner; it takes effort and determination to connect this drawing hereor, in some cases, this word, this speck on the wall, this soundto that one over there and decipher meaning. Second, something that follows from this but is perhaps more difficult to accept, is that a reader is just as responsible as a writer is for the creation of a narrative. It must be said that many Nabokovian scholars, and Nabokov himself, would cringe at this statement; Nabokov 6 Toward the end of the novel, in the fifteenth chapter, Cincinnatus will indeed follow Emmie out of the fortress only for her to lead him back in (165); Emmie, as the narrator warns us, has no intention to rescue Cincinnatus.
30 notoriously discouraged his readers from believing they are in any way co-creators. However, we find in the specific world of Invitation that Cincinnatuswithout the aid of a talented writeris indeed capable of, if not responsible for, drawing a line point A to point B (60) and forming...a coherent narrative (61). In his essay Discourse in the Novel, Mikhail Bakhtin speaks to the necessarily active role of readers. He posits that every piece of writing, just as with every utterance, everything that beckons to be understood, is directed toward an audience and their response. The word...is directly, blatantly, oriented toward a future answer-word: it provokes an answer, anticipates it and structures itself in the answers direction (Bakhtin 280). In this way, everything that is written is tied to, and in fact informed by, both the writer and the person to whom the writing is directed: the reader. It becomes the readers job to place meaning in that which he reads, with a careful eye toward both his and the writers specific backgrounds and perspectives. Every concrete act of understanding is active: it assimilates the word to be understood into its own conceptual system filled with specific objects and emotional expressions, and is indissolubly merged with the response, with a motivated agreement or disagreement (Bakhtin Discourse in the Novel 282). We cannot know what intent prompted Emmie to draw her series of pictures; perhaps, like the rest of Cincinnatuss transparent jailers, her intent was a devious one with the aim of misdirecting the prisoner; or perhaps, as the narrator compels us to believe, there is no intent whatsoever behind her childish drawings. Whatever the case, Cincinnatus believes her drawings are directed toward him and his specific position as a prisoner. I believe this assumption is not altogether without warrant. In the world of Invitation children are more opaque than the adult dummies (Nabokov 95) that they
31 are raised to become. In one journal entry, Cincinnatus makes this clear: When still a child, living still in a canary-yellow, large, cold house where they were preparing me and hundreds of other children for secure nonexistence as adult dummies; into which all my coevals turned without effort or pain; already then...I knew without knowing, I knew without wonder, I knew as one knows oneself, I knew what is impossible to knowand, I would say, I knew it even more clearly than I do now. (95) Children possess a very special role in Invitation and Cincinnatus is himself repeatedly described with attributes characteristic of the young: the narrator as well as the transparent characters who surround him, always refer to Cincinnatus as being boyish (65) and childlike (166). This is all to say, when Cincinnatus sees Emmies drawings Emmie, who Cincinnatus wishes would remain the child she is (53)he makes the assumption that her drawings are something of value, and he assumes he is connecting to an opaque author like himself. And because of her fragile age, Cincinnatus is able to imagine that she was writing with compassion, with intent, with the tip of her tongue showing at the right corner of her mouth, tightly holding the stubby pencil, pressing down upon it with finger white effort...And then, after connecting a particularly successful line, leaning back, rolling her head this way and that, wriggling her shoulders, and, going back to work on the paper, shifting her tongue to the left corner...so painstakingly... (62). Significantly, the word painstakingly is always tied to writers in this novel. During his very first day in the fortress, Cincinnatus refers to the being that has authored him, saying, And yet I have been fashioned so painstakingly...The curvature of my spine has been calculated so well, so mysteriously... (21).
32 Emmie may not have intentionally authored a narrative, but we find that Cincinnatus is irrevocably an active reader, so much so that his reading is not dependent on someone elses intent, or even words. He has placed value in a childs aimless doodles. He has, as he does with every use of his criminal imagination, undergone the process of yielding to the temptation of logical development, involuntarily (be careful, Cincinnatus!) forging into a chain all the things that were quite harmlessas long as they remained unlinked, he inspired the meaningless with meaning, and the lifeless with life (155). As another Nabokovian character once said, genius is seeing things others dont see. Or rather the invisible link between things (Nabokov, Look at the Harlequins 42). The space between those things that are harmless as long as they remain unlinkedthat mysterious realm between pictures, sounds, and chaptersproves to be an incredibly important space for Cincinnatus and his reading. Reading, after all, is only possible by placing value in what happens in this in-between realm, by stringing together separate things such as words or pictures. From his very first journal entry, Cincinnatus emphasizes the importance of this elusive space in his life. He writes: Once, when I was a child, on a distant school excursion, when I had got separated from the othersalthough I may have dreamt itI found myself, under the sultry sun of midday, in a drowsy little town, so drowsy that when a man who had been dozing on a bench beneath a bright whitewashed wall at last got up to help me find my way, his blue shadow on the wall did not immediately follow him. Oh, I know, I know, there must have been some oversight, on my part, and the shadow did not linger at all,but simply, shall we say, it caught on the walls unevenness...but here is what I want to express:
33 between his movement and the movement of the laggard shadowthat second, that syncopethere is the rare kind of time in which I livethe pause, the hiatus, when the heart is like a feather... (52-53) Cincinnatus, the only man living among a world of souls transparent to one another (24), informs us that he lives in the space between things, that private realm conducive to his opacity. Interestingly, it is when Cincinnatus is separated from his peerswhen a space has been forged between himself and othersthat he discovers this rare kind of time which I livethe pause, the hiatus, when the heart is like a feather... (52-53). As the prisoners journal entries progress, the value he places in this sort of inbetween realm becomes ever more apparent. For example, during the eighth chapter of Invitation which is comprised almost entirely of Cincinnatuss writing, he informs us that it is during the night, that space between days and chapters, that he feels most alive: Ever since early childhood, I have had dreams...In my dreams the world was ennobled, spiritualized; people whom in the waking state I feared so much appeared there in a shimmering refraction, just as if they were imbued with and enveloped by that vibration of light which in sultry weather inspires the very outlines of objects with life; their voices, their step, the expressions of their eyes and even of their clothesacquired an exciting significance; to put it more simply, in my dreams the world would come alive, becoming so captivatingly majestic, free and ethereal, that afterwards it would be oppressive to breathe the dust of this painted life. But then I have long grown accustomed to the thought that what we call dreams is semi-reality, the promise of reality, a foreglimpse and whiff of it; that is, they contain, in a very vague, diluted state, more
34 genuine reality than our vaunted waking life which, in its turn, is semi-sleep, an evil drowsiness... (91-92) It is not a coincidence that Cincinnatus dreams during the space between chapters, that space where he is not actively being read and preyed upon. Indeed, none of his transparent jailers, or even the predatory eyes of the novels readers, can attempt to reform Cincinnatuss opacity in this private realm. This is the space, Cincinnatus tells us, that is most alive (92), that offers the closest promise of reality (92) and that inspires the very outlines of objects with life (92); it is a space akin to his criminal opacity; it is a space not easily understood. It becomes a readers job to inhabit this elusive and lively realm, to provide it with meaning, sustenance and, perhaps most importantly, motion. After all, it is by placing significance in the space between words that we allow them to come alive and to share its neighbors sheen, heat, shadow, while reflecting itself in its neighbor and renewing the neighboring word in the process, so that the whole line is live iridescence (93). If we do not connect words by giving credence to the space between them, we are only left with a series of haphazard symbols. In this way, a reader can only inspire the meaningless with meaning, and the lifeless with life (155)decode the meaning of something,or rather, endow it with meaningonce he has inhabited this inbetween realm and created links therein. When Cincinnatus actively interprets the meaning of somethingwhen he occupies this opaque, private, and in-between realm he is attempting to establishhis own freedom. As we have been informed through Cincinnatuss lamentation over his wifes absence, which preceded and prompted his reading of Emmies doodles, he does not merely desire to draw a line from point A to point B (60); he wishes to discover a
35 pattern (60) and design (60) and, thereby, solve the puzzle (60) of his entrapment. Nabokov, who often creates artistic webs of verbal and aesthetic reoccurrences, is obsessed with patternmaking and puzzles, something that can be observed in all of his works. As one scholar has posited, Nabokovs protagonists are persistently searching for signs of a deeper truth (Grabes 21); they are continuously looking for patterngenerating coincidences (Grabes 28). The readers job is not merely to inhabit and instill life and motion into the invisible realm between things, but rather, having made this connection, to decipher a larger pattern, to solve Nabokovs masterfully crafted puzzle. To use Cincinnatuss words, we can view Nabokovs works as a figured rug whose folds can be gathered in such a way that two designs will meetand the rug [can be] once again smoothed out  and you [can] superimpose the next image on the last, endlessly, endlessly (94). Cincinnatus views his imprisonment as a puzzlethat can potentially be solved. He tries to connect to, and in fact enter, a more opaque realm by attempting to create an opaque connection to Marthe, beckoning her to make an exceptional effort and understand (140) his opacity and become opaque herself. Another way Cincinnatus tries to form a bond to something akin to him is through the process of reading. Reading not only allows the prisoner to connect separate entities such as words and pictures, but also grants him the opportunity to connect to an author. Unfortunately for Cincinnatus, every author present in the world of Invitation save for himself, is transparent and ultimately dead. Cincinnatuss inability to solve the puzzle that Nabokov has set before him through the act of reading is nicely illuminated by the prisoners interpretation of a series of mysterious sounds.
36 By the twelfth day of his imprisonment, which is also the twelfth chapter of Invitation Cincinnatus has truly become desperate for a new reading source: The inscriptions on the walls had by now been wiped away. The list of rules likewise had disappeared (119). Much to his excitement, he hears an inviting sound that beckons to be read: a muted tapping, scratching, and the sound of something crumbling somewhere (127). Like drawings, a series of sounds is not traditional reading material, but for Cincinnatus, who is the most eager of readers, anything will do. And indeed, like every other act of reading, this one will inspire Cincinnatus to write. Bakhtin informs us in Discourse in the Novel that every reader must orient himself toward the specific conceptual horizon, the specific world (282) of the writer. Cincinnatus begins his reading of the curious tappings by orienting himself toward the sounds mysterious origins. Trup, tap, scratch, crumble-crumble. Where? To the right? To the left? Cincinnatus raised himself up a little. He listenedhis whole head became an organ of hearing, his whole body a tense heart... (Invitation 127). As the sounds continue, Cincinnatus becomes ever more convinced that they are relaying a hopeful message: perhaps someone is coming to his rescue! Cincinnatus was especially excited by the concentrated self-confidence of the sounds, the insistent seriousness with which they pursued in the quiet of the fortress night (128). Significantly, one sound alone would mean nothing to the prisoner; the fact that the space between them is so consistent allows Cincinnatus to interpret them as intentional and to continue reading them. Then the tapping ceased with abrupt suddenness, which conveyed to the listener a heartening rationality; and, standing motionless by the wall, pressing down with his toe the spoon on the tray and tilting his open, hollow head, Cincinnatus felt that the
37 unknown digger was also standing still and listening (128). As Bakhtin astutely points out, every word (or, in this case, every beckoning sound) anticipates a response (Discourse in the Novel 280); to properly decode the tappings that ever so persistently probe the cell walls,Cincinnatus must offer his own reaction. All morning long Cincinnatus listened and calculated how he could make known his attitude to the sounds in case they should recur (129). The next day, after the tappings have resumed, Cincinnatus seizes the opportunity to respond to his potential savior: He picked up the submissive chair and brought it down hard, first on the floor, then several times on the wall, trying, at least by means of rhythm, to impart meaning to his pounding [...] He was already thinkingof how to set up an alphabet... (139). Through rhythm, which is defined by the space between sounds, Cincinnatus attempts to convey to his potential savior that he is eager to escape the walls of the fortress. And, indeed, the mysterious tapper responds;Cincinnatus believes his decoding of these sounds is the right one, that he has finally solved the puzzle of his entrapment: He was now satisfied that it was he to whom that someone was coming, that it was he whom that someone wanted to rescue... (139). Reading always instills in Cincinnatus the hope that he may escape from the confines of the fortress, and this episode is no different. The sounds were still closer...and Cincinnatus lay prone on the flagstones, spread-eagled as one who has been felled by a sunstroke, and indulging the mummery of the senses, clearly visualized through the tympanum the secret passage, lengthening with every scrape, and sensed...how the stones were being loosened... (147). Cincinnatus perceives a link between himself and the mysterious authorbetween himself and his desired freedom being formed. As was the case with Emmies drawings, however, this hope will never
38 turn into reality; the narrator informs us that the unknown tapper is in fact Msieur Pierre, the very man who is to behead Cincinnatus. Sadly, the space being chiseled away, the very space that Cincinnatus had so desperately hoped would lead to his escape, proves only to join the prisoners cell with that of his executioner; Cincinnatuss readinghis link to another realmis stunted. Crawling toward Msieur Pierres cell, the prisoner loses all hope, any desire to instill motion and life into this in-between realm and make an real connection: he would have lain down and died then and there (160). We have found that reading is necessarily an active process in the world of Invitation to a Beheading. It requires one to inhabit the space between entities, whether they are words, pictures, or sounds, and, once in this elusive realm, to construct a connection between the separated frames. Cincinnatuss reading always promises a means of escape from his imprisoning and totalitarian world, yet the result is inevitably disappointing; there are no opaque authors to connect to in the transparent world of Invitation Like the space between frames, the process of reading is defined by absence and by what it can only potentially offer. Through reading, Cincinnatus is not able to draw a line from point A to point B, decipher a larger design, and ultimately solve the puzzle Nabokov has constructed around him. While Nabokov has formed the bars of the fortress by way of stringing together the words of this novel, it is the reader of Invitation who is ultimately responsible for interpreting Nabokovs patternmaking and rescuing Cincinnatus. Will we string together the chapters chronologically, miss the larger design, and, as Cincinnatus laments, have me die anew every morning (51)? Or will we smooth out the rug and superimpose the next image on the last, endlessly, endlessly (94)? Ultimately, like every reader, we must make our attitude toward what we read clear.
39 With the Ear of a Different World: Cincinnatuss Writing in Invitation to a BeheadingSentenced to death, Cincinnatus is plagued by the notion that his life is finite. As he informs his hypothetical readers in one journal entry: I have lived an agonizing life, and I would like to describe that agony to youbut I am obsessed by the fear that there will not be time enough (Invitation 90). Time, even in the fickle world of Invitation moves forward; the fortress clock strikes in arithmetical progression (14) while Cincinnatuss pencil continuously loses its length. As we have seen in the previous chapters, the act of reading offers the prisoner a temporary escape from the transparent world of Invitation but it does not serve to combat the forward motion of time that Cincinnatus so often laments. As I have shown in last chapter, to read is to connect separate entities such as words, pictures, and sounds; it is the active creation of a line from point A to point to B (60); it is the dwindling of the right-hand, still untasted part of the novel (12), which, of course, is also the untasted part of the Cincinnatuss life. For the prisoner, reading is ultimately a movement toward death. In this chapter, I will show how writing combats this forward motion. Through a close examination of Cincinnatuss third journal entry, I will elucidate how writing allows this poet to move backward, toward what he calls the mainspring of my I (90). We will find that the process of writing enables the prisoner to reach toward the world from which he camethe world of his authorand, in so doing, to contend the transparent realm imprisoning him. Ultimately, writing allows Cincinnatus totranscend his own death.
40 In addition to the regulatory table, chair, and cot that all prisoners are granted, Cincinnatuss jailers place at his disposal items with which to write. On the table glistened a clean sheet of paper, and, distinctly outlined against its whiteness, lay a beautifully sharpened pencil, as long as the life of any man except Cincinnatus, and with an ebony gleam to each of its six facets (12). Just like all books in this fictional world are bound in black (32, 54, 67, 122)something that speaks to their inherent opacity in a largely transparent worldso too does the prisoners pencil possess a certain ebony gleam (12) that differentiates it from the transparent forces imprisoning Cincinnatus and connects it to his criminal nature. We find over the course of the novel, that the prisoner uses this opaque pencil to express himself, and Nabokov allows Cincinnatuss writing to reside next to his own on the pages of Invitation One of the prisoners journal entries stands out amongst the rest as it is granted its very own chapter. We must give this piece of writing, the prisoners third journal entry, as much heed as Nabokov does, and use it as a tool in our endeavor to understand the role of writing in Cincinnatuss life. By the time Cincinnatus begins his third journal entry, a pattern has already emerged in his writing: the prisoners writing is always connected to origins, to the beginnings of life. This can be observed from the very first sentence Cincinnatus writes during his time in the fortress; the narrator informs us that the prisoners first written words turn into an embryonic embellishment (13) as he crosses them out. As the novel unravels, we find that the prisoners writing seems to focus both on the origins of his own lifehe often writes about his early childhoodas well as the origins of his imprisoning world. In his first journal entry, for example, Cincinnatus tells his hypothetical readers that he senses an invisible umbilical cord that joins this world to somethingtowhat I
41 shall not say yet (53). While writing seems to offer Cincinnatus a space in which to reflect on the beginning of his own life and that of his imprisoning world, he is constantly plagued by his approaching death while engaging in this activity. The prisoner repeatedly laments his finite time after writing about his early childhood (91) and the original (93) world that must have given birth to its transparent copy (93), saying things like: But how can I write about this when I am afraid of not having time to finish and of stirring up all these thoughts in vain (53)? In this way, the act of writing often divides Cincinnatuss attention between his origins and his death. The narrator begins the eighth chapter of Invitation which harbors Cincinnatuss third and longest journal entry, by drawing our attention to the forward motion of time that governs the prisoners life. That is, he makes an observation about the dwindling of Cincinnatuss pencil, an item that is intimately tied to the passage of time in this novel: (There are some who sharpen a pencil toward themselves, as if they were peeling a potato, and there are others who slice away from themselves, as though whittling a stickRodion [the prison director] was of the latter number. He had an old penknife with several blades and a corkscrew. The corkscrew slept on the outside.) (89) While the narrators voice frames this chapter and, in so doing, reminds us of his omniscience, his use of parentheses establishes the words to follow, which belong to Cincinnatus, as the center of our attention. It is worthy of noting, however, that the narrators observation about the dwindling of the pencil serves to remind us that the prisoners time in the fortress is progressing and, consequently, that his life is nearing its end. Further, the way in which the narrator describes the shortening of the pencilhow
42 Rodion prefers to slice awaywith several bladesconnects this item to Cincinnatuss impending beheading. It would seem that the opaque pencil is intimately tied to the progression of the prisoners life. As one scholar has argued, the pencil, which gets shorter and shorter over the course of the novel, connects the passage of life with the act of writing (Hasty 6). This is made clear as Cincinnatusbegins his third and most prominent journal entry: Today is the eighth day (wrote Cincinnatus with the pencil, which had lost more than a third of its length) and not only am I still alive, that is, the sphere of my own self still limits and eclipses my being, but, like any other mortal, I do not know my mortal hour and can apply to myself a formula that holds true for everyone: the probability of a future decreases in inverse proportion to its theoretical remoteness. Of course in my case discretion requires that I think in terms of very small numbersbut that is alright, that is alrightI am alive. (8990) The parenthetical intrusion is ironic; Cincinnatuss pencil, which the narrator tells us had lost more than a third of its length (90), is directlycorrelated to our place in the novel (we are a little more than a third of the way through the book). The prisoner, of course, does not see that his eighth day in confinement, which we know to be the eighth chapter of Invitation rests a little more than a third of the way through his imprisonment; his perspective as a character and as a mortal (89) is limited. If Cincinnatuss writing is responsible for the dwindling of his pencil, then we must accept that the process of writing propels him toward death. We discover later on, however, that Rodion sharpens the pencil each morning regardless of whether
43 Cincinnatus has written the day before (194). We must not see the prisoners writing, then, as something responsible for his demise because the dwindling of his pencil is ultimately controlled, like everything else, by his jailers. Instead, the pencil serves as reminder to the reader of Invitation who is able to view this item from a privileged perspective, that Cincinnatus lacks the knowledge of his mortal hour (90) and that he does not possess, as we do, an omniscient point of view. Thus every time the narrator draws our attention to this writing utensil, we become aware of our own omniscient perspective as readers and of the prisoners two main problems: his dwindling time and his position as a character. Characters are always prisoners of the novels that encompass them. The pencil is an item that forces us to recognize Cincinnatuss position as a character and as a man running out of time; his writingutensil beckons us to see the discrepancies between the reader and protagonist of this novel. As Cincinnatus writes, he often senses at hand his confined perspective and limited time. Significantly, it is through writing that the prisoner tries to solve his dilemmas by becoming closer to his author. One way he attempts to shift his point of view and move away from his death is by reflecting on his origins. Remember, it is always through writing that Cincinnatus becomes aware of the invisible umbilical cord that joins this world to something (53) to the world of his creator. His third journal entry continues: As far back as I can remember myselfand I remember myself with lawless lucidity, I have been my own accomplice, who knows too much, and therefore is dangerous. I issue from such burning blackness, I spin like a top, with such propelling force, such tongues of flame, that to this day I occasionally feel
44 (sometimes during sleep, sometimes while immersing myself in very hot water) that primordial palpitation of mine, that first branding contact, the mainspring of my I. How I wriggled out, slippery, naked! Yes, from a realm forbidden and inaccessible to others, yes. I know something, yes(90) Through writing, Cincinnatus is able to reflect on his origins, to remember the forbidden and inaccessible (90) realm from which he came. This is a backward motion toward his birththat first branding contact, the mainspring of my I. How I wriggled out, slippery, naked (90)! We find that writing allows Cincinnatus to reach toward the world of his author, which is also a motion toward his very own naturehis criminal and opaque I. Why might Cincinnatus sense his author while writing? Every word Cincinnatus writes also belongs to Nabokov. The omniscient author and entrapped protagonist are never as closely connected as they are during Cincinnatuss journal entries. We watch Cincinnatus become aware, as he writes his third entry, that his words and world are intimately tied to, and indeed informed by, those of their original (93)the words and different world (92) of his author. He describes this connection by saying that it is like when you hear during sleep a dreadful insidious tale because a branch is scraping on the window pane, or see yourself sinking into snow because your blanket is sliding off (92). Nabokov is the scraping branch and the sliding blanket; he is the originating force that sends a chance reflection (94) to Cincinnatus and his fictional world; he is the master hand that controls Cincinnatuss actions and words.
45 But how I fear awakening! (92), continues Cincinnatuss journal entry. After reflecting on his origins, the prisoner is quickly reminded of his approaching deathbirth anticipates death, after all. How I fear that second, or rather split second, already cut short then, when, with a lumberjacks gruntBut what is there to fear? Will it not be for me simply the shadow of an ax, and shall I not hear the downward vigorous grunt with the ear of a different world? Still I am afraid!One cannot write it off so easily. Neither is it good that my thoughts keep getting sucked into the cavity of the future (92) Cincinnatus, who is plagued by his approaching death, often becomes sucked into the cavity of the future (92). We have seen, for example, that even while Cincinnatus writes about his origins, the different world (92) from which he came, he is still unable to fully escape the forward motion of time; his thoughts reach toward his impending death. Aside from offering him a space to reflect on his origins, the process of writing allows Cincinnatus another means to fight being sucked into the cavity of the future (92). In the world of Invitation Cincinnatuss writing is inherently connected to the past and to the origins of life.As he informs his hypothetical readers later on in his third journal entry, writing is an ancient inborn art (93) which has been long since forgotten (93)at least forgotten by everyone save the prisoner, who possesses a certain criminal primordial palpitation (90). We can view the act of writing, then, as means for Cincinnatus to remember, and in fact move back toward, all that is ancient (93) and become closer with all that is inborn (93). The significance of this, however, goes beyond the prisoners potential ability to move away from his approaching death. Partaking in the language of antiquity allows Cincinnatus to actively combat the world
46 that has sentenced him to don the red top hat, a world which has attempted to eradicate all that is ancient and artful. There are two distinct and opposing forces present in this novel. Namely, there is the transparent forcea force so powerful that everyone (with the exception of its prisoner) blindly adheres to itand the decidedly criminal force thatpropels Cincinnatus, a force that originates from such burning blackness (90). We can view the difference between these two forces as the difference between transparency and opacity, stagnancy and motion, law and art. The inherent discrepancies between the language of transparent characters and that of Cincinnatus are reflective of the differences in the two forces that govern them. The language of transparent characters is almost completely unitary in Invitation That is, these characters seem to possess a single voice despite having some individualized quirks in their speech. After all, those around [Cincinnatus] understood each other at the first word, since they had no words that would end in an unexpected way, perhaps in some archaic letter (26), and follow crib notes (153), little scrolls (154), and lists (176) in order to regulate their speech. Indeed, sameness, uniformity, and monotony are extremely characteristic of, and valued by, the transparent inhabitants of Invitation For example, the defense counsel and the prosecutor are required to be uterine brothers (21), speech is often repeated verbatim (69, 216), and the director and lawyer turn out to be identical (207), etc. Cincinnatus, then, is the centrifugal, stratifying and lawless (90) force that decentralizes the unequivocal language of his peers, penetrating and disrupting their uniformity at large. In order to appreciate how
47 Cincinnatuss writing differs from, and ultimately combats, that of his jailers, we must first examine the language of these transparent characters. The very first words in Invitation to a BeheadingIn accordance with the law (11)prepare us for, and in fact situate us in, the limited belief system and language of the transparent world imprisoning Cincinnatus, the world we enter as readers of Invitation The active participation of transparent characters in the language and ideology of the text of the law (68) is nicely illuminated by Romans (the lawyers) response to Cincinnatuss criminal tone inthe third chapter. At this point in the novel, the lawyer has just entered Cincinnatuss cell to see if his client wishes to submit any requests. Cincinnatus does not greet him kindly: Of all the specters that surround me, you, Roman Vissarionovich, areprobably the most wretched  In a plaintive voice, he [Roman] said, It is exactly for that tone That I am being executed, said Cincinnatus. I know that. Go on! Cant you even now remain within legitimate limits? This is really awful. It is beyond my endurance. I dropped in merely to ask if you didnt have some legitimate wishesfor instance (here his face lit up), perhaps you should like to have printed copies of the speeches made at the trial? In case of such desire you must immediately submit the necessary petition, which you and I could prepare right now, with detailed specifications as to just how many copies of the speeches you require and for what purpose. I happen to have a free hourOh, please, please lets do this! I have even broughta special envelope. (37)
48 Romans incorporation of the formal language of law into his own speech is overtIn case of such, detailed specifications as to, for what purpose, etc. Not only this, but we find that his very emotion is grounded in the ideologies set forth by the law, that is, by those things which are legitimate (37). Cincinnatuss manipulation of straightforward language via an opaque tone upsets Roman. Conversely, he is made happy by the possibility of binding Cincinnatus to legitimate limits; in this case, Roman is lit up (37) by the possibility of correcting Cincinnatuss criminality by way of helping him participate in the traditional language of law via the writing of a petition. Notably, Cincinnatus rejects Romans offer, tearsup the special envelope presented to him, and rearranges its enclosed letter in such a way that the words become mixed up, distorted, disjointed (38). As Roman observes: This is the sort of thing you always do (38). Cincinnatuss third journal entry nicely illuminates the ways in which he is able to manipulate common and formal language. We find that Cincinnatus is able to make his words end in an unexpected way, perhaps in some archaic letter, an upsilamba, becoming a bird or a catapult with wondrous consequences (26). The journal entry continues: Or will nothing come of what I am trying to tell, its only vestiges being the corpses of strangled words, like hanged menevening silhouettes of gammas and gerunds, gallow crowsI think I should prefer the rope, since I know authoritatively and irrevocably that it shall be the ax; a little time gained, time, which is now so precious to me that I value every respite, every postponement (90-91)
49 Here, Cincinnatus creates his own version of an upsilamba (26), which, as the narrator has informed us earlier in the book, is a word that partakes in antiquity; it is in direct contrast to the language of transparent characters. An upsilamba is the combination of the Greek upsilon (an upsilamba inherently possesses motion and life, which transparent characters lack. Nabokov often likens words that are alive and real to birds. In The Real Life of Sebastian Night, for example, one character laments: I  longed to say something real, something with wings and a heart, but the birds I wanted settled on my shoulders and head only later when I was alone and not in need of words(Nabokov 26). In Cincinnatuss thirdjournal entry, Cincinnatus relates gammas and gerunds to gallow crows (90), and likensstrangled words to hanged men (90). Like the upsilamba, the consequences of Cincinnatuss writing are equally wondrous (26); he has personified words, breathing life into them, and has used what they look like (in addition to what they signify) to express his despair over his lack of time. Ironically, in trying to express that his words are strangled (90), Cincinnatus has proved them to be full of life. Cincinnatuss use of words is in contrast to the easily understood speech of transparent characters, speech that attempts to mimic the unequivocal text of the law. Unlike transparent characters, Cincinnatus struggles throughout the novel to participate in the language of antiquity, a language that reflects his crime of opacity and is in direct contrast to the language and ideology of the text of the law. This is to say, while the language of law is easily understood, being, like everything else in this transparent world, simple components, simply joined (63), and is continually interpreted by Cincinnatus as being dead (123), the ancient or archaic (26) language of poetry allows for a
50 plethora of wondrous consequences (26) and seems to come alive (93). Indeed, everything associated with the ancient times (from ancient words to antiquated machinery) appears to Cincinnatus as marvelous (26), while striking the transparent characters as superfluous (177), if not downright barbaric (173) and unutterable (72). Not surprisingly, the name of Cincinnatuss crime, gnostical turpitude (72), partakes in this antiquity; it is described as being a strange, almost forgotten word (32), so rare and so unutterable that it was necessary [for transparent souls]to use circumlocutions like impenetrability, opacity, occlusion (72). Cincinnatuss crime, the very reason for his imprisonment and impending death, can be boiled down to his participation in all that is antiquated and alive (93) rather than allthat is lawful and ultimately dead (123). We should view Cincinnatuss imprisonment and his forced participation in the traditions and rituals decreed by the law as his jailers attempt to integrate him into translucency. Similarly, we should regard Cincinnatuss writing, his use of lawless (90) and antiquated language, as a means of combating this effort to reform him. It is through the poetic language of antiquity that Cincinnatus is able to disrupt the monological nature of his surrounding. Yet inorder to truly create a meaningful dialoguea real connectionand thereby transcend his imprisonment, Cincinnatus must go beyond rejecting his transparent peers; he must also reach toward beings akin to him (223). His third journal entry continues: I would give up if I were laboring for a reader existing today, but as there is in the world not a single human who can speak my language; or, more simply, not a single human who can speak; or, even more simply, not a single human; I must think only of myself, of that force which urges me to express
51 myself (95). Cincinnatus does not write for his transparent jailers, who have no way of truly understanding their opaque prisoner, but he does, as he later tells us, write for someone. I must have at least the theoretical possibility of having a reader, otherwise, really, I might as well tear it all up (194). Although unbeknownst to Cincinnatus, his hypothetical reader is the reader of Invitation. Just as Nabokov and Cincinnatus share their writing, so too do they share an audience. For Nabokov, a readers success in truly entering a novel, in imagining that novel and letting it affect them, is qualified by a physical sensation: the tingling of the spine. This tingling is quite literally the manifestation of artistic-delight. He iterates this point in several interviews and lectures, including his essay entitled Good Readers and Good Writers, where he concludes: In order to bask in [the magic of art] a wise reader reads the book of genius not with his heart, not so much with his brain, but with his spine. It is there that occurs the telltale tingle (Good Readers, 6). We should view this tingle as the artistic connection between writer and reader, the former, who has created a world composed of words, and the latter, who has envisioned and realized this world. Both participants necessarily occupy the realm encompassed in every piece of writing. Nabokov fashions Cincinnatus, his most talented protagonist, as a character hyper-aware of his spine. He is, after all, a man sentenced to don the red top hat, to die by beheading. Early on, Cincinnatus laments his approaching death, saying, And yet I have been fashioned so painstakinglythe curvature of my spine has been calculated so well, so mysteriously (21). For Cincinnatus, his spine is proof of a creator and, consequently, a mysterious world separated from his ownthe world of Nabokov and of his reader.
52 Cincinnatus will be made aware of his spine, from coccyx to cervical vertebrae (65), and in particular, he will feel the place where he is to be beheaded, when he senses his readers. As he tells us in his third journal entry: I am trembling over the paper, chewing the pencil through to the lead, hunching over the conceal myself from the door through which the piercing eye stings me in the nape (91). To protect himself from his readerthe piercing eyeCincinnatus begins to take on the role of an author. Significantly, he narrates his own action, informing us that he is chewing the pencil through to the lead (91). Significantly, Cincinnatus is actively destroying the very item that signifies his own position as a character. Taking on a more omniscient perspective, the prisoner develops an eye on the back of [his neck], between [his] brittle vertebrae (92) that functions as a defense against his onlookers. As Cincinnatuss third journal entry progresses, his authority as an author becomes more substantiated; Cincinnatus transitions from a dialogue with himself to a narrative directed toward a reader akin to him. He moves back in time and portrays a scene from his childhood: I was sitting with my feet up on the low window sill and looking down (96) The process of visualizing this scene, of following Cincinnatuss story, invites the reader of Invitation to forget that Cincinnatus is himself narrated by another. That is, Cincinnatus begins to relay his own story, to represent himself as the protagonist of this story, and thereby separate his identity as a character from his identity as an author. I steppedstraight from the window sill onto the elastic air andfeeling nothing more than a half-sensation of barefootedness (even though I had on shoes) slowly and quite naturally strode forward (97). Here, Cincinnatus even utilizes
53 parentheses, which had been used to differentiate the voice of the narrator earlier on in this chapter from the voice of the narrated prisoner. Suddenly, however, an extraordinary, deafening silence brought me out of my reverie, and I saw below me, like pale daisies, the upturned faces of the stupefied children, and the pedagoguette, who seemed to be falling backward; I saw the globes of the trimmed shrubs, and the falling towel that had not yet reached the lawn; I saw myself, a pink-smocked boy, standing transfixed in mid-air (97) Here, the change in Cincinnatuss perspective is made overt. He first sees the upturned faces of the children below him; this is the point of view that the protagonist, a young Cincinnatus, sees from the windowsill. His perspective expands and he sees the globes of the trimmed shrubs, and the falling towel that had not yet reached the lawn (97). Finally, Cincinnatus authorial perspective reaches its apex, and he sees himself, a pink-smocked boy, standing transfixed in mid-air (97). The change in Cincinnatuss point of view is overt; it occurs both within his story as well as through it. Significantly, Cincinnatuss expanding vision does not end with his transition from the point of view of character to that of author. I saw myself  turning around, I saw, but three aerial paces from me, the window I had just left, and, his hairy arm extended in malevolent amazement, the (97). Perhaps Cincinnatus, the protagonist of this story, turns around sees the senior educatorI do not recall his namea fat, sweaty, shaggy-chested man in the window of his school. On the other hand, it could be that Cincinnatus, the author of this story, turns around and sees the master creator, Nabokov, in the window that is present between every work of art and its author. I believe the fact that this last sentence is cut off(Here, unfortunately, the light in the cell went outRodion always turned it
54 off exactly at ten)means that the answer partakes in what is opaque and unutterable (72). Cincinnatus has glimpsedindeed reached toward and connected withhis author. Cincinnatus is both an artist-reader and a poet, something that is quite unique within the realm of Invitation to a Beheading.After all, when we enterthis novel, we enter a world of transparencies, a world filled with the predictable and the repetitive; Cincinnatus alone partakes in artistry and opacity, a crime that is unnamable in this world where not even words can end in an unexpected way (26). We should view Cincinnatus as a link of sorts between reader and author, between the overtly fictive world he occupies and the real world he pines forthe world of his author. In Cincinnatus, we find a tool for understanding our own decapitationour separating of mind and body, that tingling in our spineand our entrance into a realm that is at once occupied by author, reader, and protagonist. Cincinnatus, sensing the original world from which he came, is able to realize his position as a character, and thereby divide his identity in two. (We, like Cincinnatus,are at once authors and characters in our own lives.) In the end, the character Cincinnatus dies, but his more omniscient and powerful double is able to walk away from the chopping block and approach the world from which he came. By reaching toward Nabokov, and indeed by partaking in Nabokovs authorship by way of utilizing opaque language, reflecting on his origins, and narrating his own story, Cincinnatus has achieved the ear of a different world (92). His imprisonment ends: Cincinnatus made his way in that direction where, to judge by the voices, stood beings akin to him (223).
55 Conclusion In the world of Invitation to a Beheading, reading and writing are highly important and powerful activities. Cincinnatuss encounter with the novel Quercus the role that these two activities play in the transparent world of Nabokovs most esteemed novel. The protagonist of Quercus a black vespertine oak, occupies a similar place in its respective realm as Cincinnatus does in the world of Invitation ; both are opaque protagonists surrounded by fleeting and vitreous characters. We find that this novel illuminates Cincinnatuss relationship to the fictional world imprisoning him, casting light on his role as protagonist and potential role as author. Nabokov beckonsus to question whether we, the readers of Invitation, occupy a similar place in our own respective realities as the oak and prisoner do in theirs. Are we also rooted down, somehow imprisoned in, a crafted world? Who might be reading us? Reading and writing become inextricably bound to the formation of connectionslinks between the separated worlds of author, reader, and character. Much like a tree, these activities reach from here to there. To read, as I have examined in the second chapter, is to connectseparate entities such as words, pictures, and sounds. It is to place significance in what happens between the frames, instilling therein time and motion. Although Cincinnatus is temporarily able to give life and narrative to that which he reads, something we have seen through his encounter with Emmies drawings, he is not able to fully connect to an author or world akin to himself through reading alone; he is the only writer within this transparent realm who is alive and real (Invitation 70). As we are both outside and within the novels we
56 read, it becomes our job to help Cincinnatus solve the puzzle and form that unique design for which he yearnsthat special connection to something opaque. We, along with Nabokov, are the alive and real beings toward whom Cincinnatus must reach. The act of writing allows Cincinnatus to reach toward his origins and move away from his death. While writing, Cincinnatus shares Nabokovs masterfully crafted words, and it is consequently while engaging in this activity thathe is closest to the world from which he came. Writing forces Cincinnatus to become aware of his own confined position as a character by illuminating the original (93) world of his authora world that controls and informs its clumsy, transparent copy (93)and grants him the opportunity to expand his perspective on, and ultimate control over, his life by taking on the role of author. The character Cincinnatus dies as his imprisoning novel reaches its end, but his more omniscient, powerful, and alive double lives on, becoming a permanent inhabitant of the opaque realm found in our memoriesthat realm which connects past to present, and anticipates the future.
57 Bibliography Bakhtin, Mikhail. The Dialogic Imagination. Trans. Carl Emerson and Michael Holquist. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1981. Blackwell, Stephen. Reading and Rupture in Nabokovs Invitation to a Beheading. The Slavic and Eastern European Journal 39, No. 1, 1995: 38-53. Connolly, Julian W., ed. Cambridge Companion to Nabokov.Cambridge: Cambridg UP, 2005. Kuzmanovich, Zoran. Strong Opinions and Nerve Points: Nabokovs Life and Art. Connolly, J. W. 11-29. Davydov, Sergei. Invitation to a Beheading. The Garland Companion to Vladimir Nabokov Ed. Vladimir A. Alexandrov. New York and London: Garland Publishing, 1995. Hasty, Olga. Vladimir Nabokovs Invitation to a Beheadingor the Artifice of Mortality. Kronoscope 8.1. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2008: 1-12. Langen, Timothy. The Ins and Outs of Invitation to a Beheading. Nabokov Studies, Volume 8. Internation of Vladimir Nabokov Society and Davidson College: 2004: 59-70.
58 Nabokov, Vladimir. Lectures on Literature. Ed. Fredson, Bowers. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1980. ---. Invitation to a Beheading. Trans. Dmitri Nabokov. New York: Vintage International, 1989. ---. Look at the Harlequins! New York: Vintage International, 1990. ---. Strong Opinions. New York: Vintage International, 1990. ---. The Real Sebastian Knight New York: First Vintage International, 1992. Peterson, Dale. Nabokovs Invitation: Literature as Execution. Nabokovs Invitation to a Beheading: A Critical Companion Evanston: Northwestern UP, 1997.