"Mutual relations of dialogue, parody, contestation" : writing Nabokov's life in the age of the author's death

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2014-05

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Leisner, Keith David

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Abstract

In her introduction to a special issue of the South Central Review on literary biography published in 2006, Linda Leavell writes, "Many would trace the disdain for literary biography—in both senses of the word “literary”—back through Roland Barthes’s “death of the author” to the New Critics’ division of text from context all the way to T. S. Eliot’s theory of impersonality. Critical theory of the past century has generally deemed an author’s life, personality, and intentions irrelevant to the text" (1). Leavell’s explanation of how critical theory of the twentieth century came to shape the current scholarly attitude towards literary biography establishes the genre’s status in an era of literary theory that is commonly characterized by the diminishment of the author as the source of meaning in a text, an era in which we remain. This characterization, however, overlooks the different ways that the theorists of the era displaced the author as the dominant figure in literary studies. This paper demonstrates how these different ways, despite whatever damage they might have done to the status of literary biography, actually benefit the study of the genre. Additionally, this paper argues that they not only comprise one side of Vladimir Nabokov’s contradictory views on his own authorship, which makes him an ideal subject for the study of authority over biographical representation, but also gave rise to new methodologies of literary biography, which are the methodologies of Nabokov’s biographers themselves. As a result, this paper concludes, “an author’s life, personality, and intentions” in turn have assumed new relevancy in literary studies.

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