EVENT Oct 31
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International Conference - Vladimir Nabokov, or Education Without Borders (Cornell University)

Cornell University, Ithaca, NY
Organization: International Vladimir Nabokov Society, French Vladimir Nabokov Soiety
Categories: American, Comparative, Pedagogy, African-American, Colonial, Revolution & Early National, Transcendentalists, 1865-1914, 20th & 21st Century
Event Date: 2024-10-31 to 2024-11-02 Abstract Due: 2024-03-01

During a 1969 conversation with Simon Karlinsky, Vladimir Nabokov stated that to write "about Pushkin and also about me" one had to know French literature. Hosted by the French Studies Department of Cornell University, this conference aims to look at Nabokov through a transnational and transcultural lens. Cornell University is a particularly fitting location for such a conference given that Nabokov lectured there not only on Flaubert and Proust, but also on Austen, Kafka, Dickens, Stevenson, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Gogol, and others.

The significant value of considering the experiences of migrants is implicitly acknowledged within academic institutions, ever attentive to global contexts and the transnational exchange of ideas, but, frequently, the lived realities of migrants and migration are overlooked or altogether ignored. This conference proposes that we think of Nabokov as a migrant with the larger aim of focusing on migrants, exiles, and refugees and their contributions to contemporary society. As a migrant exile, Nabokov regularly evoked his experience of loss—of his native landscapes, of his “mother” tongue—and thus contributed to his readers’ awareness of their surrounding world. Nabokov’s contribution to the Humanities and to environmental politics will be at the heart of the discussions at Cornell University, an institution emblematic of the hospitality of American universities.  As one of the “considerable passersby” (as Mallarmé referred to Rimbaud), Nabokov never ceased to depict the experience of what Montaigne called the “passage” (Essays III, 2). 

Nabokov was educated in three languages (Russian, English, and French), and was confronted with the necessity to transmit his education to others. To earn a living, he gave private lessons in Berlin as early as 1924; later, he taught in American universities in the 1940s and the 1950s. The many traces of his “passage” through academia (his lectures, his campus novels, his archival notes) are at the core of the conference’s subject matter.

Nabokov’s experience of exile opens multiple perspectives, which conference participants are invited to explore in connection with one of the following conference themes:

1. Institutions: teaching at Cornell in the 1950s / teaching Nabokov in 2024

This topic invites reflections exclusively on Nabokov’s experience as a teacher and/or on experiences of teaching Nabokov.


The topics below can be approached through a comparatist lens:

2. Multilingualism: how can Nabokov be approached across languages? / translation and transmission

Though linguistic exile is one of the components of Nabokov’s fame (a Russian writer metamorphosing into an English-language writer), it is also often a blind spot in Nabokov scholarship. The ideal of an “education without borders” forces us to reflect upon the linguistic utopia upon which ideas of globalization rest. Does Nabokov’s oeuvre come to mean different things depending on what language he is approached from?

3. Trans-disciplinarity: ecology and Humanities / writers, paintings, and drawings

Exile derails the trajectories inscribed in social and cultural legacies. By the same logic, it provokes a form of resistance or “indiscipline” that interrogates the various boundaries and hierarchies constructed in academia. Papers are invited on Nabokov as a trans-disciplinary figure, broadly construed, or as a transnational author considered in relation to other writers, thinkers, or artists (i.e., intertextual studies) or in relation to fields of study outside of literature.


4. Ethics of Humor:

Humor can be said to be Nabokov’s favored intellectual stance. In the context of migration, such a stance does not claim to negate the seriousness of desperate situations, but, instead, aims to relate to others and to allow for difficult circumstances and emotions to coexist. Papers are invited that treat Nabokov’s humor in relation to “education without borders” and concern for the Other; and/or in relation to matters of trauma (see below) that appear in his works.

5. Ethics of Trauma:

Nabokov frequently wrote about traumatic experiences (not only exile, but also the Holocaust, incest, and rape). How should we read the traumatic narratives we encounter in his work, such as Bend Sinister, Lolita, and Pnin?


Papers will either be delivered in the traditional 20-minute oral-presentation format, OR in the poster-session format successfully adopted at the Hidden Nabokov Conference in Wellesley in 2022 under the rubric “Pnin’s Punchbowl.” Papers selected for “Pnin’s Punchbowl” will be sent in advance to all participants and discussed on an individual basis during a predetermined time slot.

A selection of papers will be published in an international volume after the conference.

The very topic of the conference should imply that every participant ought to feel welcome to write and speak in any of the three languages Nabokov used in his writing: Russian, English, and French. However, given that the conference will take place at Cornell, an English version of papers will be required. Therefore, conference participants will be asked to provide the organizers a copy of their paper in English or to inform the organizers of their translation needs.

Plenary speakers, from both sides of the Atlantic:

- Monica Manolescu, Professor of 20th century/contemporary American Literature, University of Strasbourg, France

- Gavriel Shapiro, Professor Emeritus of Comparative and Russian Literature, Cornell University, USA


March 1, 2024: Deadline to send abstracts (the text should not exceed 400 words) with a short biography to: nabokov.cornell2024@vladimir-nabokov.org

Please indicate what kind of contribution you would prefer to offer (a traditional conference paper or a contribution to “Pnin’s Punchbowl”) and which of the five themes (listed above) your paper addresses. The organizing committee cannot guarantee a spot in your preferred option(s), but it will do its best to accommodate individual preferences.

April, 2024: Participants are informed about the decision of the selection committee.

Mid-October,?2024: The full text of the papers that will be part of “Pnin’s Punchbowl” must be sent to the conference organizers.


The organizers of the “Vladimir Nabokov, or Education without Borders” Conference subscribe to the Civility Principles adopted by the International Vladimir Nabokov Society on November 2023. All participants in the Conference will be expected to adhere in good faith to these principles.




Nabokov Cornell 2024