Tours de Babel et lettres de feu : motifs bibliques dans le Berlin de Vladimir Nabokov
- Publisher: Caliban
(issn: 2425-6250, eissn: 2431-1766)
bilinguisme | PE1-3729 | Vladimir Nabokov | villes en littérature | motifs bibliques | intertextualité | exil | Berlin | English language
When examining the critical responses to Vladimir Nabokov’s representations of Berlin in his Russian fiction, it is quite surprising to notice that two antithetical positions have been formulated, one which stresses the absence of Berlin as a city in Nabokov’s texts, and a more recent position emphasizing, on the contrary, the substantial presence of the city in terms of references, landmarks and recognizable sites. This article adopts a different stance, focusing on two Old Testament motifs that appear in Nabokov’s last Russian novel (The Gift) and in his autobiography, namely the Tower of Babel and the letters of fire from the book of Daniel. Starting from these motifs involving shop signs, letters and light, I attempt to connect the urban scene of exile with the issue of bilingualism, and to show in what ways Nabokov’s use of these two biblical topoi points to a vision of literary creation as transgression. The problem of Berlin’s existence or non-existence in Nabokov’s work is therefore shifted from the domain of mimetic representation onto a different plane, where the signs of Berlin are closely examined and decoded, thus giving access to a possible understanding of the writer’s change of language and of his larger aesthetic project.