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ASSOCIATION: Manifestations - Biarritz Conference 2016 - Presentation

Languages: Français    English

“Do the Senses Make Sense?”: The Five Senses in Nabokov’s Work

International Conference - French Vladimir Nabokov Society


Biarritz, France -- April 28 to May 1, 2016

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Artwork by Axel Roy, 2016

Biarritz, France,   April 28- May 1, 2016




This international conference was dedicated to the memory of Stephen Jan Parker, who passed away on March 14, 2016.


The second Nabokov International Conference organized by the French Vladimir Nabokov Society was held in Biarritz, France, a place familiar to most of Nabokov’s readers, as he powerfully evoked the sea resort—a popular vacation spot for White Russians until 1917—and its Grande Plage, on which he “found himself digging, one day, side by side with a little French girl called Colette”, the author’s “first love”. Biarritz was the place where Nabokov had one of his first intense sensorial and emotional experiences, and offered many elements to stimulate his perceptive and imaginative self: from the “rising, rotating mass of foamy, green water” of the ocean to the sound of the Basque language, from the salty breeze on his lips to the “deep, mealy sand” in which he dug, from the “pistachio ice cream of a heavenly green” to the pine smell of the beach cabin, his sensorial memories saturate the short story “First Love” (chapter seven of Speak, Memory).

This conference invited scholars to reflect upon the importance and significance of the Five Senses in Nabokov’s work, poetics and aesthetics. Senses make particular sense in Nabokov’s world, since he was not only a trilingual writer, but also a man gifted with a spectacular visual, auditory, gustatory, olfactory, tactile and kinetic memory. In addition, Nabokov was a famous synaesthete, and therefore one should hardly attempt to study the importance of one given sense without taking into account its relation to the other ones. The knowledge brought by neuroscience and cognitive science in the field of synaesthesia could therefore open up new perspectives for researchers interested in that topic in Nabokov’s oeuvre.

The central importance of sensory modalities in Nabokov’s work should also be related to his multilingualism, and his personal history; since he came from an aristocratic family frequently travelling, employing foreigners and having access to an amount of foreign products quite exceptional when compared to their fellow Russian citizens, Nabokov’s senses were constantly stimulated by new sounds, sights, smells, tastes and textures in his childhood. His acute sensory perceptions were then probably further developed with the experiences brought by his émigré life throughout Europe and the United States.

One may even wonder whether the very exercise of putting sensible experience into words did not play a fundamental role in shaping, nourishing and amplifying the richness and sharpness of Nabokov’s sensory perceptions. Similarly, Nabokov’s entomological practice, which ruined his eyesight, also had a significant (though paradoxical) impact on the acuteness of his visual perception of detail and color, and probably on his other modes of perception.

Considering that so far the key role of senses in Nabokov’s work and aesthetics (keeping in mind that this very word stems for the Greek word for senses) has not been tackled on a large scale, this International Nabokov Conference offered the first occasion for such academic reflections and exchanges to take place, so that the Nabokovian scholarly community helps “senses make sense” in his work.

Thanks to the support of the city of Biarritz and its Médiathèque, the conference was the occasion for a series of cultural events in relation to Nabokov’s works and the conference’s topic: exhibitions, dance performances, public reading/strolling along the sights of Biarritz, and a film projection.

Conference organizers:

Isabelle Poulin, Université de Bordeaux-Montaigne

Marie Bouchet, Université de Toulouse

Julie Loison-Charles, Université Lille III

Morgane Allain-Roussel, Université de Saint-Etienne

Contact:   [email protected]




The conference would not have been possible without the help and support of our partners:

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