ASSOCIATION: doctoriales 2014 – DEMATAGODA

University of Glasgow
Thesis Title: ‘The Loathsome Tint of Social Intent: Ideology and Aesthetics in the works of Vladimir Nabokov’
Enrolment year: 2010
Projected year of completion: 2014
Supervisors: Professor Laurence Davies, Dr. John Coyle, Dr. Andrei Rogatchevski 


Ideology, Epistemology, and the ‘Modernism of Underdevelopment’ in The Eye and Despair

Within past and recent criticism, it is a widely held assumption that Nabokov should be regarded as a direct descendant of the Russian Symbolist tradition. It is a critical assumption which ascribes to Nabokov an epistemology which has its roots in the transcendence of everyday reality, a metaphysical Idealism which, though ostensibly camouflaged, is purported to be consistent throughout the Nabokovian corpus and, perhaps most significantly, a very distinct historical subjectivity. With the publication of Vladimir Alexandrov’s Otherworld, this burgeoning critical tendency became ubiquitous, and continues to be the subject of varied research. Yet there are two important aspects of this assumption which have heretofore been overlooked and remain problematic; primarily whether such an assumption is entirely justified, and secondly the nature of its ideological significance. The often acerbic opposition of Symbolism and Formalism in early twentieth century Russian literature was tainted by class politics; it was, in essence, as equally ideological as it was aesthetic.

As John Burt Foster has proposed, behind the Nabokovian aesthetic there is a tension, an ‘almost paradoxical juxtaposition- the modernist urge to “make it new” recoiling into the past to become an art of personal memory.’[1]It is the contention of my thesis that his work of the émigré period up to and including The Gift involves a series of aesthetic vacillations and evolutions which were influenced by his engagement with a changing political and ideological landscape. Furthermore, these aesthetic developments also derive from an attempted negotiation between two contrasting strands of the Russian ‘Modernism of Underdevelopment’[2]- Symbolism and Formalism. In my paper, I shall attempt to illustrate how this negotiation manifests itself in two works written within two years of each other, the short novella The Eye (1930) and Despair (1932).


Bio: Udith Dematagoda graduated in 2008 with a MA (hons) in Comparative Literature and Slavonic Studies from The University of Glasgow, before taking a Masters degree in English from The University of Manchester in 2009. She completed a intensive diploma in Russian language at Glasgow, before embarking on her PhD research on Vladimir Nabokov in 2010. She has taught at the University of Glasgow from 2010-2012, and currently teach at the University of Nice-Sophia Antipolis as a Lecteur d’anglais. She has published on Vladimir Nabokov in publications such as the Slavonic and East European Review (SEER) and The Nabokov Online Journal (NOJ). She has presented papers at various universities in the UK and at Nabokov Readings conference at The St. Petersburg State University’s Vladimir Nabokov museum in Russia. She spent the summer of 2013 in New York conducting research at The Berg Collection of Modernist English and American Literature at The New York Public Library.


[1] John Burt Foster Jr, Nabokov’s Art of Memory and European Modernism (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993) p.23. Further references given in parenthesis.
[2] Marshall Berman, All that is Solid Melts into Air (New York: Penguin, 1982), p.175.