ASSOCIATION : Manifestations – Colloque 2013 – LEVING

Colloque International : « Vladimir Nabokov et la France »

Les Chercheurs enchantés : Société Française Vladimir Nabokov

Paris, 30 mai-1er juin 2013

LEVING, Yuri – Faculty of Art and Social Sciences, Dalhousie University, Canada
French Theory, Russian Legacy: Reading Nabokov with Pierre Bourdieu

    In this paper I will provide a critical context for understanding issues that dominate Nabokov’s art and social discussions of literary fame, politics of bestselling, prize distribution, and posthumous legacies in literature – an activity which Pierre Bourdieu defines as “enterprises with a long production cycle, founded on the acceptance of the risk inherent in cultural investments and above all on submission to the specific laws of the art trade.” Relying on the critical theory of P. Bourdieu, the leading French sociologist, anthropologist, and philosopher, I am going to examine the creation and maintenance of Nabokov’s literary reputation within the Russian literary tradition from the perspective of the economics of culture.
    Literature is not only about aesthetics, but almost equally about economics. The successful marketing of an author and his literary works is more dependent on the activities of cultural merchants than on the particular words and phrases found in the author’s prose. While alive, the author must work with these cultural merchants in order to sustain his place within the literary market. Once the author is dead, the real work of maintaining a posthumous legacy begins for friends, family, scholars and publishers, in order to continue to profit from the deceased’s creative works, becoming a literary industry of its own.
    Bourdieu’s critical theory and his French academic adepts put forth an argument that cultural interactions are understood as transactions of tangible and intangible products within an economic framework of markets, exchange value, price and other such concepts. These economic exchanges of culture result in what Pierre Bourdieu calls symbolic capital, bestowing individual artist’s with the reputation for competence and an image of respectability. Nabokov’s symbolic capital is transmitted to writers by agents and institutions possessing the economic and cultural capital necessary to confer relative value for the creative gesture. Economics, therefore, play an underlying role in this mutually advantageous relationship.


Yuri Leving is Professor and Chair in the Department of Russian Studies, Dalhousie University, Canada. He is the author of three monographs: Keys to The Gift. A Guide to V. Nabokov’s Novel (2011), Upbringing by Optics: Book Illustration, Animation, and Text (2010), Train Station – Garage – Hangar. Vladimir Nabokov and the Poetics of Russian Urbanism (2004, Short-listed for Andrey Bely Prize), and has also edited and co-edited five volumes of articles: Shades of Laura. Vladimir Nabokov’s Last Novel The Original of Laura (forthcoming), Anatomy of a Short Story (New York: Continuum, 2012, with an afterword by John Banville), The Goalkeeper: The Nabokov Almanac (2010), Eglantine: A Collection of Philological Essays to Honour the Sixtieth Anniversary of Roman Timenchik (2005), and Empire N. Nabokov and His Heirs (2006). Leving has published over 70 scholarly articles on various aspects of Russian and comparative literature. He served as a commentator on the first authorized Russian edition of The Collected Works of Vladimir Nabokov in five volumes (1999-2001), and was the curator for the exhibition “Nabokov’s Lolita: 1955-2005” in Washington, D.C., which celebrated the 50th anniversary of the publication of Lolita. Leving is the founding editor of the Nabokov Online Journal (since 2007).