Speak, Memory by Vladamir Nabokov Essay

Speak, Memory by Vladamir Nabokov Essay

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To some degree, every artist creates his or her own artistic life preserver, and in doing so resequences and conserves their own artistic DNA so that it may be transferred onto another generation. Vladimir Nabokov’s memoir Speak, Memory, is not only that preserver, but the tug boat that it holds onto, heavy and cramped with the memories and history that Nabokov retells his readers against the currents of time. Speak, Memory operates thematically, not chronologically. Nabokov returns anew to his early childhood and pulls in, as it were, the memories associated with certain themes. Then he turns, changes directions, and sets off again. One such theme that resonates throughout the novel is that of exile and deteterritorialization, both physically and spiritually, acting as the catalyst that drives Nabokov’s feelings of misplacement and nostalgia; an orphan of Russia wishing to reclaim what has been already lost.
Exile is the state of one who lives away from his native land, either voluntarily or unwillingly. However unlike most exiles, refined Nabokov is met with less cultural or linguistic clashes when being in deterritorialization. He physically deterritorializes, in various spaces and times, moving from Russia to England, then from Germany to France. He describes his household as “the kind of Russian family to which I belonged—a kind now extinct, had, among other virtues, a traditional leaning toward the comfortable products of Anglo-Saxon civilization. Pear’s Soap, tar-balk when dry, topaz-like when held to the light between wet fingers, took care of one’s morning bath…At breakfast, Golden Syrup imported from London would entwist with its glowing coils the revolving spoon from which enough of it had slithered onto a piece of Rus...


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... as a Russian intellectual in mishaps and finally recognizes himself as an exile, he seems to suspend his deterritorialization, both physically and spiritually. He recounts, “as I look back at those years of exile, I see myself, and thousands of other Russians, leading an odd but by no means unpleasant existence, in material indigence and intellectual luxury, among perfectly unimportant strangers, spectral Germans and Frenchman in whose more or less illusory cities, we émigrés, happened to dwell” (276). Upon arriving in America, his physical deterritorialization is halted, while his spiritual deterritorialization is reawaked as he adopts the country as his new home, describing America as “a new and beloved world, where I have learned to feel at home” (277), where he will push his deterritorialization further and further to his literary imagination in his new world.

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