Beata Migut

4A Literary Transcodifications/4
Session 4 – July 2, 15:30 – 17:30

Setting Words and Images in Motion in Vladimir Nabokov’s Laughter in the Dark and Speak, Memory: An Autobiography Revisited

Vladimir Nabokov’s life was one of multiple uprootings and continual relocations: exiled from Russia, Nabokov and his family moved around Europe, stayed for a while in the United States, and eventually settled in Switzerland. Nabokov’s identity as a writer is not easy to pinpoint either, since he wrote in Russian, English and French. His multiculturalism and multilingualism complement his interest in an array of artistic media: in highly complex ways, his works refer to film, photography, painting, drawing, animation and music. In Kamera Obskura (1932), translated by the author from Russian into English as Laughter in the Dark (1938), Nabokov introduces the idea to set paintings in motion, to animate them. Not only paintings, perhaps – it may be argued that Nabokov is interested in setting words and language in motion as well: is it a coincidence that one of the paintings suggested in the novel to be set in motion is Bruegel’s “Proverbs”? Being fixed phrases and conveying fixed truths, proverbs may seem to be the most immovable and static forms of expression.  

To what extent can Nabokov’s frequent descriptions of visual images and other sensory impressions be understood as a way of setting language in motion? In this presentation, I will discuss this idea of setting static words and images in motion in relation to Nabokov’s novel Laughter in the Dark, and to his autobiography entitled Speak, Memory: Autobiography Revisited. I will show how Nabokov’s transcoding writing practice between literature and other media and art forms can be considered as a strategy to relate to one’s memories and origins, in the context of dynamic and fluctuating representations of the self and identity. 


Beata Migut is a 3rd year Ph.D. student in Comparative Literature at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland. Her doctoral research investigates the relationship between intermediality and exophony, i.e. the idea of writing outside one’s first language, in the work of Yoko Tawada, Vladimir Nabokov and Bruno Schulz.