The Eye

The Eye

Book - 1990
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Nabokov's fourth novel, The Eye is as much a farcical detective story as it is a profoundly refractive tale about the vicissitudes of identities and appearances. Nabokov's protagonist, Smurov, is a lovelorn, excruciatingly self-conscious Russian #65533;migr#65533; living in prewar Berlin, who commits suicide after being humiliated by a jealous husband, only to suffer even greater indignities in the afterlife.
Publisher: New York : Vintage Books, 1990
Edition: 1st Vintage international ed
ISBN: 9780679727231
067972723X
Characteristics: 104 p. ; 21 cm
Alternative Title: Sogli︠a︡dataĭ

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lelandleslie
Sep 15, 2016

Essentially a fictional illustration of the sociologist Erving Goffman's The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, though predating it by 26 years. Following a failed suicide attempt, Smurov appears to suffer from dissassociation - believing himself to be dead, he thinks his life is merely the continuation of his imagination, and he partly adopts a dispassionate outsider's view of himself:

"Ever since the shot - that shot which, in my opinion, had been fatal - I had observed myself with curiosity instead of sympathy, and my painful past - before the shot - was now foreign to me... In respect to myself I was now an onlooker."

While his "real" self rents a room, gets a job, and falls in love, his "observer" self evaluates the theatrical presentation of his "real" self to other people, and seeks to find out how they view his "real" self, and how these views differ from person to person, each one essentially creating a new Smurov:

"The situation was becoming a curious one. I could already count three versions of Smurov, while the original remained unknown... Just as the scientist does not care whether the color of a wing is pretty or not, or whether its markings are delicate or lurid (but is interested only in its taxonomic characters), I regarded Smurov, without any aesthetic tremor; instead, I found a keen thrill in the classification of Smurovian masks that I had so casually undertaken."

The parallels with Goffman's book just smack an old sociology major over the head - Nabokov even explicitly uses Goffman's idea of "masks" here! And what is Smurov doing if not Goffman's description of dramaturgical analysis: "If we imagine ourselves as directors observing what goes on in the theatre of everyday life, we are doing what Goffman called dramaturgical analysis, the study of social interaction in terms of theatrical performance."

I don't know if Goffman knew of The Eye when he wrote his book detailing his great contribution to sociological theory, though The Eye was not translated into English until 1965, nine years after Goffman's work was first published in Scotland, so perhaps not. But he would have known exactly what Nabokov was up to here.

kvelez Apr 21, 2014

Great book as an introduction to Nabokov's writing. Short, quick yet exciting read.

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