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The Paranoid Gamer: Nabokov and the Game hidden within The Defense

The Paranoid Gamer: Nabokov and the Game hidden  within The Defense

Last year I wrote a brief post on a project that I had undertaken which combined my love of chess with my love of the works of Vladimir Nabokov. In this post, I plan on discussing the conclusion of that project and how I used my (not so vast) knowledge of chess to bring the game that Nabokov hid beneath the surface of the text to the forefront.

The main tenant of the paper that I wrote, titled “The Grandmaster of Texts: Paranoia and Play Within the Depths of Literature” discussed the popular belief that the chess player is characterized as an obsessive strategist or pattern finder whose paranoia while playing the game leads to paranoia in real life. I then researched paranoid reading, or the process of reading which seeks to find hidden meanings within texts, and drew parallels between the reader and the chess player. This idea of the reader as paranoid is parallel to the chess player, but unlike Eve Sedgewick’s writing on paranoid reading, I don’t want to say that paranoid reading is a bad thing. I think it is more apt to say that like the obsessed chess player the knowledgeable reader needs to get back to a place where depth is still found in the work, but there is still fun in the process. Just like strategizing in a chess game is fun to the player, seeking the hidden meanings in literature is just as fun, but it can be taken to an obsessive level.

The fun of exploring the text, which was Nabokov’s The Luzhin Defense, was in finding the hidden moves within the text. As many people know Nabokov is known for hiding things within his texts, and in the Foreword to the novel he invites the reader into his game by writing that he “enjoyed taking advantage of this or that image and scene to introduce a fatal pattern into Luzhin’s life and to endow the description of a garden, a journey, a sequence of humdrum events, with the semblance of a game of skill” (8).Although I have yet to map the entire game on the chess board, I was able to map the final scene, which ends (*Spoiler Alert*) in the suicide of the title character. So below is a picture of that final scene in which Luzhin is the white King and he is trapped on all sides and he cannot possibly win the game.

While reflecting on this project and as I am embarking upon a new project in which I will be trying to create a way to read Nabokov’s unfinished novel The Original of Laura, I must say that the possibilities of turning narratives into game forms is vast and mostly unexplored. In my research on Nabokov I found a lot of literature on the fact that he left clues and puzzles in his novels, but not much actual research on unearthing those clues and puzzles. In addition, Nabokov is not the only writer who uses the conventions of game-play, and I think it would be interesting if more academics became interested in the underlying game texts that many novels contain. Also if anyone has any information on scholarship in Game Studies in relation to Texts I would appreciate the help.


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