Science and Gnosticism in "Lance"

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Scientific theory and discourse provide one way of ordering and explaining the world; art provides a different set of organizational and explanatory metaphors. I think we have ample evidence that Nabokov considered art and science to be two sides of the same supreme human attribute: the imagination. For Nabokov, imagination-and therefore both true art and true science-is the redeeming quality of human beings which enables us, perhaps, to transcend death. Some of the structural features of science fiction as a genre lend themselves ideally to Nabokov's theme of self-transcendence. If the goal of self-transcendence involves escaping from the "vortex of the self,"-extricating oneself from all systems, stepping outside of each successive "frame," reaching a timeless vantage point from which the discontinuity of reality and its representation can be recognized and overcome . . . then, at that point, I suppose it doesn't matter: you have become one with God and can stop reading.

If you continue to read, I would like to make two points about science fiction as a generic form which explain the choice of this form in "Lance" and are essential to a proper understanding of the work as a whole: (1) the romantic roots of the science fiction genre make it amenable to the depiction of a spiritual quest; (2) science fiction lends itself well to a spatial depiction of the discontinuity between reality and its representation. If the latter proposition is corroborated by an analysis of the relationship between "levels of reality" in "Lance," it will provide additional evidence for the hypothesis that science fiction is a preeminently spatial genre, rather than a literary form whose distinctiveness has to do with time (extrapolation into the future).

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Copyright © 1993 Garland Publishing. This chapter first appeared in A Small Alpine Form: Studies in Nabokov's Short Fiction.

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