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Nabokov Society of Japan

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The Inauguration Speech
May 15th, 1999
By Yoshiyuki FUJIKAWA
President of the Nabokov Society of Japan, 1999-2004

Vladimir Nabokov was born in St. Petersburg, Russia, in 1899. That is, this year, 1999, is centennial of Nabokov’s birth, and events and workshops to celebrate its commemoration have been held all over the world.

For instance, it seemed that an exhibition on the first edition of his books was prosperous at a gallery in New York in spring. Moreover, at the beginning of July, a large-scale international conference is going to take place at Cambridge University which he was graduated from.

In commemoration of the one-hundredth year since his birth, the Nabokov Society of Japan was set up in our country as well. The inauguration of its convention was held at Faculty of Letters, the University of Tokyo, in May 15th. Furthermore, a symposium to commemorate Nabokov’s short story, “Spring in Fialta,” which was first written in Russian and then was translated into English by him, also took place. Besides, TV films made in Russia were screened as well. It was prosperous that about seventy people of scholars including his regular fans actively took part in the convention.

Nabokov is a truly unique and creative writer who has unparalleled history as a writer. Specifically, when he was sent into exile in Berlin and Paris due to Russian Revolution, he took advantage of the exile and wrote books in Russian (sometimes in French). Moreover, after immigrating to the U. S. in 1940, he wrote books in English and succeeded admirably. It is not an exaggeration to say that he is the one who went his own way and achieved an astounding way of life as if one went through two lives in one’s own life.

Since he is such an incomparable, bilingual writer, he was likely to be regarded as a Russian writer in Russia and as an English writer in English speaking countries for a long time. In other words, scholars of Russian Literature mostly studied works written in Russian years before going to the U.S., and after coming to the U.S., scholars of English and American Literature mainly researched works written in English such as Lolita, Pale Fire, and Ada or Ardor.

On careful consideration, however, such a research division of rules is not necessarily a favorable way. Most importantly of all, I don’t think it is the best way of grasping the big picture of such a bilingual writer, Nabokov, who actively wrote books using Russian and English freely. Thus, based on reflection on the past like this, the Nabokov Society of Japan was launched in order to enliven research contacts between scholars of Russian Literature and scholars of English & American Literature who are all keen readers of Nabokov and to facilitate the exchanges of information among them.

Speaking of me, first of all, I was fascinated by reading a book called The Real Life of Sebastian Knight and was motivated to study literary works of Nabokov deeply. In 1970, I had an opportunity to translate this first novel written in English. What enchanted me first was that his works evoked my memories in the innermost depths of my mind because of his exquisite writing style. Besides, his works make me imagine as if he were a magician elaborating every object and character in his stories as real existence in a real world. What is more, I could not help but admire his works entirely when I discovered that every single detail in his works was shining just like diamonds.

In the past thirty years, it is no doubt that literary works of Nabokov have ensured the position of classical literature in 20th century. However, in my view, we should rather pay great attention to Nabokov as a writer who wrote appealing books to a modern world than as a classical writer whose works are too respectable and hard to read. Furthermore, it seems that a bunch of unexplored research projects still remain to be done concerning relations between the past Russian Literature and English & American Literature.

In conclusion, the primary reason for establishing the Nabokov Society of Japan is to make a place where sholars and general readers who are interested in Nabokov get together for the purpose of studying his literary works thoroughly. Therefore, we really appreciate your continuing support for our activities of the Nabokov Society of Japan from now on.

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