The dissertation examines allusions to the Russian-American novelist Vladimir Nabokov in the work of 147 contemporary cultural producers and—through this filter—the way in which allusion functions as symbolic capital in the field of cultural production. Critics have traditionally considered allusion a strictly localized phenomenon, but this approach—which draws upon the work of sociologists of literature such as Franco Moretti and Pierre Bourdieu, as well as the poetics of Gérard Genette—considers how a Nabokov allusion operates as an intra-authorial calling card, where Nabokov appears as an idealized, intransigent autonomous authorial figure in the work of Zadie Smith, Martin Amis, John Updike, Nicholson Baker, Salman Rushdie, Shelley Jackson, Guillermo Cabrera Infante, writers associated with the McSweeney's literary journal, and Anthony Burgess, among many others.
Writers reassert the autonomy of the individual author when they reference Nabokov in their own novels, and in doing so these authors form a sort of ad-hoc Nabokovian group or school even when the members and their immediate milieu would not seem to have anything in common otherwise. Nabokov functions as a particularly valuable unit of cultural capital given his symbolic freight: Nabokov stands for autonomous, intransigent authorial figures everywhere, bulwarked by equal parts mainstream bestselling success, critical respectability, and seeming invisibility. Nabokov's intertextual narrative approaches serve as a means of positioning the reader and controlling readerly and critical reception, which in turn guide how Nabokov himself is referenced in other people's novels, short stories, poems, songs, and television shows. The aim is to provide quantifiable evidence of Nabokov's influence, and to explore the ways in which influence can (and cannot) be roughly quantified; these references allow for a narrower, better understanding of influence by positioning its function within the scope of contemporary intertextual criticism, specifically by examining the intersection of Bourdieu's field of cultural production and Genette's notions of hypertextuality and paratextuality. By delineating the nature and the degree of Nabokov's influence in the field of contemporary literature—an influence made explicit in allusions to Nabokov's work—the research further refines notions of authorial agency in intertextual studies.
Nabokov is one of the twentieth century's most densely allusive authors, one whose novels playfully referenced a dizzying array of literary figures, and one whose own influence on the contemporary literary field is often noted but seldom quantified. Nabokov-related publications aimed at both scholars and general readers will make a note of his influence, often by grouping him with Joyce, Borges, Beckett, and Kafka (with Nabokov as the Fifth Beatle in the panoply of influential literary figures), though the claim is made and then abandoned. The dissertation charts the impact of Nabokov's presence in contemporary literature.