Possible Intersections of Metafiction and Morality

When scribbling down his last wish that, alas, the prison staff can’t (for a multitude of reasons) grant him, Cincinnatus writes: “I must have at least the theoretical possibility of having a reader, otherwise, really, I might as well tear it all up” (194). Especially in the light of Alter’s argument, which seeks, as we discussed yesterday, to imbue Invitation with some kind of moral heft, I want to read this quote as a metafictive moment; are we the readers Cincinnatus so longs for? If we are his readers, does that grant us some stake or some kind of textual existence within “this” world?

This semi-formed interpretation would appear to be at odds with Alter’s analysis, since it so clearly transgresses the “comic distance” he reads into the novel (52). Yet, Alter writes in his concluding sentence: “…the novel affirms the tough persistence of humanity in a world that is progressively more brutal and more subtle in its attempts to take us away from ourselves” (64). Although his use of the first person plural in the final words of the sentence can be interpreted as a mere borrowing of a phrase used by Cincinnatus in the novel, it has the potential, I believe, to personalize the novel’s critique of totalitarianism. After all, Alter explicitly frames the novel as a text with moral implications in our world.

I suppose my wonderings can be summarized as such: are we as readers somehow communing with Cincinnatus through the quote used above, and, if so, does this mean the delineation between this “real” world and that “fictional” world is blurred, resulting in a possible instance of metafiction on Nabokov’s part? Might this enhance the moral weight of the novel?

One thought on “Possible Intersections of Metafiction and Morality

  1. More examples of the reader “invitation to” the narrative can be found in the title itself, and in the peephole (“placed in such a way that in the whole cell there was not a single point that the observer on the other side of the door could not pierce with his gaze,” 21 or “and Cincinnatus would become aware of the predatory eye following him,” 110). As you mentioned, metafiction grants the reader the power to decide how much time it will pass before Cincinnatus’ beheading, depending on how much time he will spend reading the book. He thus becomes responsible of somehow creating or unfolding the protagonist’s narrative.

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