The discussion of vulgarity features prominently in both Nabokov and Qian’s creative writing. In this essay, their notions of vulgarity will be compared and contrasted. Nabokov and Qian have surprisingly similar understandings of vulgarity. To be more specific, both identify pretense/ affectation and triteness/ mediocrity as its fundamental characteristics. Moreover, both authors believe that the quintessential feature of vulgarity lies in its downplay of individual consciousness. The two authors’ understandings of vulgarity also differ in major ways. Qian’s Fortress Besieged, though showing deep social and moral concerns, did not seem to suspect a direct causal link between vulgarity and cruelty. By contrast, Nabokov frequently indicates that vulgarity can lead to severe moral or political consequences, and he perfectly illustrates the point in novels such as Invitation to a Beheading and Bend Sinister. Despite the above difference, both acknowledge the great potential of the vulgar to be transformed into aesthetically pleasing artworks. This essay therefore explores the techniques Nabokov and Qian adopted—among them the most important are defamiliarization and irony—to turn vulgarity into a reservoir of materials for serious literature.
"Vulgarity as Springboard for High Art—A Comparative Study of Vladimir Nabokov and Qian Zhongshu’s Notions of Vulgarity."
CLCWeb: Comparative Literature and Culture
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