Vladimir Nabokov–Channelled by Christopher Plummer (RIP)–Teaches Kafka at Cornell

“From my point of view,” writes Vladimir Nabokov in Lec­tures on Lit­er­a­ture, “any out­stand­ing work of art is a fan­ta­sy inso­far as it reflects the unique world of a unique indi­vid­ual.” He also says it in the video above, a lec­ture on Franz Kafka’s The Meta­mor­pho­sis orig­i­nal­ly aired by WQED in Pitts­burgh. (Find Kafka’s clas­sic work in our col­lec­tion of Free eBooks and Free Audio Books.) But he does­n’t say it him­self; he says it through Christo­pher Plum­mer, who por­trays Nabokov teach­ing in a 1989 re-cre­ation of late-1940s Cor­nell Uni­ver­si­ty. Lit­er­ar­i­ly inclined stu­dents of the era (includ­ing Unit­ed States Supreme Court Jus­tice Ruth Bad­er Gins­burg) must have expe­ri­enced a sim­i­lar intro­duc­tion to Kaf­ka in Nabokov’s class­es, per­haps down to his sketch of poor Gre­gor Sam­sa’s bee­tle form. But this pro­duc­tion adds the the­atri­cal touch, sure­ly not a fea­ture of Cor­nel­l’s lec­ture halls in those days, of spot­light­ing Plum­mer-as-Nabokov and dark­en­ing every­thing else when­ev­er he reads from the sto­ry.

Plum­mer him­self says a few words about Nabokov at the begin­ning of the video, and he assumes the Russ­ian nov­el­ist’s per­sona at about 1:38. Does Plum­mer nail Nabokov’s dis­tinc­tive­ly multi­na­tion­al accent? Does Nabokov’s obser­va­tion that Gre­gor Sam­sa nev­er uses his wings mean any­thing of impor­tance?

Will we ever enter anoth­er era when pub­lic tele­vi­sion res­ur­rects cul­tur­al lumi­nar­ies to give lec­tures by way of our time’s most respect­ed thes­pi­ans? This half-hour pro­gram gives us many such ques­tions to pon­der, and even if we can’t answer them, those of us who failed to draw inspi­ra­tion from the Robin Williams of Dead Poets Soci­ety will sure­ly find, in Plum­mer’s majes­tic eccen­tric­i­ty, a briefer but more mem­o­rable teacher­ly per­for­mance.

If you would like to sign up for Open Culture’s free email newslet­ter, please find it here. Or fol­low our posts on Threads, Face­book, BlueSky or Mastodon.

If you would like to sup­port the mis­sion of Open Cul­ture, con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your con­tri­bu­tions will help us con­tin­ue pro­vid­ing the best free cul­tur­al and edu­ca­tion­al mate­ri­als to learn­ers every­where. You can con­tribute through Pay­Pal, Patre­on, and Ven­mo (@openculture). Thanks!

Relat­ed con­tent:

Nabokov Reads Loli­ta, Names the Great Books of the 20th Cen­tu­ry

Nabokov Makes Edi­to­r­i­al Improve­ments to Kafka’s The Meta­mor­pho­sis

Franz Kafka’s It’s a Won­der­ful Life

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall.

by | Permalink | Comments (2) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Comments (2)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.