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.

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.