"Recruiting"/ Vladimir Nabokov

In sketching the basic principles of narration S.Rimmon Kenan says:

In my view there is always a teller in the tale, at least in the sense that any utterance [...] presupposes someone who has uttered it [...] There is in addition to the speakers or writers of [a] discourse a "higher' narratorial authority responsible for 'quoting' the dialogue.
(Narrative Fiction, 88).

Later in her book she adds: "Narration is always at a higher narrative level than the story it narrates" (92). It is precisely through a manipulation of the first assumption that Nabokov violates the second, in his story "Recruiting". By consistently exposing the "higher narratorial authority", and placing it as a concrete first person narrator within the story, he breaks the distinction between narrative levels, and with it, the mimetic illusion.

The story begins by presenting itself as a conventional mimetic text, told by an omniscient narrator, opinionated at times, but on the whole concealed behind the facts - of the protagonist's past and present experience, of his inner life and exterior appearance - which he presents to the reader.

However, the distinctions which constitute the mimetic illusion (author/ narrator/ character) gradually collapse, thus frustrating any hypothesis on the part of the reader. Levels of narration converge; an object of the imagination is presented as a fact; deictics refer simultaneously to narrator and character, and editing is motivated from within the fictional world.

By the end of the story, the narrator himself becomes a "narrator", an "I" distinguished from the speaker, and representing him in the fictional reality. The speaker himself, talking of the "narrator", also enters the story as a first person narrator, thus implicitly being doomed to become a potential character talked of by yet another narrator, and sitting under the same shade, within the same narrative level as "V.I.", the protagonist. The "narrator" is now merely observed from without ("the man with the Russian newspaper"), while the "self portrait" becomes a portrait of another.

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