Reciprocal Reflections: Nostalgia for the Present in Nabokov’s Berlin and Benjamin’s Moscow

Document Type


Publication Date

Spring 2018

Journal / Book Title



Coincidences often occur in literature, but it is rare that two prominent authors trade places, traveling to each other’s homelands for a time and thus giving readers reciprocal images of the new places through the eyes of a foreigner. One might say that this happened in the mid-1920s: Vladimir Nabokov (1899–1977) wrote extensively about his life in exile in Berlin at a time when several German authors were traveling to Russia not as exiles, but as artists and political tourists, intrigued by the very Marxism that was so threatening to Nabokov’s family and personal livelihood. Almost simultaneously, in December 1926, Walter Benjamin (1892–1940) traveled to Moscow for two months to visit his “Communist girlfriend,” Asja Lacis.1 The other motivation for Benjamin’s trip to Moscow was to “get a closer look at the situation in Russia, and perhaps even to establish some sort of official tie with it,” as Benjamin’s friend Gershom Scholem describes in his preface to Benjamin’s Moscow Diary.2



Journal ISSN / Book ISBN


Published Citation

Lafountain, P. (2018). Reciprocal Reflections: Nostalgia for the Present in Vladimir Nabokov’s “A Guide to Berlin” and Walter Benjamin’s “Moscow” Essay. Intertexts 22(1), 93-125. doi:10.1353/itx.2018.0004.