A Beheading

I’m reading for the first time Nabokov’s Invitation to a Beheading about a man, Cincinnatus C., who is condemned to die by beheading. His crime is mysterious at first, though clearly diabolical in the eyes of his gaolers. Eventually we learn that he is guilty of “gnostical turpitude”–a crime so serious as to defy definition, though it evidently has to do with knowledge. For this he must have his head cut off (the head being where knowledge resides). The novel is a masterpiece on the arbitrary madness and calm cruelty of power. Anyone in a position of power, from the power of decapitation on down, should read it.

2 replies
    • Colin McGinn
      Colin McGinn says:

      The tale of Cincinnatus C. is perhaps the best thing I’ve read on ordinary human evil–in all its absurdity and banality. No one seems to realize how appalling they are; on the contrary, they are full of self-righteousness. You can’t help identifying.


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