Timothy Langen from the University of Missouri says: "Of all of Nabokov's famously fertile works, Invitation to a Beheading has yielded perhaps the greatest bounty of plausible interpretation." Yes, I think that is true. As Invitation is an ambiguous book, providing for students and experts such a slippery surface for academic pursuit, I have put on my skates and worked my figures on the ice. Here is what my mind has etched as I thought and thought, like Cincinnatus C., over the past year.
I think that Invitation to a Beheading is a very personal internal portrayal of the topic of obsession. Like Humbert Humbert, in Lolita, our protaganist is manacled by and absolutely defenseless against his own personal obsession. HH's fixation is delineated for us. But CC's is left to our imaginations and our soul's empathies. We may fill in our own blank. Hopefully, ours will be less horrific than the one described in Lolita, but the imprisonment is the same.
The prison analogy that you, Vladimir, have used in Beheading, is a reversal of the one you chose for Lolita where HH is only freed, really, once he is behind bars. CC, on the other hand, eventually works through his obsession and in a final decapitation of much that he conceives to be himself, he finds himself free to live once more.
It may be CC's inability to fit society's mold, his "gnostical turpitude," that is the precipitating cause for the obsession that confines him to the cell of his unreal reality, but it is the obsession itself that holds him there, awaiting and hoping for the end of both the obsession and the only life that he can embrace while in it's grip. What day will this end? How long will this beloved horror continue? That is the question you have raised, isn't it? That is the tale you have woven in this curiously beguiling novel. Here you have analyzed the perverse intrigues of the heart and mind that is incarcerated by a forbidden enchantment.
One of the most interesting moments of the book is when it is revealed that CC can leave his prison, and that he does so, briefly, only to return rather accidentally but deliberately.
Somehow our hero reaches the end, his end, the end of his obsessed form of living. (And so does HH. And so do you, and me, and all of us.) By an act of will, or circumstance, or chemical recession, the obsession subsides and we walk away, finding that the spider was not real after all, though the experience certainly was. And life, though bereft of obsession, is once again his own.
Vladimir, because you have woven such an interesting psychological explanation of that which is impossible to explain, I have awarded to you the 2009 Ellstrom Award for Literature. Congratulations!