Capital Airs in the poling prize

Submitted by Jim Buckingham on Mon, 04/29/2019 - 21:56

How often do we find an error and then stop, once the problem is solved?

[See Attached - 6 pp.]

There's another camp: I'm not willing to grant that all these are errors. I don't mean that they're "on purpose," just that some of them are not wrong in the first place. Even if I thought your phallic interpretation of "Poling Prize" was some sort of breakthrough (despite poles being intrinsically phallic without a pointless detour to "pricking") — even then, these capitals wouldn't qualify as an error. Nor does "or" strike me as an error, especially given the title Ada, or Ardor whose first page has a more convincing set of "errors." And you indicate that "bar" might not be an error.

Sure, "make" might be wrong (though I haven't given it enough thought to say for sure), but I'm not yet convinced this adds up to anything.

The mention of "obvious solecisms" would indeed keep me on the lookout, but I have to admit, it's hard to take your conclusions seriously when your chain of reasoning has such weak links, to the extent that they might be negatively affecting my judgement regarding "make."

Let's imagine for a moment that you're right, that these are in fact critical errors, even made on purpose: how do I feel about this? Does this improve my reading of Lolita? So far, nothing's tingling.

Can you think of other such meaningful errors with clear authorial intent in the text?

Alain, [Corrected name. Sorry, Alain.]

Rather than use critical errors (not in the vein of the five I cited here), it is more insidious to use slight errors. While authorial intent can never be decisively decided (a meaningless exercise actually), what better way to highlight someone's supposed authority than to let them use their own words, Ray's, to betray it? 

The reading experience here pinpoints up front that John Ray, Jr.'s estimation of his own writings is not just overblown. His supposed writing acumen was the very reason for being chosen as editor by Clarence Clark. Yet Ray doesn't even know the name of supposed Clarence the lawyer's bar association. To maintain that I, as the editor, am catching and fixing errors, while at the same time creating or ignoring them, destroys credibility.

These oh so slight errors (but errors they are) are not readily noticed on first glance. Indeed I passed on a few myself at first. But patterns create undeniable imprints. I doubt that Nabokov was sleeping at the wheel (yes, Vera's the driver) for such a critical piece as the first paragraph of Lolita.

The heads up here is to question the editor, John Ray, Jr., Ph.D. What role does he play in the handling of Humbert's manuscript? By default, is Clarence C. C. then tainted by association?

Other such errors aren't really specifically errors when there is a design behind them. What is the purpose here? Not the author's intent per se, but can observations be made from detecting them? That takes one on another level of understanding. The errors then add up to something.

Without coming up with an exhaustive list, one quick example comes to mind. Humbert's hearing of going to Our Glass Lake when he realizes later that it is Hourglass Lake. The error is on the character's part. Just like the errors in this Foreword are created by Ray. Look for the reason. In this instance, Humbert misunderstands Our Glass Lake for Hourglass Lake due to his native French language, where the "H" is almost always silent, unlike English.

In a chain, one link connects to another. Follow the links to their conclusion. Numerous writing errors leads to questioning a writer's ability (the character, not Nabokov) and learning that "H" is silent in French mean's that Humbert Humbert is pronounced [H]umbert [H]umbert. Umbert Umbert as a name takes you on to other revelations. My final point being that there is a purpose and design here, even in errors, when a pattern is there and it leads you to more insight.



Jim & Alan, if you have not read James Ramey's "Pale Fire's Black Crown", you might want to:


He not only points out important errata, but demonstrates how it works in PF to discover the importance of the black chess Queen in the work. It's an amazing bit of sleuthing through errata in the index. Nabokov hints at it in his foreword to Speak Memory:

Through the window of that index

  Climbs a rose

And sometimes a gentle wind ex

  Ponto blows


I posted a little while back on some other index errata in PF (although I don't know what conclusions to draw):


"In a chain, one link connects to another. Follow the links to their conclusion."

I understand how chains work. I pointed to weak links, which you're ignoring, favouring instead a return to trolling or mysticism (hard to tell which).

There is absolutely no reason to consider "Poling Prize" an error.

If (scenario one) John Ray, Jr. was awarded the poling prize (which is nonsense), and capitalized it in his ineptitude or unwillingness to check his trophy case, this would be the lowest degree of sin. 

If (scenario two) a reader came across the words "Poling Prize" and decided, with no evidence, that this was an error pointing to John Ray, Jr.'s ineptitude — this would be reading in bad faith, forcing an agenda onto the text: a much higher degree of sin.