NABOKV-L post 0018145, Mon, 6 Apr 2009 22:55:52 -0300

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Fw: [NABOKV-L] THOUGHTS: Alexandrov and Ethics
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JM: (the excerpts from the original comments are below)

(a) Jamie McEwan quoted various exceptions to my observation that Nabokov's real compassion is only accessible after a complicated process...
I can agree with him concerning the novels and stories he brought up: in these we meet N's "overflowing compassion."
Indeed, I was so taken up by the "cruel novels" or disturbed characters ( Laughter in the Dark, BS, KQK, Lolita, PF,Ada....) that I unduly restricted the term "compassion" to apply to characters who are not at all loveable, or those who don't reflect what is good in ourselves and in our ideals.
And yet, I cannot say that I'm fascinated by the "crueler" works to the exclusion of the others. I'm intrigued by them and stimulated to consider how I, personally, deal with their "mad" themes ( complicity, rejection, humor, pity, curiosity, etc). Nabokov's Arcady and beauty extract a price from me.

(b)Jerry Friedman, although I found a reconciliation, thru Alexandrov, with what had seemed to me a contradictory remark of yours, it is related to the reasoning you seem to share with A. Myself, even with no objective literary arguments, such as yours, I still cannot agree that PF demonstrates some of his character's faith in ghostly messages, nor that VN believed in them at the time he wrote PF. For me, there is always VN's irony and even self-mockery to consider.

(c)Stan, in Longfellow's Hiawatha there are lines about a glove being turned inside out, a non trivial image which reminded me of VN's "versipel" - but here my ignorance about Longellow made me stop. Your information about Shade-Longfellow coincidences is intriguing.
I was wondering how Shade might have related his brief "Pale Fire," to a "Comedy" in the Dantesque sense? (not in Balzac's, of course)*. We know that T.S.Eliot's Four Quartets was strongly influenced by Dante's Cantos and even a mythological Sybil.
More to the point, though, is Eliot's epigraph in The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock , from Dante Alighieri's hopeless Inferno.
Cf. Canto 27, lines 61-66: "If I thought that that I was replying to someone who would ever return to the world, this flame would cease to flicker. But since no one ever returns from these depths alive, if what I've heard is true, I will answer you without fear of infamy." (translation obtained from the internet, probably not Longfellow's). If these lines were as present as "grimpen & sempiternal" in VN's mind (or the religious punishment for suicides), what would they mean in the context of PF and our debate about "afterlife"?

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J.McEwan: In reply to Jansy's statements [Nabokov's compassion in his novels is real, but accessible to any suffering reader only after a complicated process [...]I've always been intrigued by VN's cruel protagonists, narcisistic perverts, murderers... his almost voiceless heroines. ..}I note that there are many exceptions: Mary, Glory, The Gift, Pnin, The Real Sebastian Knight, The Return of Chorb spring to mind. The compassion is readily accessible in all of these--sometimes overflowing. No one can read Glory, I believe, without being struck by the tremendous warmth the author feels for its protagonist. Critics, however, seem most fascinated by the "crueler" works, so we hear much more about them.The "fatidic webs," I must admit, do seem to enmesh these works--save, perhaps, for Mary and The Gift.

Jerry Friedman replies to Jansy Mello[ Shade is killed before he can "wake at six tomorrow"] One can see this is meaning that his other predictions are
equally false, or that only the "commonsense" predictions are false; the supernatural ones are true[...] I'm glad you found a reconciliation of the contradiction.

Stan K-Bootle to Jerry: when a mathematical proof ends with Q.E.D.[...] both tradition and syntax demand that Q.E.D. must follow a precise recap of what one has claimed to have just proved [...] Allowing for the obvious fact that the so-called Pale Fire Puzzle is not a mathematical problem, we are still entitled to a clear statement (or list of statements) before a Q.E.D [...] Which parts of PF are 'true-fiction' and which 'false-fiction?' World fiction has many credible accounts of seances and other evidence of ghostly survivals [...] One character that needs more attention is the Gardner, the last person named in Shade's final lines. I identify him with Gerald Gardner, the founder of the modern "Wicca" [...] I also wonder if the link Wordsworth -> Wadsworth -> Longfellow -> Dante has been explored? [...] Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was first American to translate Dante's Comedy [...] Several Shade-Longfellow "coincidences"...[...] Kinbote also uses "confusely" (p 149)

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* -I checked an online dictionary for the etymology. Here is what I got:
Comedy: from O.Fr. comedie, from L. comoedia, from Gk. komoidia "a comedy, amusing spectacle," from komodios "singer in the revels," from komos "revel, carousal" + oidos "singer, poet," from aeidein "to sing." The classical sense is similar to the modern one, but in the Middle Ages the word came to mean poems and stories generally (albeit ones with happy endings), and the earliest Eng. sense is "narrative poem" (cf. Dante's "Commedia"). Comedy aims at entertaining by the fidelity with which it presents life as we know it; farce at raising laughter by the outrageous absurdity of the situation or characters exhibited; extravaganza at diverting by its fantastic nature; burlesque at tickling the fancy of the audience by caricaturing plays or actors with whose style it is familiar. Generalized sense of "quality of being amusing" dates from 1877. Comedian "comic actor" is 1601; meaning "professional entertainer who tells jokes, etc." is 1898; comédienne, from Fr. fem. form, attested 1860.cf.www.etymonline.com/index.php?l=c&p=20 - 51k.


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