NABOKV-L post 0018185, Fri, 17 Apr 2009 10:50:34 -0700

Subject
Re: THOUGHTS: Gunshots & MPD, Suspicious Supernaturalism
Date
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Roth, there's another person to suspect in the mix: Jane Provost herself. I can't think how many times in life people have related magical, mysterious, ghostly stories in mythical awed tones: "I don't know what all's real...I just know that--" fill in the otherworldly event that you yourself want, hope to experience, but somehow never do. On the NPR show "This American Life" a couple weeks back there was a story about a hotel which was supposedly haunted by a ghost named Walter, who grabbed people in bed, turned television stations to CNN, stole money from cash registers, caused computers to make funny sounds etc--he had become a scapephantom smoothly blamed by everyone for any little thing that cropped up. Even though Nabokov apparently did want us to believe in this stuff, at least a little, his way of handling the supernatural material has this same kind of subjectively qualified feel to it; the people relating it to us are either hysterical,
motivated to believe it, or, as in The Vane Sisters, are submerged in such a contrived structure that Nabokov accidentally creates the suggestion the narrator is phony and a liar. The problem, as I pointed out before, is that Nabokov, by insisting on doing everything in layered subjective parts (poem and commentary) has set himself the near irressolvable problem of getting everything he, Nabokov, wants to bring across over the heads of his characters--this means that in both Shade and Kinbote the same subjectivity is at work correlating seemingly differing projects--poem and commentary. Isn't this really why they seem like they are the same person? Not because Nabokov intended them to be, but because the practical problems of writing a novel in this way reveals his hand at work in the ooze of both character's minds.
 
By the way, in a recent think Jerry Friedman asked me: "
Why isn't it a problem in /Lolita/?  You can easily
disbelieve any or all of the narrative, including John
Ray, Jr.  Somebody has suggested here that the murder of
Quilty is one of a number of imaginary scenes.  I apologize,
but I can't remember who the person was, nor can I find it
in the archives."
 
This was in relation to my saying that the Lolita was really the only one of N's crazy narrator storys where unintended amibiguities and distortions don't get introduced into the character, since Nabokov's intentions differ so much from that character. What I meant had nothing to do with the so called believability of Humbert's narrative. I meant that Nabokov had arrived at a simple solution to narrational problems he had in books like Despair and Pale Fire. In those books the characters give us, the readers, a good deal of key information the significance of which they themselves don't realize. Hermann, for instance, catches his wife smoking in bed after sex with her cousin Ardelion, but he doesn't see what's so obvious to the reader, even comically stereotypically obvious. Nabokov tries to make this a psychological expression of the character's Narcisissitic personality, which just can't take such a blow to his ego--it's clever but it's
obviously been thought out by the author to cover up the problem, a problem which recurs on even a weirder and grander scale in Pale Fire. In Lolita this is not an issue. At the end of the book Humbert finds out all about Quilty and realizes the significance of all those things that went on in the past that had escaped him, such as the appearance of Quilty's name hidden in Mona Dahl's letter to Lolita around the time Lolita finally got free of her dad, or all the details pointing to Lolita's sexual encounter with Charlie Holmes at summer camp--i.e. the sweater she loses while playing around with the boy shows up winking innocently at us in a letter Lolita writes home pages before Humbert learns what's behind it. The book then is Humbert's dramatization of how his ignorance becomes knowledge, how his smooth image in the pool of his plans is rippled by other hands. This way Nabokov doesn't have to depend on trick psychologies to have his
character notice things in great detail that he must then doggedly pretend he hasn't actually noticed--Humbert does notice them, he just doesn't explain right away to us what they mean, so we can have the same experience he does, and become his unwitting accomplices. Hence I say Nabokov's elegant solution to the compositional problem the novel posed. As for the allusions which occur at a level Humbert couldn't notice, these are so deeply embedded that they seem like mere additions and tints that add depth and color without really changing the novel's great comic/tragic achievement. In Pale Fire, I've always felt he took a step backwards toward the Despair way of doing things.
 

From: Matthew Roth <MRoth@MESSIAH.EDU>
Subject: [NABOKV-L] THOUGHTS: Gunshots & MPD, Suspicious Supernaturalism
To: NABOKV-L@LISTSERV.UCSB.EDU
Date: Friday, April 17, 2009, 9:10 AM



Recently, I suggested that the gunshot that killed Shade might be related to the gunshot Ansel Bourne heard when he shifted from one personality to another. I recently came upon another case--that of a Charles Brewin--documented by the Society of Psychical Research in which the same auditory effect supposedly accompanied the transition of a person out of a fugue state and back into his original personality. These accounts of Bourne and Brewin are found together here:
 
http://books.google.com/books?id=LN4RAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA837
 
Thanks to JA and JF for their interesting colloquy on Pale Fire. All very insightful and informative. Part of their discussion brought me back to the problem of the supernatural as it occurs in the book. I am curious how others comprehend the poltergeist events in Kinbote's note to line 230, supposedly related to him (in astonishing detail) by Jane Provost, Shade's former secretary. It seems to me that we have a few choices to make regarding this material.
 
1. We can accept that it all happened as reported. In this case, we have to accept a fictional world in which there exist real poltergeists who can throw dishes and move dictionary stands and zoom dog baskets down the hall. And we have to accept that John & Sybil witnessed these events and accepted that they were "an outward extension or expulsion of insanity" (Hazel's). (Btw, I agree with Kinbote that it doesn't make much sense, and even seems cruel, for them to blame Hazel.)
 
2. We can (along with Kinbote, I think) believe that John & Sybil were tricked by Hazel into thinking that supernatural events were afoot, when in fact Hazel was responsible.
 
3. We can believe that Kinbote made the whole thing up. But why?
 
Any other options? I most often find myself voting for a combination of 2 & 3.
 
Best,
Matt Roth



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