NABOKV-L post 0018478, Sun, 26 Jul 2009 16:22:53 -0300

[NABOKOV-L] [THOUGHTS] Machado de Assis and Nabokov
Motivated by the perspective of travelling down to Rio to attend Brian Boyd's lecture on "Nabokov and Machado de Assis," next September, I picked up "The Posthumous Memories of Brás Cubas" to freshen up my recollection of Machado's seminal work.

While perusing Patrick Pessoa's book about "The philosophy of art in Machado de Assis," and following his directives for establishing a distinction between narrator, character and author, I entertained the project of applying these, to Nabokov's "Pale Fire" (and not to VN's "The Eye" as had been my original intention). Beginning with Machado's... No! with Brás Cubas' opening words: "The work, itself, is everything."

Nabokov insistently affirmed that his characters "are outside my inner self like the mournful monsters of a cathedral façade - demons placed there merely to show that they have been booted out". He recurrently assured us that his characters are his "galley-slaves" (and this word, here, suddenly became a printer's galley, not a nautical vessel). Nabokov always emphasized the independence between himself, his autobiographical revelations and his novels. Like Cubas, perhaps, his work in itself is everything...

For Pessoa, escaping from "hermeneutical positivism", the dichotomy bt. author and character must give place to a study about the work taken as that which lies between an author and his characters. For him, it is the novel that which creates the two, through their confrontation. What comes "before and after" it are only two eternities of darkness... Pessoa considers that there is no ontological priority and character: they are mutually co-dependent. Therefore, the more a character attempts to vindicate his autonomy by refusing to become an author's slave, the more the author reveals himself, and vice-versa. By following their dialectic tension and fighting, the reader comes closer to the "unreality" of both (character and author) outside the realm of their confrontation.

If in the novel "Brás Cubas" the issue is doubly complicated, because there is not only the narrator Brás Cubas ( presented as a defunct author) but also Brás Cubas the subject of the narrator's ennunciation ( ie, a deceased author, the narrator and his characters, among which is himself) all of them created by the pen of a very alive author, Machado. In "Pale Fire," if examined under this perspective, our quandary is not only triplicated, but it is potentialized by the tension bt. the different characters (Kinbote, Shade, aso), authors ( Kinbote, Shade, Nabokov), narrator and commentator (Kinbote), and the fights for supremacy in each pairing.

In other words, our knowledge that there is no Zembla outside Kinbote's Zembla, must also consider that there is no other Zembla besides the one that is born as Kinbote's delusion in "Pale Fire." Conversely, there is more to the author of "Pale Fire" than any historical, sociological or psychological information about VN will reveal ( even unto Nabokov himself), just as ...there will always be more to "Zembla" than meets the eye!

Search archive with Google:

Contact the Editors:,
Visit Zembla:
View Nabokv-L policies:
Visit "Nabokov Online Journal:"

Manage subscription options: