NABOKV-L post 0017891, Wed, 11 Mar 2009 12:06:16 -0700

Re: THOUGHTS: More bits of S in K, and vice-versa

---:20 AM

MR responding to JA:
I always appreciate your thoughtful, well-written remarks. I think your reading of Pale Fire makes perfect sense, and it seems likely to me that Nabokov wanted readers to read the novel in the way you suggest. But interpretation is not a zero-sum game (necessarily) and in this case I think VN, in order to approach the true nature of dissociative identitities, created a counter-narrative inside of the more obvious one. I will try to respond to a couple of your questions  
MR: Because, as Boyd has conceded, there are a number of unanswerable objections that make a pure Shadean approach untenable. See PFMAD, 123-126.
JA's re: Yes, I remember some of the reasons given. My favorite was that if Shade consciously made up the Kinbote persona that means this seemingly modest man is sitting around writing about what a hot super genius he himself is.
MR: I don't think a Double personality constitutes cheating, though I'm not certain I understand your use of that term. One of the common objections to this theory has been that it devalues the New Wye scenes, since most of them could not have happened as related if Kinbote and Shade are in the same body. But there is plenty in PF that is dramatized effectively and enjoyably, even though we know these things never happened. Do we enjoy the dull-witted confrontation between Oswin Bretwit and Gradus any less because it is a fantasy? Do we not enjoy the contrapuntal pyrotechnics of Kinbote's note to line 894 (the faculty club scene) once we realize that it can't have happened?
JA's re: Yes that's what I meant by cheating: in the world of New Wye the two characters exist together and people acknowledge it. Now, you're right, in one way this wouldn't be "cheating" since the only person who narrates it is Kinbote, but if you don't accept the New Wye scenes as "real" then this means not only that we're having to interpret an illusion through the distorted window of a primary delusion, but that in the end we could take anything in the book rather arbitrarily as "true" or not, which I suppose you could argue is Nabokov once more beating us over the head with fact that novels are just fiction and no one in them is real or ever existed--but a writer has to play fair, give us a base situation to believe in, otherwise it's just another neveau roman. Remember Boyd's brilliant critique in "Even Homais nods" about a similar idea that Humbert never really got involved with Lolita and that the whole confession was
supposedly something he was writing in an insane assylum? This creates the same issues for PF. And no matter how great the style and panache, if nothing much specific really happens even in the fictional world of the novel, then what is it's claim on our imagination? Surely you don't just mean the inter-relations of a split perspective? I know N. wanted the "reality" of Zembla to remain ambiguous, but not that of New Wye. 
(Do we sympathize with BS's Krug any less when we discover that he is a fiction within a fiction?) As for there being no confrontation scene, it is true that VN does not provide an "a-ha" reintegrating moment at the end of the book, but I think this is to his credit.
JA's re: I think it was William Makepeace Thackeray who once said that the world would be filled to the brim with masterpieces if we simply judged them by the great intentions of their authors rather than what they wrote. I took this to mean that if you want to write about a subject, if you want a character to have double personalities, if you want Humbert to be living in a delusion, then you, the writer, have to be crass enough to actually dramatize this in such a way that an old fashioned reader like me can understand it. Nabokov, a very subtle and very great author, was never too tasteful to spell things out when he needed to: as he did at the end of Bend Sinister; in Invitation to a beheading; the way he told us that Konchaeyev and Fyodor weren't having real conversations in The Gift; made it clear Hermann didn't have an actual double in Despair; showed us the character had actually died in that bus accident at the begining of "Details
of a Sunset"; or revealed that the successful duelist in "An Affair of Honor" was only fantasizing after having run off like a coward. True, occasionally he tried to have things both ways, as in "Terra Incognita" where it's difficult to know if the dying man is on a tropical trip and only dreaming he's home in bed or the other way around. In "The Vane" sisters, of course, he famously and precariously left it up to the reader to find the acrostic at the end. But I think it's worth remembering a couple things: he tried to build real clues into the story (which actually question the credibility of the ghosts rather than support them, I think); and eventually confirmed the secret, also saying you could only do this sort of thing "once in a thousand years of fiction"; that it's ultimate success was debatable. I took this to be a warning by the author for readers not to keep looking for acrostics. I don't think it's admirable to be vague and
washy, and I think if N had wanted us to find this sort of reading it would be very concretely and consciously there, and would have been discovered years ago. If not, then we've come back to the point I brought Thakeray into this argument for. 
 Ada, for what it's worth, also lacks this closure with regard to its two worlds. In PF, the whole book is a confrontation scene between Shade and Kinbote, and this contrast/conflict gives the book its dramatic structure. Indeed, a theory of multiple personalities gives meaning to the structure of the novel that a traditional reading of the novel does not. In the traditional reading, the novel's contrapuntal details and structure are not really part of the plot; instead, they are leitmotif, or at best a kind of manifestation of VN's status as the artist/god.
JA's re: I don't think this is true. The correlated details work 1. as a parody/exaltation of criticism; 2. as a comic dramatic form of characterization. We go from seeing Kinbote as he sees himself to a kind of understanding of who he "really" is; as we suspect he must be. The zembla fantasy and it's relationship to the world of New Wye provide fun, humor and pathos--they dramatze a portrait of a man drowning in himself,  a man who is anything but a king in life. Worse, even in his own fantasy--and this is the particularly Nabokovian touch--the poor self-loathing creature manages to exile himself from his own made up kingdom! How then could these details be considered in any way superfluous to the plot? Our metaphorosing relationship to the Zembla delusion and how it relates to the character in his "real" world are the plot. Why does having to decipher delusions within delusions within delusions make it any deeper? Rather it just turns
the book more of a stunt than it already is.

All private editorial communications, without exception, are read by both co-editors.

Search the archive
Contact the Editors
Visit "Nabokov Online Journal"

Visit Zembla
View Nabokv-L Policies
Manage subscription options

Search archive with Google:

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

Manage subscription options: