NABOKV-L post 0017974, Wed, 18 Mar 2009 10:31:38 -0700

Re: THOUGHTS: Reply to Joseph Aisenberg on the supernatural in
/Pale Fire/]

Does it depend on whether you're trying to understand what
Nabokov meant, or trying to apply it to your life? Those
two seem totally separate to me--I think I understand what
Nabokov meant, but I don't even try to apply it to my life.
But I realize that in even bringing up the possibility of
what he meant, I'm denying a large part of the twentieth
Joe'sRe: You're right. An author can have stuff happen, ghosts, whatnot, that I don't believe in but I still know it's real as far as the novel's concerned. That wasn't my point. How do I put this? I do know that Nabokov had some kind of a belief in intelligent design. What I was trying to point out was that I'm not sure that it's really the point to the book. He can have lots of views about all kinds of things, like say Nympholepsy, and still write differently about it. I'm arguing something along the lines of Michael Wood's the magician's doubt, that Nabokov had at least as much doubt as he had certainty, otherwise why mystify everything with so much obfuscation; all the novels reflect this. Doubt, I mean, about an other world, which is why he can't explain what he means, and so what he's done is dramatize the allure of inscrutability itself. Did this lots of times.

Unless the author has supplied some facts in non-fiction.
I'm not thinking Nabokov was planning /Pale Fire/ when he
wrote /Speak, Memory/, but I speculate he thought that
he didn't need to present factual coincidences in the novel
because he had already presented some.'
JA'sre: I'm not sure I follow this.

"Three, sir."
JA'sre: That's right, sorry.

I think you're laying much more stress on provability than I
would. The way I read that passage you quoted, Shade decides
that he doesn't need a knock-down Smith-Schmidt proof
/because/ he can feel "reasonably sure" (line 977) that
there are higher beings and immortality, based on his
being "nearly drawn" to think so". That is, Someone nearly
drew him to think so, playing a game of misprint and rhyme
with him.

And one fact--about the book, not our reality--is that Shade
is right. Nabokov is the higher being, and Aunt Maud at
least has a life after death.
JA'sre: I thought I covered the thing with Nabokov's being the higher being in what I said, but maybe that was in another discussion. And Aunt Maud's ghost (I'm loathe to start up a whole new search for more internal clues by saying this) refers, I assume, to the message Hazel received that seems to warn Shade about his fate, right? Or maybe it's just Nabokov haunting his own work, another one of those things that are interesting after re-reading and decoding them that contain internal mirrors of the work.
>But here you seem to accept the likelihood that Shade and
Nabokov believe in an intelligent (and playful) designer.

Your position has striking similarities to the one Richard
Rorty imputes (quite wrongly, in my opinion) to Shade:

"Shade decides that the artist's recognition of
contingency, of the absence (or, what comes to the same
thing, the utter inscrutability) of any ordering power,
is preferable to religion's or moral philosophy's claim
to have discovered the true name and nature of such a

/Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity/, p. 166 (footnote).
JA're: I think it's undeniable to say that Nabokov believed in an intelligent designer, or wanted to, and some kind of otherworld. It also seems to me undeniable that Nabokov used reflexive parodistic techniques to point the reader back to the author, and this author function was meant, at times, to be analogous to God. Sometimes he makes this sort of thing very obvious like in Bend Sinister; sometimes subtler, as in Real Life and, I think in Pale Fire, where the author seems only implied, and may be more a trickster than a great creator. I never once pretended to know what Rorty does. Even though I've read all his books, shall we say religously, I really don't know much more about Nabokov's deep down spiritual views than that he knows more than he can say. Oh, and I know he didn't care about organized religion. What I'm discussing is critical. And anyway, no matter how sure he is about the divine, Shade is also just as certainly "sure that I shall
wake at six tomorrow, on July the twenty-second, nineteen-fifty-nine". But he doesn't. But then one can only be "reasonably" sure of anything, isn't that right? And your darn tootin' I put a lot of weight on proof. It's one thing to be moved by a character's worldview, or otherworld view, and to think the book objectively prooves as much; at which point the novel has become philosophy as much as entertainment. 

This strikes me as like reading /Macbeth/ as the record of
a hallucination because witches don't have prophetic powers
and ghosts don't exist. That is, I'd say you and I, not
believing in the supernatural, can see Nabokov's beliefs
as we like, but we have to see Shade's beliefs as true in
the fiction. Unless again you deny the author's meaning.
JA'sre: one, lots and lots and lots of people do read Macbeth just the way you said, though since the ghosts and the "weird" sisters are objectively there potholing the narrative, I go with it myself. I'm not trying to deny the author's meaning. I frankly don't know precisely what it is, although I do doubt that the book represents any kind of meaningful celebration of Shade's faith. I mean all the characters are all so motivated to find what they want to find. To you this seems tangible, but to me it just seems like twisting words and playing Humbert's paper chase game, which leaves you as unsure as ever. I always thoght that this comic aspect was the meaning, as stated above.

And mirrors Nabokov's urge, which he like Shade believed had
led him to glimpse the truth.
JA'sre: but what does that truth amount to? If the best you can do is "maybe" there's a ghost of aunt maud in a garbled message, or Godbokov, then...what? I guess you just say, wow, he put that in his book. It just seems sort of thin. I don't think it's as plain as you do.

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