NABOKV-L post 0015592, Thu, 18 Oct 2007 22:24:23 +1300

Subject
Re: She lived to hear the next babe cry
Date
Body
I think Kinbote’s note to 579 a riotously funny and squirm-inducing picture of social insensitivity. “Far from me be it to hint at the existence of some other woman in my friend’s life” of course does appallingly more than hint, but the person who then goes on to describe Shade as “mortally afraid of his wife” and announce that “More than once did I stop the gossipmongers who linked his name with that of one of his students (see Foreword” (especially when one DOES see the reference in the Foreword) and complain of American novelists as soaked in “ignoble heterosexual lust” seems as hilariously incapable of evaluating sociosexual or simply social cues as he is of inferring the letters between “hal . . . . . s.” Despite hardly knowing her, he invites the “stunning blonde in the black leotards who haunts Lit. 202” (a piece of standard male joshing that would be extremely unlikely were there in fact an amatory relationship between Shade and the student), “to a little party for the Shades with the express purpose of refuting those rumors,” a bizarrely--doubly or triply bizarrely--absurd response to a situation he has comically misconstrued; it is one of only three of twelve invitations from Kinbote that the Shades accept, and it is the third of three times that in what he thinks neat revenge on them (this man has extraordinary social radar, does he not?) for offering him meat as well as vegetables at dinner he offers them as the entire meal variations on a single vegetable. On each of these three occasions he arranges as company for Sybil (“but one additional guest to entertain Mrs. Shade”), while he himself hogs Shade’s attention, either a young man really only of interest to him later in the evening, or this blonde girl. If they leave soon after she turns up “very late” (presumably the Shades have humored him by staying until the other guest arrives) what does that indicate but the spectacular ineptitude of Kinbote’s social sensitivity and the spectacular misguidedness of his social scheming, clinched by the fact that after ten minutes “I had the task of entertaining the young lady with phonograph records far into the night when at last she rang up somebody to accompany her to a ‘diner’ in Dulwich”?

Best,
Brian


-----Original Message-----
From: Vladimir Nabokov Forum on behalf of Matthew Roth
Sent: Thu 18/10/2007 6:29 AM
To: NABOKV-L@LISTSERV.UCSB.EDU
Subject: Re: [NABOKV-L] She lived to hear the next babe cry

MR responding to BB's responses.

BB: THE STABILITY OF THE SHADE HOUSEHOLD, APART FROM AND EVEN DESPITE HAZEL'S SUICIDE, IS ESSENTIAL TO THAT NOVEL.

MR: Brian, I would be interested to know what you think of Kinbote's note to line 579 ("the other"). He says, "Far from me be it to hint at the existence of some other woman in my friend's life. Serenely he played the part of the exemplary husband assigned to him by his small-town admirers..." He then explains that the relationship was the subject of gossip and that the dinner he set up with the Shades and this girl in ballerina black ended in a ten minute "confrontation." The most obvious interpretation of this passage is that there really was something afoot between Shade and this student. We see the truth behind Kinbote's version of the story. By your own test re: "lived to hear the next babe cry" we should accept this UNLESS SOMETHING SPECIFIC POINTS US TO THE INADEQUACY OF THE SURFACE SENSE. So what is the truth behind this passage? If we doubt that there was an affair, why did VN include this at all? Or if we accept evidence of an affair, what does that do to the STABILITY OF THE SHADE HOUSEHOLD? Further, I'm curious why this passage has completely escaped the scrutiny of PF's critics.

BB: WHY ON EARTH WOULD NABOKOV WANT TO MAKE PALE FIRE MORE LIKE LOLITA AND ADA? WHY WOULD A WRITER WITH AN INTENSE IMAGINATION WANT TO REPEAT HIMSELF? HELEN VENDLER WRITES THAT IN SONNET AFTER SONNET SHAKESPEARE INVENTS "SOME GAME OR OTHER AND PLAY[S] IT OUT TO ITS CONCLUSION IN DEFT AND SURPRISING WAYS. . . . RARELY AMUS[ING] HIMSELF THE SAME WAY TWICE." SURELY THAT HAS BEEN TRUE OF NABOKOV SINCE HE WROTE MARY, KING, QUEEN KNAVE, THE DEFENCE, THE EYE ETC ETC

MR: Nabokov never repeats himself, but he is a master of variations on a theme. To say that incest in Pale Fire would thus make Pale Fire a mere repetition of Lolita or Ada is a rather severe distortion of my point. I hardly need to show that there are many plot elements in VN's works which recur in different combinations throughout his oeuvre. No one would question the imagination of Bach's cello suite just because he returns to the same melodic line from time to time. Indeed, that repetition, transformed by context, is the confirmation of his imaginative genius. Likewise with VN.

Thanks for the explanation of melodrama. I certainly understand how you view the term and how "hidden melodrama" can indeed exist. I took it as a purely pejorative term, which was not, I think, your point.

Best,
Matt



>>> On 10/15/2007 at 11:47 PM, in message <E8AE94D7F1C5C4448B0084C86D5E6EF20F1A14@ARTSMAIL1.ARTSNET.AUCKLAND.AC.NZ>, <b.boyd@AUCKLAND.AC.NZ> wrote:
BB in CAPS responds to MR responding to BB:

From: Vladimir Nabokov Forum [mailto:NABOKV-L@LISTSERV.UCSB.EDU] On Behalf Of Matthew Roth
Sent: Tuesday, 16 October 2007 3:35 a.m.
To: NABOKV-L@LISTSERV.UCSB.EDU
Subject: Re: [NABOKV-L] She lived to hear the next babe cry

MR responding to BB.

BB: Shade mentions his parents' deaths ("I was an infant when my parents died") then 19 lines later notes that, unlike them, Maud "lived to hear the next babe cry." That she lived another 16 years is not the point; the point is simply the contrast with his parents. When they died, John Shade was still a crying infant. Maud lived to hear the NEXT generation cry. Nabokov's and Shade's text is clear...

MR: I don't deny that Brian's interpretation here is entirely plausible. I can't agree, however, that the "text is clear." Kinbote's confusion is rooted in the ambiguity of Shade's wording. To be more precise, when we say that someone "lived to see [---]," we often use that [---] as a marker of the last milestone passed before the person died. If we say, for instance, that "she lived to see Kennedy's inauguration," there is an implication that she died soon after. This is the source of Kinbote's confusion. Moreover, as I pointed out before, the phrase "lived to see [---]" is often used in an entirely figurative way, meaning, in the example above, "Kennedy's inauguration was her reason for living."

BUT IF ONE SENSE IS ADEQUATE, WE DON'T NEED TO LOOK FOR ANOTHER, UNLESS SOMETHING SPECIFIC POINTS US TO THE INADEQUACY OF THE SURFACE SENSE. IF WE READ "TIME FLIES LIKE AN ARROW" WE CAN CONSTRUE THE OBVIOUS SENSE WITHOUT WORRYING THAT IT COULD ALSO MEAN THAT A SPECIAL KIND OF FLIES, TIME FLIES, HAVE A PENCHANT FOR ARROWS.

BB: there is no need to invent a hidden melodrama...

MR: I'm not sure I understand how Brian is using "melodrama" here. As I have always understood the term, melodrama is a matter of style rather than of subject. A dramatic situation lapses into melodrama not because of the situation itself but because the writer presents it in a sensational, ridiculously emotional manner. It seems to me that "hidden melodrama" is a contradiction in terms. In any case, why would incest in Pale Fire count as melodrama, while incest in Lolita and Ada do not?

MELODRAMA CAN REFER TO SURPRISING EVENTS AS WELL AS SENSATIONAL MANNER. IT WOULD BE HARD TO MAKE A MELODRAMA OUT OF PNIN AND HARD NOT TO SEE SOMETHING LIKE MELODRAMA IN LAUGHTER IN THE DARK.

HIDDEN MELODRAMA ISN'T A CONTRADICTION. iNDEED THAT'S EXACTLY WHAT OCCURS IN MARINA'S SUBSTITUTION OF VAN FOR AQUA'S ABORTED CHILD.

THERE ARE SCORES OF REFERENCES TO INCEST IN ADA AND MANY IN LOLITA WHERE SEXUAL SHENANIGANS ARE A PRIMARY SUBJECT. THOSE TWO NOVELS ARE SOMEWHAT MELODRAMATIC , WITH THE HIGHLY STYLIZED MURDER IN LOLITA AND THE BETRAYALS AND ENTANGLEMENTS AND DUELS AND SUICIDES IN ADA. INCEST OR A "PARODY OF INCEST' IN TWO DIFFERENT WILDLY DISRUPTED FAMILIES ARE CENTRAL TO THESE NOVELS. THE STABILITY OF THE SHADE HOUSEHOLD, APART FROM AND EVEN DESPITE HAZEL'S SUICIDE, IS ESSENTIAL TO THAT NOVEL.

BB: ...that would destroy the design of the novel.

MR: This is, I think, a very important and truly interesting point. Several people (off-list) have raised this issue in response to my theory, usually by asking what my hypothesis would do to the novel as a whole. I am grateful for the question. VN surely had a design for his novel, and Brian believes he knows what it is. Other critics who disagree with Brian's theory have their own notion of what the true design of the novel might be. Though most of VN's critics are respectful of authorial intentions, we can see that in the end critics must choose which patterns in the novel to highlight and which to leave alone. If a pattern is ambiguous--that is, if its existence is open to question--then we must appeal to this larger question of what the purpose of the pattern might be and whether or not it seems consistent with what we know about VN and his work. I need to think about this question some more, but I will say in a preliminary way that I believe a scenario such as I have suggested could be seen as bringing Pale Fire into greater harmony with VN's other novels, particulary Lolita and Ada. As for the internal design of Pale Fire, I may argue that a more complex notion of John Shade's character would enhance and balance the design of the novel.

In any case, I think the more general question of how critics discern VN's designs might be a productive discussion for this list. Toker's introduction to The Mystery of Literary Structures might be a good place to start.

MY COMMENT DOES NOT DEPEND ON MY PARTICULAR READING (THE "SYNTHETIC" RE-READING AS I CALLED IT). IT SIMPLY DEPENDS ON THE OBVIOUS ELEMENTS OF THE PLOT. SHADE LOVES HIS BEAUTIFUL WIFE AND FEELS DESPAIR THAT HIS PHYSICALLY AND EVEN EMOTIONALLY UNATTRACTIVE DAUGHTER HAD SUCH AN UNHAPPY AND UNPARTENERED LIFE THAT SHE COMMITS SUICIDE. THE VALUE OF SHADE'S POEM, HIS FEELINGS, SYBIL'S FEELINGS, AND HAZEL'S FEELINGS BECOMES DISASTROUSLY MUDDIED.

WHY ON EARTH WOULD NABOKOV WANT TO MAKE PALE FIRE MORE LIKE LOLITA AND ADA? WHY WOULD A WRITER WITH AN INTENSE IMAGINATION WANT TO REPEAT HIMSELF? HELEN VENDLER WRITES THAT IN SONNET AFTER SONNET SHAKESPEARE INVENTS "SOME GAME OR OTHER AND PLAY[S] IT OUT TO ITS CONCLUSION IN DEFT AND SURPRISING WAYS. . . . RARELY AMUS[ING] HIMSELF THE SAME WAY TWICE." SURELY THAT HAS BEEN TRUE OF NABOKOV SINCE HE WROTE MARY, KING, QUEEN KNAVE, THE DEFENCE, THE EYE ETC ETC

Best,
Brian

Best,
Matt Roth




>>> On 10/11/2007 at 6:37 AM, in message <E8AE94D7F1C5C4448B0084C86D5E6EF23A326A@ARTSMAIL1.ARTSNET.AUCKLAND.AC.NZ>, <b.boyd@AUCKLAND.AC.NZ> wrote:

Actually what Kinbote writes is that "At her [Maud's] death, Hazel (born 1934) was not exactly a 'babe' as implied in line 90." True, at Maud's death Hazel is not a babe, but the point of "She lived to hear the next babe cry" is only that Maud is still alive, and still in the house where she was already living when her nephew John was born, when Hazel is born. By the standards of Shade's parents, who died more than 30 years before this next generation, Maud's lasting this long is quite an achievement.
Shade mentions his parents' deaths ("I was an infant when my parents died") then 19 lines later notes that, unlike them, Maud "lived to hear the next babe cry." That she lived another 16 years is not the point; the point is simply the contrast with his parents. When they died, John Shade was still a crying infant. Maud lived to hear the NEXT generation cry.
Nabokov's and Shade's text is clear, and there is no need to invent a hidden melodrama that would destroy the design of the novel.

Brian Boyd

-----Original Message-----
From: Vladimir Nabokov Forum on behalf of Matthew Roth
Sent: Wed 10/10/2007 5:00 AM
To: NABOKV-L@LISTSERV.UCSB.EDU
Subject: Re: [NABOKV-L] reply to one of Matt Roth's query & a counter-query

MR responding to CK's comments:

CK: I don't quite understand your interpretation here - - who are you
saying Kinbote thinks is "one and the same" as whom?

MR: I was trying to say that the wife in ballerina black is, as Kinbote
suggests, based on the girl in the black leotard who "haunts Lit. 202."

CK: Shade tells us that "Aunt Maud lived to hear the next babe cry."
Kinbote correctly points out that this can hardly refer to Hazel but by
implication this "next babe," born in her later years, must be a blood
relative of Maud's. The only people capable of engendering a child who would
be related to the elderly Maud are Shade and Hazel. Since there is no
apparent (sorry) child who fits this description in Shade's poem, he or she
seemingly no longer exists or has moved out of Shade's orbit and certainly
has not been recognized as a legitimate child or, in the unlikely event that
Hazel is the parent, grandchild.

MR: I agree with all of this, except I don't dismiss Hazel as the possible
mother-in-question. Also, I take the statement about Aunt Maud ("lived to
hear") to mean that Aunt Maud's reason for living was to see a great-nephew
(essentially a grandchild) born. Unfortunately, I don't think she quite made
it.


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