NABOKV-L post 0015741, Sun, 2 Dec 2007 11:05:35 -0500

THOUGHTS on Taing Metaphors Literally
R S Gwynn said "If a poet's metaphors are taken literally, no end of damage
can be done to
what he or she intends. This has been done, in an especially cruel and
manner, to Emily Dickinson's poetry in recent times. I would hate to have
tropes in my own poetry subjected to such literal-minded scrutiny."

MR: Sam, I understand your point here, but I do think the fact that John
Shade is a character in a novel by Nabokov makes a difference in the way we
read and interpret his poem. If he were real--or if we were residents of New
Wye--I agree that it would be inappropriate to assume too much about his
imagery and metaphors. However, John Shade's status as a fictional
character gives us both rights and obligations as interpreters that we would
not otherwise possess. Because we know that Nabokov authored both John Shade
and John Shade's poem, I believe we are encouraged to view the poem as a
window into the life of John Shade--to see both what it reveals and what it
is hiding. This is a wholly different approach than I take, say, with James
Wright's autobiographical poem "At the Executed Murderer's Grave." Though
that poem begins "My name is James A. Wright," I'm only interested in how
James A. Wright functions as a persona in that poem, not with how it may
reveal something about the actual man who wrote that poem. With John Shade,
however, I am intensely interested in seeing how the poem might enlighten us
about actual events in New Wye--and I think Nabokov wants us to treat John
Shade and his poem this way, even though he would not want us to treat
Vladimir Nabokov and _Pale Fire_ in like manner.

When John Shade compares his fits to being sexually molested, I find that
comparison bizarre and troubling enough that it at the very least raises a
question in my mind about what may have happened to John Shade--especially
given the fact that the reason for his fits is undiagnosed. By itself, the
metaphor is not conclusive evidence of anything. However, if there is
sufficient corresponding evidence then it becomes much more likely that
there really is something significant in that metaphor. While I cannot fully
sign onto Jim Twigg's notion that Aunt Maud is the "wench," and I don't
agree with Carolyn that Shade's five fingers represent lovers, I continue to
believe that John Shade is a much more complex and troubled character than
most traditional readings of the novel allow.

On another note: Now that we're all focusing on Shade's "fortress of an
apple." I would invite everyone go back and read that section of the
foreword and to notice how Shade is framed here as not only carnivorous, but
cannibalistic (recall the pulpous serving girl who licks her pencil). Then
note the close proximity of this to the "inferno of ice" passage and its (I
allege) relationship to Dante's encounter with the cannibal count, Ugolino
(two shades trapped in one hole in the ice). Then note the reference soon
after the apple passage noting the "inbreeding" male intellectual types.
Combine this with Shade's shaving passage in Canto Four and its remarkable
likeness to the image of King Lycaon in Ovid. Strain into an old fashioned
glass and serve.

Matt Roth

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