NABOKV-L post 0007026, Tue, 5 Nov 2002 09:13:40 -0800

Fw: Texture vs. Text in Pale Fire (TN response to CK)
----- Original Message -----
From: "Thomas Nguyen" <>
Sent: Tuesday, November 05, 2002 9:00 AM
Subject: Texture vs. Text in Pale Fire (TN response to CK)

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> Dear Ms. Kunin,
> Thank you for your comments and questions. Here is my response.
> >I did not mean to accuse you of anything. I merely stated that if you
> >the game, why criticise others for playing it?
> Firstly, I would like to point out that literary criticism is just that--
> criticism. I attempted in my last response to forward the possibility
> criticism can be performed free of any personal animosity or mudslinging.
> It is certainly important to be courteous, but unnecessary to censor one's
> own argument to the point of inanity. I think it's wonderful that so many
> people are interested in interpreting and discussing Pale Fire, but I feel
> that I am not alone in thinking that the recent approaches to the text
> not been particularly successful or persuasive. It is with that mindset
> (and not being critical with the negative connotation you specify) that I
> have attempted to show a different way of reading the novel that may be of
> interest to some folks, particularly those who would rather not depend
> Cliff Notes or or pestering Dmitri Nabokov for interesting
> analyses of Nabokov's literature.
> That aside...
> >Dear Mr Nguyen,
> >
> >I'm afraid I don't understand. Are you saying that Nabokov wrote a novel
> >which poses many questions, but it's incorrect to try to answer them? You
> >do not see the novel, as I and others do, as a puzzle requiring solution,
> >that much seems clear.
> The word "incorrect" in your first question is indicative of the very
> problem with reading Pale Fire that I have attempted to point out in my
> paper. Perhaps the most difficult decision to make after a reading of
> Fire is what to do with it, i.e. how should one go about trying to
> understand and interpret it. As Brian Boyd carefully pointed out, there
> many "echoes" between the poem and the commentary that makes one want to
> to explain them, to give them some reason. Why indeed would Nabokov
> elements of the Kinbote's Commentary into Shade's poem and vice versa?
> we can go into the novel and catalogue all the words and connect each one
> them to every possible allusion it may have to other novels, people,
> political movements, etc. (and I do distinctly remember certain members of
> the list proposing the creation of such an index-- good luck and happy
> trails!) We could move in with an almost scientific precision to
> investigate this bizarre similarity between the poem and commentary,
> logically, should not exist if they were really written by two different
> people. This was the manner in which I originally began thinking about
> Fire, and it certainly is not an "incorrect" approach to the novel in the
> sense that there are no normative rules for how any reader should read a
> literary text (and if there are any high school English teachers or
> professors of English Literature or extreme terrorists who continue
> preaching this message, they should be shot by Gradus, or Vinogradus, or
> better yet, Leningradus). One day, as I was sifting through and agonizing
> over the search for some plausible answer, I passed over the following
> passage (perhaps for the 100th time) from Shade's poem and noticed a
> striking similarity behind my approach to the novel and Shade's approach
> seeking the truth/meaning behind his image of the "white fountain":
> I also called on Coates.
> He was afraid he had mislaid her notes.
> He took his article from a steel file:
> "It's accurate. I have not changed her style.
> There's one misprint-- not that it matters much:
> Mountain, not fountain. The majestic touch."
> Life Everlasting-- based on a misprint!
> I mused as I drove homeward: take the hint,
> And stop investigating my abyss?
> But all at once it dawned on me that this
> Was the real point, the contrapuntal theme,
> Just this: not text, but texture; not the dream
> But topsy-turvical coincidence,
> Not flimsy nonsense, but a web of sensse.
> Yes! It suffised that I in life could find
> Some kind of link-and-bobolink, some kind
> Of correlated pattern in the game,
> Plexed artistry, and something of the same
> Pleasure in it as they who played it found.
> The feeling of "Lord, I can't believe I was so foolish as to search for
> something which is really just an unreasonable expectation for myself
> that "something" is impossible to attain"
> that Shade expresses in this passage-- that was what I felt the moment I
> reread this passage, and that was what compelled me to change my approach
> Pale Fire. In addition to the sense of freedom from the stilting question
> of dual authorship discussed by Boyd and others, one cannot help but think
> that perhaps Nabokov knew his readers so well that he could parody their
> standard mode of reading, as he does in this passage, and in doing so
> those readers to change their approach.
> More specifically, I realized that the problem regarding the echoes
> the poem and commentary need not necessarily be resolved by uniting the
> images into a "vulgar, robust truth", as Shade attempts to do with the
> echoes between his experience of the white fountain and the one
> by Mrs. Z. I forward one such alternative treatment in my paper. There
> other ways to discuss and understand these images without forcing oneself
> end with a "correct" answer. My argument derives from the novel itself:
> Shade's "real point, the contrapuntal theme" is
> "not text, but texture... not flimsy nonsense, but a web of sense"
> A full treatment of this passage, again, can be found in my paper, but I
> briefly point out that, "text" refers to the white fountain that Shade
> pursued. Having discovered that the word itself does not hold the key to
> the truth about the afterlife he seeks, Shade makes an important shift in
> his "investigation of the abyss"-- he realizes that the point of the
> is not hidden somewhere in the text, but in the texture, his actual
> engagement with the problem, his conscious and ethical decisions to place
> more weight on certain ideas and expectations and not on others.
> This idea can now be extended one level higher to our interpretations of
> "text" Pale Fire. There is no "crown" to be found in the text that will
> alleviate all of our questions about the echoes and difficulty of the
> Allegorical explanations (such as the Shade vs. Kinbote authorship
> or Shade being a sexual predator/split personality) provide temporary
> until the next flimsy nonsensical explanation comes along. Some might
> argue: well, what's so wrong about forwarding these explanations? This is
> literary study, after all, and we're all free to make whatever arguments
> about the book we like.
> Certainly, we're free to do so, as I pointed out earlier that I do not
> believe there is any one correct way to read any literary text. However,
> regardless of whether it is correct or incorrect, the way in which we
> the TEXTURE, does have important ethical implications, and this is what I
> believe is the aesthetic/ethical core of the novel:
> The shift of emphasis from text to texture is an introduction to an
> idea/theme of the novel: the mode of searching for absolute truth in text
> not only simple-minded and futile but can also be dangerous. When reading
> with the mindset that an answer to the problems of the novel HAS to be
> found, we do not realize that, in doing so, one employs the same manner of
> thinking used by those who go on to make the most blatant and dangerous
> truth claims about the meanings of text: Christian fundamentalists,
> extremist Muslims, Lenin, Hitler, et cetera... The world has learned that
> totalitarian modes of thinking are not the solution, that even though
> absolute truths may never be found/agreed upon, we nonetheless learn from
> the patterns we are able to see and move on to better articulate some kind
> of "faint hope".
> Nabokov's personal life was directly effected by the consequences of such
> strict modes of thinking in his homeland. For that reason, I find it
> irrelevant that anybody should spend much time seeking out authorial
> intention, as I would imagine that Nabokov would be the last person to
> anybody how or how not to read a text (and if he actually did so, I would
> more than likely take his words ironically). We as readers make as many
> decisions as the writer does. This realization should not be a source of
> despair, but rather "something of the same pleasure in it as they who
> it found." I hope this discussion has made Pale Fire criticism a little
> more pleasurable for the weary onlookers of this list. I know you're out
> there...
> Cheers
> Thomas
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