JM: I always took ‘The Big Maybe’ to refer to ‘Life after Death’ rather than Death itself, which shares with Taxes (and convoluted readings of Pale Fire) the highest degree of inevitability known to us poor mortals.
As you point out: there’s no IF in Death. But the great ‘Hereinafter’ mystery surely persists as the dominant theme in human ruminations, and is said to be the root cause of all religions (e.g., very early signs of burial rituals). Timor mortis conturbat me! Honest atheists are never free from this fear of suddenly “ceasing to be,” yet try to rationalize/dilute the “timor” via the type of “immortality” offered by our childrens’ childrens’ children, and, for artists like VN/Shade, leaving behind hopefully imperishable word/monuments. Even for devout Zemblan Catholics like Kinbote, or Danish/Elizabethan Christians like Hamlet**, the Afterlife can be truly terrifying: the alternatives are everlasting bliss or everlasting torment. (Limbo seems to be out of Papal favour!) Eternal extreme physical rendition (Hell-Fire or Hell-Ice!) really sucks compared with everlasting nothingness! And who can ever be absolutely sure of Salvation until oops, too late. There’s that chilling Scottish conversation:

New arrival at Hell: “But, Laird, I didna ken!” (Lord, I didn’t know)
Jahweh: “Weel, ye ken the noo!” (Well, you know now)

I also love Fitzgerald’s version of Omar Khayyam’s

Oh Thou who didst with Pitfall and with Gin
Beset the Road I was to wander in,
Thou wilt not with Predestination round
Enmesh me, and impute my Fall to Sin?

** Peut-etre ou ne pas peut-etre, c’est pas la question (s k-hamlet)


On 14/10/2008 02:20, "jansymello" <jansy@AETERN.US> wrote:

Btw: Re-reading the message with Kinbote's indignant words concerning Shade's play with "Le Grand Peut-Être"("execrable pun, deliberately placed in this epigraphic position to stress lack of respect for Death.") I realized that the "Great Maybe", which I always interpreted as "God", seems to mean "Death" to Kinbote  ( it makes no sense to understand his meaning as: "there is no IF concerning death", because he is a Zemblan Catholic and the soul flies on to heaven, or dumps in hell)
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