Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0020618, Fri, 27 Aug 2010 13:29:37 -0400

Re: PF's "little scissors", Botkin
Wonderful responses from Boyd, Friedman, and several others regarding my scissors question. RSG's response about the cuticle "moons" helped me to connect several passages I had not put together before. As Brian Boyd notes, the scissors scene prefigures the Shade shaving scene in Canto 4, where Shade complains that in places his skin has become "less secure" and "ridiculously thin." I have taken this statement as strongly related to his versipellous nature, his moment of transformation where he will, like the versipels of old, turn himself inside out and reveal the bearded (read Kinbote) beast "inveterate in [him]." RSG's comment about moons adds another connection. In the nail-pairing scene, Shade is also trimming away the "scarf-skin" around his cuticles. The scarf-skin is the very outer-most layer of skin, ridiculously thin, one might say. So Shade, with help of his conjoined, sun-star scissors, is literally trimming himself away to reveal the moons that lie beneath his skin. The moon, of course, is closely associated with Kinbote, who, in his own way, is trying to steal the pale fire of Shade's great poem for his own purposes. VN presumably knew well V.V. Rozanov's Liudi lunnogo sveta (People of the Moonlight), in which Rozanov shows, according to Eric Naiman, how the moon/moonlight "signifies homosexuality in the Russian philosophical tradition" (N,P 71). Moreover, any Sun/Moon transformation should bring to mind the shape-shifting werewolf, the versipel, who emerges when the moon is full, as it was on the last night of John Shade's existence.

As for the Botkin question, I think John Morris asks some very important questions about the plausibility of Botkin-Kinbote in New Wye. On the other hand, I wonder why he thinks Botkin-Kinbote acceptable when John Shade is the author, but not when VN is the author. Would readers of Shade's book have lower standards than readers of VN's book? Wouldn't they expect the same sort of "realism" that we expect?

Matt Roth

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