Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0020933, Mon, 1 Nov 2010 15:36:39 +0000

Re: Botkin
Most grateful for the reminder, JF. I also intended to comment on James
Twiggs¹ revelation (to me) that Cornell, as the plausible campus for Pale
Fire, was far from the rural backwoods one often imagines from the novel.
It leads me to re-examine the dynamics of how Shade, Kinbote/Botkin interact
over the Zembla myths. I have in mind a similar (but different, of course)
situation at Oxford as Tolkien started spinning his Hobbit Legends (as early
as 1937; later full-blown in The Lord of the Rings, 1954). The Middle-Earth
inhabitants would be the subject of serious mock-donnish hilarity (at
Inklings meetings with C S Lewis et al), with much playful etymologizing
(pseudo-Anglo-Saxon rather than invented Zemblan). Everyone shared the joke
in private. With such a background in mind, it becomes difficult
(impossible?) to claim that some Tolkienists were madder than others in
confusing fact and myth.

Briefly browsing for Lord of the Rings/Pale Fire links, reveals a devoted
Tolkien fan club. Members never pause to deny the reality of Sméagol¹s
attack on Déagol, though they argue endlessly over his motivation. I haven¹t
found any direct links between Tolkien and VN (of which there must be many
a-lurking), but one Hobbit-believer ends his posting with two treasured

Curiosity is insubordination in its purest form -- Vladimir Nabokov

Do not read as children do to enjoy themselves, or, as the ambitious do to
educate themselves. No, read to live. -- Gustave Flaubert

On 01/11/2010 05:21, "Jerry Friedman" <jerryfriedman1@GMAIL.COM> wrote:

> I hope I may be forgiven for going back to two posts from over a month ago
> that I've been wanting to reply to.
> Jerry Friedman
> On Tue, Sep 28, 2010 at 8:17 AM, James Twiggs <jtwigzz@yahoo.com> wrote:
>> Incidentally, don¹t be misled by the rural setting into thinking the Cornell
>> of Nabokov¹s time was a ³backwoods² university in any other sense. After all,
>> VN taught there, as did the distinguished critic M.H. Abrams. The philosophy
>> department, in which I studied, boasted Max Black and Norman Malcolm, whose
>> well-known students include William Gass and Thomas Nagel. In 1949,
>> Wittgenstein visited Malcolm and, though in poor health, made himself
>> available for discussions with both faculty and students. The anthropology
>> and Asian-studies programs were very strong as well . . . And so on.
> Let's not forget physics!
>> But the main point I want to make is that although we, as readers of VN¹s
>> novel, can see just how mad Botkin/Kinbote is, this would not necessarily
>> have been so clear to his colleagues. As someone suggested a few weeks ago (I
>> think it was Jerry Friedman), the Zembla story may have started out modestly
>> enough--as an obsession shared, at first, only with Shade. The delusion may
>> then have grown progressively worse and may not have bloomed into final form
>> till Botkin started writing the Commentary.
> I did say that the Zembla story may have grown and changed, and that Shade may
> have been the first to know about it by a significant amount of time, but not
> the quite plausible detail that I think you've added.
> ...
>> By the way, why is it so seldom mentioned that Shade, in his obsession with
>> the afterlife, is a bit on the batty side himself and that Sybil is something
>> of a shrew?
> As Kinbote shows her to us, anyway.
>> Jim Twiggs
>> From: Matthew Roth <MRoth@MESSIAH.EDU>
> ...
>> Some may argue that since Kinbote has concocted this scene well after end of
>> the semester, he has simply replaced his memory of teaching Scandinavian
>> languages with a false memory of teaching Zemblan. But once we accept this as
>> a solution, Kinbote's New Wye narrative becomes a house of cards--we have no
>> way of knowing what really happened and what has been replaced ex post
>> facto--or all is allowed, and we can pick and choose to suit our interpretive
>> needs.
> Priscilla Meyer and Jeff Hoffman wrote, "The glimmerings of another existence
> beyond our own may occasionally be discerned in nature, in fate's workings,
> and in art; the puzzles and rich referentiality of Nabokov's texts are
> designed
> to send the reader on a quest for the transcendent. The artist in his work
> mimics the Creator and his creation; both provide clues and a method of
> inquiry that can reward the quester with the discovery of a world beyond our
> own, beyond the 'real', a word Nabokov said must always be used with
> quotation marks.
> "Pale Fire is structured on the idea that reality has an infinite succession
> of false bottoms. The Danish material, almost invisibly embedded in
> Nabokov's novel, provides a rich illustration of the principle...."
> To reorganize this in a way that the authors may not have meant, the New Wye
> narrative may be one of those false bottoms, as may other "real stories"
> supposed to lie beneath it, and Nabokov may have meant this series of false
> bottoms to lead the quester to a vision of a world beyond our own.
> Thanks to Jansy for mentioning that fascinating essay, which I finally read at
> http://wesscholar.wesleyan.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1042&context=div1fa
> cpubs
>> Another Botkin problem: if Kinbote is an alternative personality of V.
>> Botkin, why is he so clearly a mirror opposite (and sometimes analog) of John
>> Shade? The Shade/Kinbote dichotomy includes the following oppostitions and
>> analogs, though I may be missing some things:
>> clean-shaven/bearded
>> ...
>> heterosexual/homosexual
>> carnivore/vegetarian
>> lame/spry
> Those are interesting, and I can't cast any doubt on them (except the usual
> that they're all according to Kinbote), but Nabokov could simply be giving his
> main characters some enjoyable contrasts.  After all, the revelation of the
> characters is the center of this novel of reflections.  (Really?)  Nabokov
> wrote, possibly overstating a bit, "I think it is a perfectly straightforward
> novel. The clearest revelation of personality is to be found in the creative
> work in which a given individual indulges. Here the poet is revealed by his
> poetry; the commentator by his commentary."
> http://listserv.ucsb.edu/lsv-cgi-bin/wa?A2=ind0803&L=nabokv-l&P=9442
>> Christian/Atheist
> Nominal Christian and nominal atheist.  But I think Nabokov needs this to
> build on the theme of the afterlife in the poem.
>> live across the lane from one another
> They have to be neighbors somehow, and I don't see anything mirror-image about
> their houses, which as far as I can tell don't face each other.
>> all of the echoes that go back and forth between poem and commentary (see
>> PFMAD, chapter 8).
>> born on the same day,
> According to Kinbote, who I don't trust.  He could have been imitating Shade
> or trying to embarrass Sybil.
>> wives resemble each other,
> Kinbote tells us his imaginary wife resembles the description of Sybil.  I see
> this as evidence that his delusion is being influenced by the poem.
>> came to New Wye at same time as John Shade's attack,
> According to Kinbote.  This version doesn't leave much room for Botkin to
> teach in "another department" at Wordsmith.
>> both seem to be experts on Pope, etc...
> It seems reasonable that Kinbote, idolizing his new neighbor, would read
> Shade's book.
>> It would make sense were Kinbote the opposite or analog of Botkin, but all of
>> these relationships that should connect Kinbote to Botkin instead connect him
>> to John Shade.
> There are perhaps hints that Botkin is clean-shaven (Kinbote hasn't shaved in
> over a year, but that might mean he used to shave) and heterosexual (as people
> have been discussing).
>> Why? I do not doubt the thetic solution--that Kinbote=Botkin--but I don't
>> think we can be satisfied with it, either.
>> Matt Roth
> I don't either--it's another false bottom.
>> I forgot to add one more important connection between Shade and
>> Kinbote/Botkin. While Kinbote imagines himself to be King Charles on the lam,
>> Shade twice imagines himself as royalty in "Pale Fire" (l. 605 & l.894). In
>> the second of these (Sit like a king there, and like Marat bleed) he uses a
>> dissociated perspective to imagine himself both as a king and as the victim
>> of an assassin--the exact scenario envisioned by Kinbote. Surely VN wanted us
>> to notice the coincidence. We then must ask why, and to what end.
> Maybe to suggest that Kinbote's delusions did have some effect on Shade and
> the poem (which Kinbote may or may not notice).  Or, maybe more contrived, to
> prompt Kinbote's delusions if they didn't start till after he read the poem.

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