NABOKV-L post 0019232, Mon, 25 Jan 2010 13:44:58 -0200

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Re: THOUGHTS on the Pale Fire poem--response to Friedman
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Jerry Friedman [to James Twiggs*]: "I see I'll have to read /Nabokov's World/. What I'm interested in finding is a specific interpretation of /Pale Fire/: that a lot in the book points us to the author's higher world, and thus by implication to a world above the author. I have the comfort of having come up with it independently of others, but that's the belief of every fish in the school.In yet another difference from you, I like the fact that /Pale Fire/ is overtly about "the beyond". .. Appel says Nabokov is "a master parodist of literary styles" as well as parodying works in ways that don't require him to imitate his subject's style. What I'm wondering is whether his parodies ever involved intentional bad writing at the length of "Pale Fire" the poem...Your comments are more reasons that I don't see Shade's view--which I ascribe to Nabokov, and maybe I'll find that Johnson and Boyd prove it--as very original."

JM: Shade's view of the "otherworld", according to JF, is Nabokov's own. And yet, Nabokov was never really explicit about this ( a play with "the great potato" sums this up) and his indications are not exclusive to "Pale Fire" and they arise, mainly, through stylistic devices, never in the content with his "philosophizing."
J.Twiggs wrote that he disagrees "strongly with Boyd's second sentence. I think most of what he has presented as Nabokov's "deep" side is indeed shopworn, and was shopworn long before Nabokov came on the scene....pretty standard intimations of immortality and nature mysticism, and some ideas about design that have been around for a very long while. This isn't to say that I don't think there's depth in Nabokov. Pale Fire is a deep novel indeed, a novel that I greatly admire, but I don't think Boyd has the handle on what the depth consists of." I cannot but concur with James Twiggs since, even though I cannot grasp this novel's depth, I find in Nabokov an openess that gives room to various interpretations which encourage the readers to come to terms with conjectures of their own, thereby questioning a single definite interpretation.

Nabokov parodies literary styles in an inimitable way (following the line about Appel's words), but sometimes also in an appreciative mood. Take these lines (280-293): I love you when you’re standing on the lawn/ Peering at something in a tree: "It’s gone./...I love you when you call me to admire/ A jet’s pink trail above the sunset fire./ I love you when you’re humming as you pack/...And I love you most/ When with a pensive nod you greet her ghost/... These express something genuine and show how, through Shade's love for Sybil, he can come to love his unhandsome daughter. His lines reminded me of another poet's, one admired by young Nabokov: Rupert Brooke, particularly his "The Great Lover."**
Here Shade writes not a "parody," but makes a vague (and for me pungent) reference to Brooke. Rupert Brooke laments the disappearance of small transient details (for him there'll be no survival of individual memories in the hereafter), but in his grief he tries to fix them with words and give them names And yet, differently from Brooke, Shade includes Sybil as the steadfast intermediary for all his "loves."

I notice that various names are often brought up ( Johnson, Swift, Pope, etc), never Dryden's. And yet, although Nabokov sometimes wrote negatively about this poet, he also admires certain ressonances in his poems, particularly one with candles (in a note to Eugene Onegin, which I'll try to quote later.)

About otherwordly matters: Steve Blackwell illustrates aptly how Nabokov was more interested in exploring diversity instead of looking for a common matrix, fascinated with life's thrust forward and less with darwinian struggles that operated negatively, by the elimination of the "useless." This characteristic trait, in Nabokov, must have led him to accept a "designer," at least as "an address" for what is transiently sophisticated and serves to no other known purpose.


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* (excerpts from J.Twiggs:) "Although I have high regard for the work of both Johnson and Boyd, and have learned much from both of them, I’m not drawn to this approach to my favorite Nabokov books, and I'm especially suspicious of its application to Pale Fire--in part because the novel is so overtly about these very matters. I was therefore gratified when Johnson goes on to say that ........My present discomfort stems from the thought that this dominant critical paradigm discourages critics and readers from attending to the very concrete details that constitute the basis of Nabokov’s stature as an artist. They also tend to ignore the wit and humour that are so central to his work. For the sake of argument, let us suppose that Nabokov is in fact a ‘dirty’ writer who sometimes appeals to the reader’s prurience; let us assume that his values are sometimes less than humanistic, and that his other worlds philosophy is, in itself, badly shopworn. Would acknowledging such assumptions significantly diminish our delight? Would Nabokov be less the consummate artist? Apart from whatever heuristic value they may have, our reigning paradigms should be regarded with scepticism, lest they deflect attention from the area of Nabokov’s greatest originality--the brilliance of his style and wit. (p. 21).....If the otherworld model is the dominant paradigm, then it follows that you're not the only member of what clearly seems to be a "school." ...Your question about why an author would deliberately write bad poetry (or prose) is one that you ought to take up with Nabokov himself. The early, "metaliterary" school of VN criticism, mentioned by Johnson, was led by Alfred Appel, Jr., who in 1967 published a famous paper titled "Lolita: The Springboard of Parody," which was later incorporated into the Introduction of The Annotated Lolita. The subtitle of the paper is taken from The Real Life of Sebastian Knight: "As was often the case with Sebastian Knight, he used parody as a kind of springboard for leaping into the highest region of serious emotion . . ." The rest of this passage, quoted on page li of Appel's Introduction, along with Appel's elaboration of VN's use of parody and comedy, is one of the inspirations for my own reading of Pale Fire....In his response to Johnson, Boyd says:...[H]e asks if it would make any difference whether Nabokov’s otherworldly philosophy were shopworn. To me it certainly would. Eliot’s craving for the authority of tradition, Yeats’s refuge in the irrational, to me seriously diminish their art. Nabokov is of such interest partly because he is such a clear and independent thinker, and his style is the way it is because he has such clarity and independence of thought. (p. 23).....I disagree strongly with Boyd's second sentence. I think most of what he has presented as Nabokov's "deep" side is indeed shopworn, and was shopworn long before Nabokov came on the scene. As Boyd has described it in the pages I've read by him, the "philosophy" is a hodgepodge of familiar ideas--a bit of Ancient Wisdom here (Gnosticism, neo-Platonism, etc.), a spot of pseudo-science there (Blavatsky, Steiner, Dunne, Ouspensky, et al.), pretty standard intimations of immortality and nature mysticism, and some ideas about design that have been around for a very long while. This isn't to say that I don't think there's depth in Nabokov. Pale Fire is a deep novel indeed, a novel that I greatly admire, but I don't think Boyd has the handle on what the depth consists of. But that's a matter for another time. For now, Jerry, I appreciate your interest in my postings, and I hope I've answered your questions. There's one thing we definitely agree on--namely, that Hazel's suicide is suitably motivated. In my estimation, this is set up wonderfully and believably well. P.S. You're right, you don't have to remind me that the difference between "comic" and "cosmic" is a single letter. It's a question of which word is to be master, and which way the influence runs."

**
Brooke writes: "I have been so great a lover:filled my days/ So prooudly with the spendour of Love's praise/.../So, for their sakes I loved, ere I go hence,/...I'll write those names/ Golden for ever.../These I have loved:/ White plates and cups, clean-gleaming,/Ringed with blue lines.../Wet roofs, beneath the lamp-light:the strong crust.../Rainbows; and the blue bitter smoke of wood;/.../ All these have been my loves. And these shall pass./ Whatever passes not, in the great hour,/ Nor all my passion, all my prayers, have power/ To hold them with me through the gate of Death./.../ somewhere, I shall wake,/ And give what's left of love again, and make/ New friends, now stranges.../But the best I've known/ Stays here, and changes, breaks, grows old, is blown/...fades from brains of living men, and dies./ Nothing remains./O dear my loves, O faithless, once again.../...and later lovers, far-removed,/ Praise you, 'All these were lovely'; say, 'He loved." ( 1914)

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