Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0027519, Thu, 14 Sep 2017 15:54:30 -0700

Disa = Sybil = Anima

Her name suggest the erebia disa, the “old-fashioned butterfly” (suitably, of the family nymphalidae) of John Shade’s poem “The Sacred Tree”. The erebia disa is very similar to the erebia embla. Together, disa+embla possibly suggest “Zembla” or “dissemble”. The tree is the ginko, or maidenhair, symbolic of love and hope and also duality, as it is hermaphroditic.

Disa, the Duchess of Payne and Mone (Pale Fire’s most obvious and execrable pun), is friends with Fleur. Two types of anima figures, the latter is the projected alluring object, the former the inner disregarded soul - beautiful, lonely, broken-hearted yet forever faithful.

Disregarding Disa in his daily lustful and grandiose pursuits, Kinbote’s description of his dreaming self’s reactions to Disa reveals their true relationship. Dreams were Jung’s main avenue of exploring the archetypes, showing what is repressed in waking consciousness. Waking life, known as “reality”, is full of defenses against feeling, but in dreams they reappear in their agonizing actuality. Of his dreams, Kinbote says, “they were purer than his life”. As the anima is akin to the soul in a man, a man’s rejection of it is tantamount to losing his soul. Disa, represents the soul aspect of the anima, rather than the sexual. In his dreams he feels some sexual guilt but it seems insignificant and “far above the sunken treasure”. The “treasure” is his own soul, the world of true feeling, the boon that his anima holds for him, that his ego self ignores in favor of self-seeking aggrandizement and pleasure.

“…the anima contains the secret of the precious stone, for, as Nietzsche says, ‘all joy wants eternity.” (Jung, CW Vol.13, P.99)

“Our greatest treasure is that which is hidden deep within our own subconscious, it is the dark unused part of the self that is in fact light that is unconscious of itself.” (Jung, ibid)

In his dreams he helps her rise and walks side by side, for the moment a hieros gamos, a sacred marriage of King and Queen, and all seems happy and he adores her, but he finds it is too late and she has left. One of the scenarios is that she has “become a character in a novel”.

“Most of my works have been dedicated to my wife and her picture has often been reproduced by some mysterious means of reflected color in the inner mirrors of my books.” (VN, Strong Opinions, P.191)

The parallels between Sybil and Nabokov’s wife Vera are easily seen. Even Kinbote sees that the adored wife of Shade’s tender paean resembles the lovely Disa more than sharp-tongued Sybil. The two women are contrapuntal sides of the anima coin.

Interestingly, although he detested the Freudian interpretation of dreams, Nabokov at one time kept a dream journal. He was attempting to see if dreams were pre-cognitive. This was a belief of Jung’s also, but the point here is that he categorized the types of dreams he had, and the most common theme was of losing Vera.

This moving passage of Kinbote’s dreams has the ring of authenticity of a person being honest with himself. I don’t want to conjecture or psychoanalyze where Nabokov’s relation with Vera fits in here, except to give evidence that Pale Fire is indeed an autobiography. As usual, when there is a veiled allusion in Pale Fire, it is followed by a corroborating allusion. The passage ends with a remembered discussion Kinbote had with Shade, wherein Shade says of Kinbote’s story, “How can you know that all this intimate stuff about your rather appalling king is true? And if true, how can one hope to print such personal things about people who presumably are still alive?”

Kinbote and Shade’s discussions often take the form of a person talking to himself – two points of view within. Did Nabokov ask himself this question when considering an autobiography? We get very little of Vera’s personality, or even history, in Speak Memory, except to be lovingly addressed as “You”. It would seem he opted for Shade’s “higher” view of discretion. In Pale Fire, it seems he is letting Kinbote’s ego have his way.

“A poet’s purified truth can cause no pain, no offense. True art is above false honor.”

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