Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0018524, Mon, 17 Aug 2009 11:29:30 -0400

Re: Driving in the Snow:Chemical Reagent

JM: and I wonder why he said "chemical reagent," since a fall would only
entail mechanical, not chemical, consequences. Unless...?

MR: Nice catch, Jansy. My thought is that Nabokov is being precise here in
making Kinbote imprecise. According to Webster's 2nd, a chemical reagent is
"any substance which, because it takes part in certain reactions, is used in
detecting, examining, or measuring other substances, in preparing material,
in developing photographs, etc." Kinbote seems to be describing a catalyst,
as someone pointed out. But if a reagent is used to detect a new or
otherwise hidden substance, we might reverse Kinbote's notion and say that
Kinbote himself is the substance and the Dante-esque incident of the Shades
stuck in the ice is the reagent--that which first brings Kinbote into view
of the Shades (though they do not seem to detect him at that moment). The
description of Shade strenuously grimacing and Sybil talking fiercely to him
may imply that there is more wrong at that moment than a stuck car. In the
audio file of VN reading this passage at the 92nd Street Y, VN says that
Sybil was "fiercely talking into him," a description which brings Shade's
interior into the equation more forcefully than the description as it appear
in PF.

Matt Roth

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