Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0017200, Sat, 18 Oct 2008 10:40:41 -0700

Re: THOUGHTS, if you can call them that (on misspellings,
accent marks, narcissism, metaphors)

--- On Fri, 10/17/08, jansymello <jansy@AETERN.US> wrote:

From: jansymello <jansy@AETERN.US>
Subject: [NABOKV-L] THOUGHTS, if you can call them that (on misspellings, accent marks, narcissism, metaphors)
Date: Friday, October 17, 2008, 8:38 AM

Jerry Friedman:[ A written text may have a "suggestive" effect...]  "Forward" for "foreword" is a common spelling error [...] I can't argue with you about Kinbote's frequent images of Gradus's forward motion, but lots of people who have never read /Pale Fire/ misspell "foreword".  I'd need to see a well-controlled statistical study to be convinced that common spelling errors are more likely when they have some relation to what the person is writing about. 

[ JM: I hope I  understood your former reference to a "symbolic  reading"] Those were Joseph Aisenberg's observations. I should ask, J. A., when you spoke of homosexuality meant to be symbolic of narcissism (as you said incest was), did you mean Kinbote, or the homosexuality scene in /Ada/?[...]
J.A.: I did in fact mean Kinbote when I spoke of Homosexuality and had momentarily forgotten about Ada, with Van's "trying" the boy prostitute with dysentary at that floramor and the half-sister's constant whatsiz.
JM: Sorry, JF and JA, for having confused your references.
Lapsus linguae and other parapraxies happen all the time and would be meaningless effects of language were they not related to a particular moment as observed by someone significant. I was wondering about VN's stylistic intention. He'd stated as much as in: "We feel doom, in the image of Gradus, eating away the miles and miles of "feigned remoteness" between him and poor Shade. He, too, is to meet, in his urgent and blind flight, a reflection that will shatter him....] The force propelling him is the magic action of Shade’s poem itself, the very mechanism and sweep of verse, the powerful iambic motor. Never before has the inexorable advance of fate received such a sensuous form.", but this "sensuous form" might have been felt in K's Forward....  
Any modern ( not so modern, actually) text about psychology with whiffs of Freud connects a special kind of "narcisism" and "homosexuality" ( analogies,mirrors, reflective surfaces, incapacitu to love except one's likeness etc). There is no "symbolism" or "symbolic reading", as I see it ( Yeah...define love, define metaphor, define symbol etc...) . 
J.A.: I disagree. And while I know Nabokov would vociferously disagree with me I think it's almost impossible not to see the sexuality of Kinbote as pretty much a conceit. Everything from how Kinbote picks up those boys to what exactly he does with them is vague, a vagueness Nabokov tries to cover over with bluster. Perhaps I should have said thematic rather than symbolic, that Kinbote's sexuality is an extension of the solipsism that fuels the entire contraption of the novel, and that there is no sensuous expressive reality to Kinbote's attraction to men (it's not even clear over the course of the novel whether he likes smooth effeminate little boys with curly lashes--when Nabokov has Kinbote describe those he likes in close up--or rugged masculine types--the various "tricks" and affairs which are merely brought up and quickly dispensed with). Because Kinbote's "condition" is basically dramatized as a giggly joke soaked in abstract
academicality the effect in my opinion is to have the character's libido simply stand in for solipsism. Personally I think this weakens a book that is already so much of a stunt in terms of its structure that it doesn't need a cloudy "Freudian reek" to quote another Nabokov novel at the center of it, turning the book into a kind of racy word jumble. Lolita also had this symbolic use of sexuality with the same thematic meaning, but he dramatized all its implications (there are other structural reasons I think Pale Fire is also a back-(word) step in Nabokov's development, but I won't go into that here).   
SK-Bootle: [ to JM: "You are earnestly hoping that "some people got the o with the Hungarian 'long umlaut'... but I don't get your "long" point."] Jerry refers to the “long” Hungarian umlaut because that is one of its correct technical, typographical names. You were seeking some metaphorical significance to JF’s use of “long” that was entirely literal on this particular occasion! This is no criticism but a reminder that the “perfect” Nabokovian reader would need to be “omniscient” to avoid the following extremes: (i) overlooking real, intended fruitful allusions (ii) inventing far-fetched, daft unintended allusions (often disdainfully disowned by VN Himself);
JF: The diacritical mark is not the ordinary umlaut or dieresis; it's two acute accents next to each other.
JM: Substitute "earnestly" for "literally" in your important caveat, Stan. Actually the fun often lies in having overlooked an allusion and getting the point later on  &  the same for correcting "daft" mistakes and red-faced inward chuckles.  


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