Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0017236, Thu, 30 Oct 2008 10:06:05 -0400

THOUGHTS: Fugal Structure, De Vries Article
Dear list,
I have yet to catch up on all the messages posted here over the past month
or so, but with regard to the question of fugal structure in VN's work, I
would like to recommend Gerard de Vries's article from Cycnos, "Nabokov's
Pale Fire, Its Structure and the Last Works of J.S. Bach." I think it's
accessible here:


Gerard nicely establishes the premise that VN was more knowledgeable of,
and interested in, the musical structure of the fugue than he admits in his
interviews. His short story "Bachmann" confirms this. Gerard then begins to
show how the three main characters in PF together form a fugue in three
parts, as delineated by Fux in his treatise on counterpoint and fugue,
Gradus Ad Parnassus. While Gerard's article does quite a bit of heavy
lifting already, I think there is more that could be said about this. It
would be fun to read through both the counterpoint and fugue sections of Fux
in order to try to isolate with even more specificity some of the motions
and parts of the fugue which seem to operate in PF. For instance, it seems
clear to me that Shade's poem should be considered the cantus firmus, or
given melody, against which the parts (textures) represented by Kinbote and
Gradus move in "florid counterpoint" via direct, contrary, and oblique
motion (Fux's terms). Fux calls three-part composition (note against note in
three parts) "the most perfect of all" contrapuntal structures--and one
which, as Gerard points out, seems aptly described by Shade's image of "A
system of cells interlinked within / Cells interlinked within cells
interlinked / Within one stem" (704-706).

I also wonder if we should see Kinbote's status as a "fugitive"--a word
that appears eleven times in the novel--as a link to the fugue (and possibly
to the psychological "fugue state," which we've talked about before on this
list). Likewise, if those systems of cells are indeed representative of the
three main characters, we must consider whether the one stem is the novel
itself, or might it also point us to the idea that Shade's brain stem
contains these other cell systems (persons).

Matt Roth

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