Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0017886, Wed, 11 Mar 2009 10:20:27 -0400

Re: THOUGHTS: More bits of S in K, and vice-versa

MR responding to JA:

I always appreciate your thoughtful, well-written remarks. I think your
reading of Pale Fire makes perfect sense, and it seems likely to me that
Nabokov wanted readers to read the novel in the way you suggest. But
interpretation is not a zero-sum game (necessarily) and in this case I think
VN, in order to approach the true nature of dissociative identitities,
created a counter-narrative inside of the more obvious one. I will try to
respond to a couple of your questions and comments:

1. JA: "why would this reading be preferable to the way in which, say,
Brian Boyd originally interpreted the book in his Vladimir Nabokov, The
American Years. In that, you remember, he suggested Shade consciously
created the Kinbote persona as a kind of experiment in Mortality."

MR: Because, as Boyd has conceded, there are a number of unanswerable
objections that make a pure Shadean approach untenable. See PFMAD, 123-126.
However, if we remove the notion that Shade purposely created Kinbote, these
objections no longer apply. See my post on this, here:

2. JA: "it seems better than the Double personality concept, because yours
means the book is filled with so much cheating; there's no confrontation
scene that would pull everything together, since the whole idea is something
you have to entirely construct of clues, which in my opinion is pretty
ineffective story telling: a novel filled with arty intentions rather than
dramatic structure."

MR: I don't think a Double personality constitutes cheating, though I'm not
certain I understand your use of that term. One of the common objections to
this theory has been that it devalues the New Wye scenes, since most of them
could not have happened as related if Kinbote and Shade are in the same
body. But there is plenty in PF that is dramatized effectively and
enjoyably, even though we know these things never happened. Do we enjoy the
dull-witted confrontation between Oswin Bretwit and Gradus any less because
it is a fantasy? Do we not enjoy the contrapuntal pyrotechnics of Kinbote's
note to line 894 (the faculty club scene) once we realize that it can't have
happened? (Do we sympathize with BS's Krug any less when we discover that he
is a fiction within a fiction?) As for there being no confrontation scene,
it is true that VN does not provide an "a-ha" reintegrating moment at the
end of the book, but I think this is to his credit. Ada, for what it's
worth, also lacks this closure with regard to its two worlds. In PF, the
whole book is a confrontation scene between Shade and Kinbote, and this
contrast/conflict gives the book its dramatic structure. Indeed, a theory of
multiple personalities gives meaning to the structure of the novel that a
traditional reading of the novel does not. In the traditional reading, the
novel's contrapuntal details and structure are not really part of the plot;
instead, they are leitmotif, or at best a kind of manifestation of VN's
status as the artist/god. But if Shade, Kinbote, and Gradus are
three-in-one, then all of these "covert concords" (Boyd's term) become
something much more than aesthetic bric-a-brac. They instead become the
essential elements of a fugue. Shade's poem and person are the Cantus
Firmus, the fixed line, while Gradus and Kinbote are the Cantus Figuratus,
the florid counterpoint (see Fux, Gradus ad Parnassum) that plays above,
against, and finally (on Goldsworth's lawn) together with the original
melody. (Canto, of course, comes from the L. cantus, singing, song.)

By the way, I do believe that V. Botkin exists in the novel and lives
across the lane from Shade. But I'll leave that for the article to explain.

Matt Roth

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