Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0017902, Thu, 12 Mar 2009 10:22:26 -0400

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

MR responding to various:

JA: Yes that's what I meant by cheating: in the world of New Wye the two
characters exist together and people acknowledge it. Now, you're right, in
one way this wouldn't be "cheating" since the only person who narrates it is
Kinbote, but if you don't accept the New Wye scenes as "real" then this
means not only that we're having to interpret an illusion through the
distorted window of a primary delusion, but that in the end we could take
anything in the book rather arbitrarily as "true" or not.

MR: I should not have said that the New Wye scenes are a "fantasy," because
I do think they have a degree of reality to them that the Zembla scenes do
not. They are based on real events and people, but they have been
re-collected by an unstable mind that can't distinguish between actual
events and confabulations. The Faculty Club/encyclopedia scene is crucial to
understanding this and can't be explained away without some extreme
conjectural contortions (such as the idea that whenever Kinbote mentions
Zembla, he is, in the real New Wye, actually saying Russia). Likewise, do we
really believe in the accuracy of the contrived dialogue between Shade and
Kinbote in notes like 549? I do not. That kind of exact recollection by is
impossible, even in novels (though many contemporary "memoir" writers seem
to have a whole audio archive of their childhoods stored somewhere in their
well-lit, climate-controlled basements). Given these scenes, is your
assertion that "N. wanted the "reality" of Zembla to remain ambiguous, but
not that of New Wye" at least questionable? Of course one could argue that
these unbelievable scenes are just mistakes, or fancies, or that as readers
we need to suspend our disbelief a little. Fair enough, as long as we
recognize that EVERY theory of Pale Fire resorts to that argument on one
point or another. I should say, also, that I have never found that the
revelation of a secondary personality detracts from my enjoyment of the
drama and humor of the New Wye scenes. The scenes still play out before our
eyes, whether or not we believe they happened that way on some level of
fictional reality. As for your point that if Kinbote's New Wye narrative is
unreal, then we can't discern whether anything is "true" or not, I have to
disagree. After all, we still have Shade's poem, which, though it contains
its own evasions, gives us ample ground to stand on. That is why I say that
the poem is the cantus firmus, the fixed line. When we fold (like a carpet)
the commentary back over the top of it, we experience the poem's melody in a
strange new way but the melody remains, at its core, a fundamental reality
from which the rest spirals out.

JA: I don't think it's admirable to be vague and washy, and I think if N
had wanted us to find this sort of reading it would be very concretely and
consciously there, and would have been discovered years ago.

MR: I think it is to VN's credit that his novels are still revealing
themselves half a century later. The secondary personality theory is not
really new; it is simply a re-working of the Shadean theory that has been
around almost as long as PF itself. I think there is a reason that VN didn't
denounce Bader's interpretation when she came out with it. He knew that she
didn't have the whole thing yet, but she had peeled back some layers of the
novel that needed peeling. When did the statute of limitations for
discovering things run out?

JA: The correlated details work 1. as a parody/exaltation of criticism; 2.
as a comic dramatic form of characterization. We go from seeing Kinbote as
he sees himself to a kind of understanding of who he "really" is; as we
suspect he must be. The zembla fantasy and it's relationship to the world of
New Wye provide fun, humor and pathos--they dramatze a portrait of a man
drowning in himself, a man who is anything but a king in life. Worse, even
in his own fantasy--and this is the particularly Nabokovian touch--the poor
self-loathing creature manages to exile himself from his own made up
kingdom! How then could these details be considered in any way superfluous
to the plot?

MR: I was not as clear as I should have been. I did not mean to say that
either the whole Zembla plot or the poem-commentary structure of the book
serve merely as ornament. I meant to say that those "covert concords," the
more subtle consonant details, are more richly integrated into the plot when
we see Kinbote and Shade as one person.

CK: To this I would add that Kinbote's annotation to l. 949 is actually
addressed to a doctor.

MR: Yes, but Humbert Humbert often addresses himself to the "jury." It does
not follow that he wrote his memoir in a courtroom.

Sergei: Second, is that Kinbote as Botkin could very well know the
"Song..." and these werewolf references, but it is hardly imaginable in case
of Shade.

MR: "The Vseslav Epos" was published in 1949. Perhaps Prof. Pnin (Szeftel)
gave John Shade a copy!

For those still interested in what VN knew about fractured personalities, I
recommend reading chapter II of Myers' Human Personality, while keeping in
mind that this is not ALL of what VN knew:


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