Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0017917, Fri, 13 Mar 2009 12:18:04 -0400

Re: THOUGHTS: Personalities, some last thoughts from MR
Since I think we'll have a fuller discussion once we have a published theory
before us, I'll make this my last post on the MPD theory until the NOJ comes
out. --MR

Jim Twiggs: The very idea that it would take FORTY-ODD YEARS for somebody
to snort out The One True Truffle strikes me as absurd.

MR: I quite agree. I have never, and will never, assert that Nabokov ONLY
intended Pale Fire to be read through the lens of multiple personalities. It
is clear that he approved of Mary McCarthy's two-person reading of the
novel, at least in its basic facts. Such a reading is perfectly legitimate,
and I hope I have never given the impression that reading the book this way
means the reader has done it wrong. I do not believe there is "One True
Truffle," as you say. (Can those who scorn any theory other than McCarthy's
say the same?) The genius of Pale Fire, in my view, is its negative
capability, by which I mean that the novel can accommodate doubts,
uncertainties, and multiple narrative scenarios. Am I convinced that in PF
Nabokov intended to embed a scenario in which Shade and Kinbote are the same
person? Absolutely. Am I convinced that he wanted this interpretation to be
the only "true" one? Absolutely not. Though it's a feeble analogy in many
ways, I see the novel as similar to one of those paintings where it's
possible, by way of an unexplainable, minute adjustment of the eyes, to see
a beautiful woman or a hideous hag, except in this case the hag and the lady
can be seen at the same time, and we intuitively understand that one has
made a tragic bargain with the other.

If there is one reaction to our theory that I wish I could alter, it's the
sense that such a theory threatens or disproves other theories. It's true
that I think our theory makes parts of the novel sing out more meaningfully.
But this is true of other theories as well. One flaw of the MP theory,
frankly, is that it doesn't do much with the haunted barn or the
poltergeists, while Boyd's theory gives real urgency and meaning to those
incidents. One flaw of the traditional theory of the novel is that has to
explain away all the images of doubling in John Shade's poems, and in the
relationship of Kinbote and Shade, by saying, as SKB does, that these things
exist simply as a testament to "Nabokov's love of mirrors, symmetries,
involutions, paradoxes, etc.,"--or mere "aesthetic bric-a-brac," as I put it
in a prior post. So, if I may channel my inner Rodney King, I ask: why can't
we all just get along?

Some answers for JF's questions:

>As they [the three bird images] are in Shade's mind when he starts the
poem, before Kinbote
>takes over?

They may be forming, yes. Or it could be Nabokov showing us Shade's complex
inner life, which will become manifest later on.

>Shade would rather be like his pitiful neighbor than forget his
>life. He may get the imagery from things Sybil says to him.

Okay...but this statement is made in the context of a discussion of IPH.
Shade says "I'm ready to become a floweret or a fat fly," not become like.
And he then goes on to talk about the newlydead and spirits and letting "a
person circulate through you." The context clearly indicates that he is
talking about what happens when we die, though Shade's claim that "we die
every day" (just four lines before this) should alert us to the possibility
that it is possible to die without physical death. "What moment in the
gradual decay / Does resurrection choose?" Shade asks in lines 209-210.

>If you don't believe Kinbote ever talked to Shade, why do you
>believe what he says about his birthday?

I don't see any reason to doubt that he thinks this is his birthday.

>The problem with this approach [seeing all the left-right, bearded-clean
>oppositions as significant] is that it can explain anything.
>All similarities are clues, and all differences are mirror-
>image clues to the same thing.

This is a dismal dismissal, Jerry. The very point is that these opposites
cannot explain just anything; they explain something very specific! They
are integral details, in fact. To say that clear opposites are the same
thing as "differences" is to mischaracterize our argument entirely. Yellow
is different than black; white is the opposite of black. Yellow and white do
not have the same relationship to black.

>And what about Jack Grey? As I understand
>your theory, not only does the secondary personality invent a
>murderer to explain what happened to the primary, and fit
>this invention in with his delusion, but he also invents a
>"real" murderer so the reader can see through his delusion!
>This is fun to describe, but I can't believe it's something
>Nabokov wanted us to see as a possible solution.

Excellent point. It is, as VN would say, an "artistic problem." Indeed,
you have hit upon the one area of the MP theory that makes me most
uncomfortable: what to do with those scenes where, via dramatic irony, we
see a different truth than the one Kinbote intends. In Kinbote's Zembla
fantasy, he is flamboyant but heroic, while in the New Wye scenes he tends
to come across as a fool. In our article, we propose a solution to this
problem, involving a real V. Botkin, which we can discuss when it has been
published. As for Jack Gray, I think we have to see the problem from
Kinbote's perspective. Kinbote believes in the reality of a malevolent,
interloping personality named Jack Gray, who also resides within John
Shade--their names are the same, of course. But Kinbote, as in all theories,
wants to make Gray part of his own Zembla world, rather than part of the
world of John Shade. He does this by transforming Gray into Gradus, and
dramatizes the whole confrontation via the scene on Goldsworth's lawn. But
Kinbote is not enough in control of narrative to avoid the reality of Jack
Gray altogether, and this bleeds through in his description of how the
events were interpreted in the New Wye of his insane memory. It may be that
Shade had, at one time, looked through Judge Goldsworth's scrapbook and saw
Gray's picture, and the whole scenario grew out of that. I admit that this
is rather contorted. I take solace, however, in the fact that all
interpretations suffer these contortions on (more than) one point or
another. Thanks for bringing it up.


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