NABOKV-L post 0026458, Sun, 20 Sep 2015 17:25:26 -0300

Getting sstarted: the most recent issue of NOJ
It was wonderful to read the recent Nabokov Online Journal, Vol. IX (2015)
and its enticing round table discussion “APPROACHES TO TEACHING NABOKOV’S
PALE FIRE.” From my past experience of teaching a different subject
(psychology, psychoanalysis) in a different country it was an extremely rich
demonstration of the choices being made by a very special group of American
teachers and scholars, their projects and attitudes towards their college
and post-grad students (mostly envisaged as “virginal” in relation to
V.Nabokov’s works): protective, laborious and directive at least while their
initial considerations remained distant from the excess of information now
widely available in the digital world.

But then, Yuri Leving inquired:

Y.Leving:“Considering some obvious challenges, presented in the previous
scenario, what possibilities exist for teaching Pale Fire in the new
computerized era of iPads and interactive apps?”

I selected a few considerations when they touched upon a theme that has been
recently worrying me*:

Priscilla Meyer: “For one of their papers students can create a gaming blog,
write a film scenario or record a rap performance, etc.”

Will Norman: The possibilities are endless in theory, but I have doubts
about their efficacy. Nabokov’s whole œuvre is so invested in the
book-as-object—its materiality, its annotated margins, its
destructibility—that it would seem to me short-sighted to attempt
circumvention of these qualities. The tension between the impulse towards
transcendence on one hand and its inevitable frustration by the material
world on the other is a subject to be interrogated in its own right rather
than evaded.

Dale Peterson: There are ways, of course, that digital technology can assist
and accelerate an individual’s familiarity with the densely woven text of
Pale Fire. It would be a great boon to have a clickable concordance that
would enable a reader instantly to locate recurrences of words and phrases—a
digital rival to Kinbote’s index. The numerous allusions, borrowings, and
imprecise citations that lay beneath the surface of the book’s prose and
poetry could be retrieved by a search engine programmed to provide accurate
references and quotations disguised by the cunning poet or by Zemblan
translations. It goes without saying that collective brainstorming has been
extended beyond classroom hours in blogs posted by students as they are
reading assigned pages. Should we worry about cognitive overload or blatant
misreadings going viral? Not really—as Kinbote’s commentary attests,
misreading and verbal distortions can provide a productive kick to the

Yuri Leving: Pale Fire is the ultimate hypertext written in a time when the
notion of a clickable hyperlink had yet to be introduced. Consider the pros
and cons of a digital edition of Pale Fire from a pedagogue’s point of view.

Priscilla Meyer: In effect it already exists: there is a searchable
digitized text online and there is Google. The only difference between
reality and a “digital edition” is that this leaves it up to the reader to
decide which forking paths to take. S/he may never come of the garden [ ]
The project of annotating Pale Fire is by design infinite. Where does one
stop, at which layer of referentiality, which ripple of the cast stone? A
digital edition could short circuit exploration.

Will Norman: I am not sure I agree that Pale Fire is the ultimate hypertext.
As I have suggested above, I understand it to be invested in the deep
materiality of the book-as object. To be flippant for a moment—Kinbote
distributes the pages of “Pale Fire” about his body, a kind of physical
armour or extension of his body (“plated with poetry” as he puts it) which
could not be achieved with a Kindle or iPad. The slippage between corpse and
corpus is at the centre of Nabokov’s concerns from (at least) as early as
The Real Life of Sebastian Knight. There is a danger that thinking of Pale
Fire as a proto-hypertext not only displaces such concerns but also
encourages a fantasy of Nabokov as himself history-less and virtual, which
fails to take into account his dealings with mortality, materiality and the
real spatial challenges of reading and writing fiction in the midtwentieth

I was particularly struck by Priscilla Meyer’s differentiation between the
published novel’s “reality and a ‘digital edition’,” and Will Norman’s
arguments and emphasis on the “materiality of the book-as object.”
(including the materiality of the author- as person…). The same “Nabokov
Online Journal” is part of a “material” change (I have in mind now the
discussion about VN’s “Lolita” and D.F.Wallace’s “Infinite Jest” in
“Breaking Post-modernism: The Effects of Technology and Writing Programmes
on Contemporary Literature” by Amanda M. Bigler [
<> ], although I’m rather doubtful
of the validity of her arguments comparing VN and DFWi**) and itself
illustrates and proves how digital resources may positively provide another
way of reading V.Nabokov and his "multiple points-of-view" into the present

Materiality and transcendence, reality and virtuality… And, at the end of
the round table we read:
Will Norman: “It’s interesting to me that Priscilla offers us this
reflection on happiness at the close of our discussion and that Rachel
dwells on the comic and joyous. At the risk of opening Pandora’s box, I’d
like to know more about how a happy referential mania might look different
from an unhappy one.” Priscilla Meyer: “The unhappy version is the madness
of the son in “Signs and Symbols,” caused by the solipsism of his reading of
the universe: he sees the world as focused on him, which begets an
unbearable paranoia. Nabokov’s works lay trails leading the reader from the
known into the unknown, rewarding the quest with new knowledge and a vision
of the miraculous interconnectedness of everything.”


*I’ve just finished Jonathan Franzen’s “Purity” with its concerns about the
totalitarian dangers of the internet and its power to erase historic events
and “real” human stories and destinies through their transformation into
the virtual domain. His truncated epigraph, from Goethe’s Faust, is
intriguing: what lies ahead, nothingness or a new affirmation of life? (“Die
stets das Böse will und stets das Gute schafft”)

** "Works of, for example, Vladimir Nabokov versus the works of David Foster
Wallace show some of the gaps between post-modern literature and
contemporary literature. The influences of post-modern writers vary greatly
from those of contemporary writers. Nabokov’s Lolita focuses on the inward
struggle of the protagonist and the narcissistic nature of obsession; David
Foster Wallace’s lengthy novel, Infinite Jest, includes numerous main
characters (Hal Incandenza, Remy Marathe, John Wayne, Michael Pemulis, Don
Gately, etc.), three separate locations and backgrounds of the characters,
and an interweaving plot between the characters that allow the reader to
experience multiple points-of-view by refusing to alienate the audience.
Researchers and critics have commented on the narrow viewpoint that Lolita
encompasses, and, as Kasia Boddy points out, “since Lolita was published in
1955, many have agonized over the fact that his eponymous heroine had
neither much of a life nor, in Humbert Humbert’s hands, much of a literary
memorial,” (Boddy 2008: 165). This single-minded need of Nabokov to indulge
the reader in only Humbert’s thoughts and emotions, and by depicting Lolita
as literally incompetent, is testament to the post-modern tendency to absorb
the work in the self. This self, often loosely attached to the musings and
struggles of the author, outshines the other characters and often renders
the other players as one-dimensional. This is due to the emphasis on the
protagonist’s opinions and conflicts, and deters the work from delving into
other viewpoints that would divorce the work from an often egocentric frame
of reference.// David Foster Wallace, on the other hand, has broken away
from the post-modern notion of self-reflection in support of using multiple
character points-of-view to create an all-encompassing narrative that veers
from the ego of the protagonist into a patchwork of differing voices. He
swiftly and abruptly moves from one character to another in often jarring
segues. As Timothy Aubry notes, “when [Wallace] interrupts the progression
of the narrative, rendering it all the more compelling, Wallace highlights
the fact that plots are often propelled, or at least enhanced, by efforts to
suspend them, and he exposes a similar pattern in addiction… Addiction and
metafiction (sic), then, turn out to be peculiarly resonant,” (Aubry 2008:
209). This literary device of diverting the reader from one plot to another
is prevalent in contemporary literature in response to the often linear
progression of post-modern works." A.Bigler, op. cit.

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