Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0026470, Wed, 23 Sep 2015 12:06:34 -0300

RES: [NABOKV-L] Lines 1000-1001 in Pale Fire & ampersand
JM: In a recent posting, A.Sklyarenko brought up John Shade’s lines on the
figure that bicycle tires leave on the sand: “The infinity symbol ∞ is
sometimes called “lemniscate.” ∞ is a poem by Nik. T-o (I. Annenski)
included in Tikhie pesni (“Quiet Songs,” 1904[ ]Going back to the tires
on the sand, the word “sand” itself carries us over to a forgotten rubber
band and Shade’s verses 532-36. The rubber band, in this case, must have
been ruptured somewhere for, as an “ampersand,” it extrapolates the sign
for “infinite” with its two protruding tails…

“Overinterpretation” may happen involuntarily as a result of the
“interconnectedness of things and events,” as it has been perceived and
rendered by the plexed artistry of John Shade.
Did VN intend to have his favorite fictional poet refer to lemniscate tire
marks on the sand while also thinking about a dropped rubber band forming an
ampersand? It’s difficult to ascertain. Probably the appeal of the rhyme
played a role in that image…

However, while I was looking at the contours [ 8, ∞, & ] keeping the words
“extrapolates the sign for infinite” in my mind, I remembered and checked
Buzz Lightyear’s catch-phrase in “Toy Story” ( “To Infinity and
Beyond”) and found out that it’s related to Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A
Space Odyssey where a title card with the words “Jupiter and Beyond the
Infinite” is displayed.

Fortunately, all the associations that might have led me to suppose there
was any VN reference to Stanley Kubrick’s fantasy are chronologically
mismatched. Kubrick’s space movie is from 1968 and “Pale Fire’s”
publication was in 1962 (the same year as Kubrick’s “Lolita” though).
Most of all, when I tried to drop down fresh rubber bands (broken and
unbroken) I found no ampersand contour in them.

But wait! I also decided to drop a used band, one that held my visiting
cards together and which had partially lost its crisp elasticity: now it
hesitantly shaped an irregular ∞ (one of its parts was much smaller than
the other, like it’s the case with &). Anyway, “lemniscates” are
precisely formed, symmetrical and then the symbol for the infinite
associated to them would not constitute a precise analogy to the shriveled
rubber band… (a ruptured old rubber band shaped nothing but a disheartened

In conclusion: lemniscate and ampersand forms in poetry are just that…
suggestive images poetically licensed.

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