Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0015658, Wed, 7 Nov 2007 13:20:06 -0500

Re: The Function of the Ford allusion
R. S. Gwynn said: "Interesting material, which I'm glad to have. Ford was a
"real" poet (no cornpone Ozarks versifier he), and I suspect that VN was
torn between the quality of the line and the poet's name, which would have
appealed to his sense of the absurd. E. F. is one of the few poets of that
generation ever mentioned by VN; his comments on Lowell, for example, are
generally dismissive (worse when he considers Lowell as translator). I have
heard that he praised Richard Wilbur, but he rarely mentioned anyone else
born after 1915."

MR: As you mention, the inclusion of Edsel Ford in PF is somewhat
remarkable. He is the only truly contemporary writer mentioned, and VN
actually had to break the fictional timeline of the narrative in order to
include Ford's lines. Kinbote, writing in 1959, say the lines are from a
poem "recently published," but in fact the lines were not published until
1961. VN has, in Eysteinian fashion, placed a real object in his fictional
milieu, but it is an object from the future, like one of those drawings from
a children's magazine where one must find "what's wrong with this picture,"
and upon closer inspection we see that the horse and buggy has a steering
wheel. At the risk of being obnoxious, I will quote from my note, regarding
VN's reasons for including the lines. After pointing out that the theme of
"The Image of Desire" connects directly to Kinbote's desire to see the image
of his Zembla in Shade's poem, I say:

"Soon after the Ford allusion, Kinbote castigates Shade for his inclusion
of Starover Blue, "a real person," in an otherwise "invented milieu." This
criticism echoes Kinbote's earlier criticism of the painter Eystein, who
plants real objects in his trompe l'oeil paintings. Yet Nabokov's inclusion
of Ford and his poem in the commentary is nothing if not an Eysteinian
gesture. Eystein's paintings depend on a kind of triple sensation. First the
viewer thinks the painted subject real. Then the viewer realizes the
painting's artifice. Last the viewer realizes there is something real in the
painting after all. The Ford allusion works precisely the same way. When we
first encounter it, we recognize a real person, Edsel Ford the automobile
maker. We then realize that the reference can't be real, since Ford was not
a poet. But in the end we discover that the poet and poem actually do exist,
though not quite as we first imagined."

On a slightly different subject, I have experienced some Nabokovian awe in
the coincidental parallels between the lives and works of Shade and Ford.
Both were rural, folksy formalist poets, given to pithy aphorisms. And Ford,
like Shade, experienced mysterious blackouts (during the mid to late 1960's)
before his early, tragic death. Ford's blackouts were the result of his
brain tumor, which was diagnosed much too late. My friend Tiffany DeRewal
has posited a scenario in which Shade's early fits were the result of glioma
related to Tuberous (Cerebral) Sclerosis.


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