Re: Twiggs Pale Fire essay
Jamie McEwan wrote:
In spite of Mr. Twiggs' eloquent essay, I cannot bring myself to believe the
Shade poem is a piece of deliberate kitsch …… I could easily imagine
scoffing, for example, at this convoluted sentence, product of another of VN's
unreliable narrators--yet I believe it is intended seriously (and I quite like
it): "I know that the common pebble you find in your fist after having thrust
your arm shoulder deep into water, where a jewel seemed to gleam on pale
sand, is really the coveted gem though it looks like a pebble as it dries in the
sun of the everyday." Similarly, I believe that Shade's poem has genuine
merit, though it may seem common kitsch when exposed to the eye of ridicule.
Jim Twiggs wrote:
On the question of the merits of John Shade’s poem, I stand with such
doubters as Walter and Charles. In my view Pale Fire is a brilliant, pitch-black
comic novel that contains an artfully constructed but deliberately --- and
often deliciously --- bad poem.
[one of] my all-time favorites: The Stuffed Owl: An Anthology of Bad Verse,
edited by D.B. Wyndham Lewis and Charles Lee …
To my mind at least, and to my ear as well, John Shade’s poem--despite some
good lines, some striking images, and some genuinely moving passages—bears
most, if not all, of the marks of bad verse as set forth by Wyndham Lewis.
Not unnaturally, I enjoyed Jim Twiggs’ essay. Unsurprisingly, I go right
along with him on those criticisms that he applies to those parts which don’t
contain good lines, striking images or moving passages; which is quite a
substantial chunk of the whole. It is a curate’s egg, but I do find I have to make
quite an effort to match the deference of the curate.
Where I’m not so convinced is in JT's interpretation of the Hodge epigraph,
but that can perhaps be left to later discussion.
Few, I suspect, involved in any creative endeavour remain totally unassailed
by self-doubt at some point. Their egos are sufficiently strong to trust
themselves, but, unless they are abnormally thick-skinned, they will make
allowance for the doubting of others, too.
With Jamie McEwan, I don’t quite believe that the verse is entirely a piece
of deliberate kitsch, through and through. Nevertheless, it does positively
invite some ridicule, and many have accepted the invitation. How this has come
about, I’m not sure, but it also seems to me that in many parts of the
commentary Kinbote is actually speaking with VN’s voice. This strikes me most,
perhaps, in his final note (to the non-existent line 1000); eg “I reread Pale
Fire more carefully. I liked it better when expecting less.” It is almost as
if VN were applying some form of self-criticism to his own composition. I
often have the feeling when looking at something I have written myself, that it
is as if it had been written by another person. Sometimes it seems bad, at
other times it seems not as bad as all that. Sometimes, but only very
occasionally, it seems quite good. I believe that VN had doubts about the quality of
his own English verse. It is his English prose which is genuinely poetic.
As for the sentence quoted by JMcE: "I know that the common pebble you find
in your fist after having thrust your arm shoulder deep into water, where a
jewel seemed to gleam on pale sand, is really the coveted gem though it looks
like a pebble as it dries in the sun of the everyday", I don’t find it
ridiculous at all; it doesn’t seem to invite any ridicule, and I wouldn’t want
to ridicule it. Is JMcE suggesting that what it is saying could be applied to
Shade’s poem? Could it be that what VN had first envisioned as a gem later
struck him as a pebble, but that he persisted in wanting it be a gem? And
invented Kinbote to help him?
The mention of Wyndham Lewis’s Stuffed Owl reminded me strongly of FitzGerald
’s frequently quoted comment on his Khayyam: “Better a live sparrow than a
stuffed eagle”. The Stuffed Owl came out in 1930. As usual, one wonders
whether VN knew it, and must assume that he did.
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