NABOKV-L post 0004764, Wed, 16 Feb 2000 13:38:38 -0800

Re: Boyd's Pale Fire (fwd)
EDITOR's NOTE. BRIAN BOYD <> responds to Michael
Suh's comments (and my afterthoughts).

------------------ Michael Suh dislikes what he supposes to be _my_
"otherwordliness." Might I point out that: -- I have been writing about
_Pale Fire_ for nearly thirty years, and far from trying to impose an
"otherwordly" reading on it, opted for most of that time for Shade as sole
author, despite elements of the novel like The Haunted Barn that were
calling out for an otherworldly explanation -- it was Vera Nabokov who
called the beyond VN's "main theme," a formulation that I thought
dangerously overstated the case, as I have said to her and in print -- I
have criticized probably more vigorously than anyone else those (Rowe;
Alexandrov) who, starting from Vera's formulation, resort to the
otherworld as a default explanation -- I have paid more attention to the
this-worldly in Nabokov (in his life, and in his art), over 2500 pages
worth, than anybody else who has written on him, including paying the
first serious attention (outside the ranks of lepidopterists) to his
scientific work -- I have never focussed on the otherwordly in any other
writer I have written about, from Homer to Art Spiegelman -- I am devoting
several years of my life to a biography of philosopher Karl Popper, who
had no interest whatever in the "otherworldly" -- I am currently working
on an attempt to explain art in evolutionary (Darwinian) terms, which
allows no room for the otherworldly and which is at odds with VN's
anti-Darwinianism, a product of _his_ sense of conscious design in the
universe, not mine.

I have written about the otherworldly in VN because the evidence compelled
me to, and because he treats critically and imaginatively what in any
other version I know sounds simply uncritical and unimaginative. But I end
the piece Don Johnson refers to, part of our discussion of the role of the
place of the otherworld in Nabokov studies: "Nabokov was never reductive
and never uninterested in this world. May I offer some advice? Do not look
for Nabokov's otherworld just because it is a critical fashion. . . . If
he could not make this world exist so well in fiction, his otherworlds
would matter much, much less."

Don Johnson himself, like Michael Suh, finds my "insistence" on VN's
generosity "irksome." Might I again point out that
-- I have never written of any other writer or thinker in terms of
"generosity." It is not a pet theme that I impose on what I write
-- it is Nabokov who insists on the generosity of the "waggish artist"
behind nature in a book aptly called The Gift, whose hero writes "And one
wants to offer thanks but there is no one to thank. The list of donations
already made: 10,000 days -- from Person Unknown."
-- it is Nabokov who in his own person writes of "A thrill of gratitude to
whom it may concern," and who ends this book with an image of himself and
Vera as parents waiting for the thrill their child will feel at the surprise
life has concealed ahead, in a clear image of the surprises that life itself
offers all of us and that he intends to offer his readers
-- I admit to having enjoyed some of those surprises, and felt the
excitement that VN meant to impart, precisely because he thought it was akin
to the excitement life itself hides for us to find, and it therefore would
seem to me like ingratitude (something that, as the passages above and this
very artistic strategy suggest, VN rightly thought little of) not to counter
the image of VN as someone who felt life was cruel and as someone who
therefore wanted to pass on his cruelty by tweaking the hapless reader.

I am sorry that seems irksome.

Brian Boyd