Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0027737, Mon, 30 Apr 2018 17:12:35 -0700

Re: John Shade as Japanese Fish
Mathew, I would add that these allusions all suggest Nabokov's enduring
theme of "genius" - only the few, the select, the gifted, the very best
make it.

On Mon, Apr 30, 2018 at 11:18 AM, Roth, Matthew <mroth@messiah.edu> wrote:

> Near the end of Kinbote’s note to line 691 (“the attack”), he pictures JS
> “squirming up the college hall stairs as a Japanese fish up a cataract”
> (250). Kinbote seems to think we will understand the image, and indeed it
> turns out that the carp ascending a waterfall is a common image in Japanese
> art. There is even a story to go with the image, as told here by M. McLean
> from his 1889 book, *Echoes of Japan*:
> The Carp Ascending The Waterfall.
> It is a common sight to see, on Japanese works of art, and in
> picture-books, a carp trying to swim against a strong current or waterfall.
> This allegorical picture has a very interesting history, and is derived
> from a Chinese story. In some part of China there is a strong current,
> called Rio-mon, or Dragon's Gate. This stream is looked upon as sacred; so
> that, if any fish succeeds in scaling it, it becomes a dragon. The passage
> is very difficult, it being rocky and steep, and every fish except the carp
> fails in the attempt.
> Other versions make clear that only one of a thousand carp ascends to the
> top and is transformed. The others remain mere fish in the pool below. I
> see at least three connections to PF in this story. First, it is a story of
> animal metamorphosis—a theme associated with Hazel (wood duck, trying on
> furs, Vanessa). It is also a story of the passage into
> immortality—certainly a theme of the novel, played out in myriad ways.
> Thirdly, we might see a transmuted version of the Gradus ad Parnassum, as
> Shade ascends the academic stairs. Did he make it to the top? I think he
> did. Perhaps others can do more with the image/allusion.
> Cheers,
> Matt Roth
> PS. I have attached a representative image of the koi’s ascent
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