Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0027738, Tue, 1 May 2018 01:08:17 +0000

Re: John Shade as Japanese Fish
I asked Véra Nabokov was the fish image in Pale Fire a homage to Hokusai? With a smile, she said Yes. So I think that settles the matter.

I have loved Hokusai's work for over forty years. He's incomparably the greatest Japanese artist. I had three Hokusai prints in my part of the On the Origin of Art exhibition?<https://mona.net.au/museum/exhibitions/past-exhibitions/on-the-origin-of-art> at the Museum of Old and New Art in Hobart, Tasmania, 2016-17, including the Great Wave (the last and culminating piece in the show).

Here's the better known of his carp in waterfall (two fish--one could imagine that the lower one is not going to make it; but we can suspect that Nabokov knew only the image, not the legend) and a Hokusai carp image I like even more, almost monochrome, with two turtles also enjoying the water and its ripples.

Brian Boyd

From: Vladimir Nabokov Forum <NABOKV-L@LISTSERV.UCSB.EDU> on behalf of Roth, Matthew <mroth@MESSIAH.EDU>
Sent: Tuesday, 1 May 2018 6:18 a.m.
Subject: [NABOKV-L] John Shade as Japanese Fish

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.

Matt Roth

PS. I have attached a representative image of the koi's ascent

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