Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0025983, Sat, 31 Jan 2015 10:37:49 -0200

RES: [NABOKV-L] RES: [NABOKV-L] Kafka and VN's LL... "Three" in
Pale Fire
Although I learned that reading Nabokov is always rereading him and although I recognize that his novels shouldn’t be enjoyed only as isolated pieces but with an eye ready for their intertwining themes, I tend to remain tied to a basic core of works and find it close to impossible to recognize special “reverberations” in some of the other novels. Sometimes V.Nabokov shows the reader what he must look for inside one novel (like the revealed plums in the preface of Bend Sinister), or in two or more different ones. I wonder if his observations about the structure of Kafka’s “Transformations” could be considered, among other things, as an example of this practice ( I bring those up now only because they are the ones I’ve been working on these days…).

VN wrote at the end of his lecture: “ Let me sum up various of the main themes of the story.

1. The number three plays a considerable role in the story. The story is divided into three parts. There are three doors to Gregor’s room. His family consists of three people. Three servants appear in the course of the story. Three lodgers have three beards. Three Samsas write three letters. I am very careful not to overwork the significance of symbols, for once you detach a symbol from the artistic core of the book, you lose all sense of enjoyment. The reason is that there are artistic symbols and there are trite, artificial. or even imbecile symbols. You will find a number of such inept symbols in the psychoanalytic and mythological approach to Kafka's work, in the fashionable mixture of sex and myth that is so appealing to mediocre minds. In other words, symbols may be original and symbols may be stupid and trite. And the abstract symbolic value of an artistic achievement should never prevail over its beautiful burning life.” For him, as we see, the number three may also be significant in many ways. In Pale Fire it appears in a “triptych” associated to Zembla and to Gradus, his nemesis ( — cheval glass, a triptych of bottomless light, a really fantastic mirror, signed with a diamond by its maker, Sudarg of Bokay) and as a “tryptich” as in John Shades lines (363-367 and 379-382)

Sometimes I’d help her with a Latin text,

Or she’d be reading in her bedroom, next

To my fluorescent lair, and you would be

In your own study, twice removed from me,

And I would hear both voices now and then.



… the point is that the three

Chambers, then bound by you and her and me,

Now form a tryptich or a three-act play

In which portrayed events forever stay.

There are references to the magic quality of a repetition (as in CK’s note to line 347 related to the item, an “old barn” and not to line 345) “There are always "three nights" in fairy tales, and in this sad fairy tale there was a third one too.” (Cf. JS’s poem: “…she spent three nights/ Investigating certain sounds and lights/ In an old barn.” 345-347).

In Pale Fire, also, the reference to the “three rooms” expands ( into a closed, fixed and permanent three-act play?).

The word for triptych may be absent in PF but the paintings indicated in it (I.Bosch and the “Garden of Earthly Delights”) might imply a new mystery: when the wings of the Bosch triptych are closed, a fourth design appears, could the same be applied to PF?

Besides, there is a fair warning not to read the father/mother/child threesome as the familiar Freudian components of an oedipus triangle…

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