Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0023404, Tue, 16 Oct 2012 22:24:37 -0600

Re: THOUGHT: VN's aesthetic
In answer to Anthony Stadlen, I think that for Nabokov, "puzzle-setting"
was by no means "trivializing". Of course, we readers don't have to react
to this approach the way he may have wanted.

The quotation from Eliot's "Little Gidding" (which I hadn't read) was very
interesting! I'll give the whole sentence:

And what the dead had no speech for, when living,
They can tell you, being dead: the communication
Of the dead is tongued with fire beyond the language of the living.

Earlier in the poem, Eliot refers to "pentecostal fire" in case we're in
doubt. Now I wonder whether the episode of Aunt Maud's message is a
deliberate response to this. She has something to tell Shade that she
could not have told him when living, but so far from perfect pentecostal
communication, she still has her aphasia and her message communicates
nothing to anyone but the reader in hindsight, and the reader probably
needs help.

Nevertheless, a message from a dead person would be a miraculous proof of
life after death. We might compare Kinbote's thoughts on how miraculous it
is that we can read--didn't Nabokov say something like that in *Lectures on
Literature* or somewhere?--and the "indescribable amazement" he would feel
on seeing any message from the dead, which is his comparison, significantly
enough, for how he feels on holding Shade's manuscript.

Maybe Nabokov felt that the afterlife was so wonderful in itself that it
should be suggested subtly with the mundane (like the coincidences in *Speak,
Memory*), or using the springboard of parody as Jansy Mello's quotation
from *RLSK* suggests, instead of with what he might have seen as the
lily-gilding of bringing in another miracle, as Eliot did.

In response to Gary Lipon (and I wish I'd responded to more of his
interesting comments), I imagine he's right that few people or none figured
out the acrostic without a strong hint, but I feel sure that's what Nabokov
intended. In that case his mistake, if he made one, was not producing a
stunt to show how abstruse the game could get, but overestimating his
audience of human beings.

On an unrelated *Pale Fire* note, I've owed Carolyn Kunin an apology for a
long time, because I said she never set out her theory. I can't even claim
that I didn't read the posts where she did, because I responded.



Sorry, Carolyn!

Jerry Friedman

On Tue, Oct 16, 2012 at 11:02 AM, Jansy <jansy@aetern.us> wrote:

> **
> *Anthony Stadlen*: I take it you know that, in March 1959, "The Vane
> Sisters" was published in Encounter, and VN set a competition to look for
> "a coded message that occurs on the last page of the story. A prize of one
> guinea is offered to the first five readers who crack the code." And, in
> the next issue, April 1959, VN offered his congratulations to the first
> five readers -- all named -- who had won their guinea by doing so. So he
> had hinted that there was a code, and roughly where it was, but had not yet
> revealed, the code. When something like this recurs in *Pale Fire* and *Transparent
> Things*, and is alleged by Alexander Dolinin already to have been the
> basis of "Signs and Symbols", is it not justified to suspect that
> the communication of the dead, possibly "tongued with fire beyond the
> language of the living" but in a rather trivialising, puzzle-setting,
> table-tapping sense, is a kind of underlying metaphysics of VN's oeuvre?
> *Jansy Mello*: A well-argued point about a kind of underlying
> metaphysics... - and a wondrous quote ('tongued with fire..."). ****
> Here's a kind of confirmation from *RLSK*:"As often was the way with
> Sebastian Knight he used parody as a kind of springboard for leaping into
> the highest region of serious emotion. J. L. Coleman has called it 'al
> clown developing wings, an angel mimicking a tumbler pigeon', and the
> metaphor seems to me very apt. Based cunningly on a parody of certain
> tricks of the literary trade, *The Prismatic Bezel *soars skyward. With
> something akin to fanatical hate Sebastian Knight was ever hunting out the
> things which had once been fresh and bright but which were now worn to a
> thread, dead things among living ones; dead things shamming life, painted
> and repainted, continuing to be accepted by lazy minds serenely unaware of
> the fraud. The decayed idea might be in itself quite innocent and it may be
> argued that there is not much sin in continually exploiting this or that
> thoroughly worn subject or style if it still pleases and amuses."
> I wonder if ghostly interventions are a part of the same scheme. The
> additions to "love at first sight" (a worn sentence) to the lines in *
> Lolita* represent the kind of "ghostly revival" as intended in the
> preceding novel and attributed to S.Knight, or following the beautiful
> demonstration of "Nabokov's art of counterpoint" brought up by Didier
> Machu. *
> ...................................................................................................................................................................................................................
> * *- **Didier Machu* ..."In connection with "love at ever and ever sight"
> I just wish to add that Charlotte, falling on her knees, acknowledges
> Humbert as “her ruler and her god” (Vintage 91 / Penguin 102): “forever and
> ever” (68 / 75), says the letter she writes after praying the Lord and
> asking Him for advice re Humbert--while the latter availed himself of her
> being at church to say his own mute prayer ("Let her stay, let her stay . .
> .") and prevent "any act of God" (59 / 65) that would remove the golden
> load from his lap (a nice example of Nabokov's art of the counterpoint).
> [*EDNOTE. * I also thought that "ever and ever" might echo the end of the
> Lord's Prayer, as recited in various Christian denominations: "forever and
> ever." -- SES]****
> ** **
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