Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0027039, Sat, 4 Jun 2016 22:15:17 -0300

More resuscitations, Nova Zembla and the Brocken Specter

After I retrieved the VN-L reference by J. Fidget to the Novaya Zemlya
mirage, to connect it with Shackleton's confirmation, in the Antarctic, of
the sixteenth century description of it by Arctic explorers, I rapidly
connected it to Pale Fire's parhelions (sun dogs) and reflections. I forgot
to mention "that rare phenomenon/The iridule - when, beautiful and strange,/
110 In a bright sky above a mountain range/One opal cloudlet in an oval
form/Reflects the rainbow of a thunderstorm/ Which in a distant valley has
been staged."
Cosmic phenomena, mirages, illusions and shadows are, of course, present
from the start, with its "pale fire" reference to sun and moon and the
poem's initial lines... and yet, there was something else at the back of my
mind, also related to Shackleton, and the exact term escaped me. I tried to
identify it using Google resources but in vain: all I got were imprecise
renderings of a "Third Man" and detailed descriptions about mirages.

VN-L's archives proved to be fundamental for the recovery of the missing
word: "brocken"..* When we find directives about that which we are looking
for and then return to Google there are always fresh surprises and
additions. I found a lot of fascinating images of the brocken specter and,
of course, Wiki entries explaining the phenomenon and, further on, citing
Samuel T. Coleridge's reference to the specter in "Constancy to an Ideal

And art thou nothing? Such thou art, as when

The woodman winding westward up the glen

At wintry dawn, where o'er the sheep-track's maze

The viewless snow-mist weaves a glist'ning haze,

Sees full before him, gliding without tread,

An image with a glory round its head;

The enamoured rustic worships its fair hues,

Nor knows he makes the shadow he pursues!

Also: "Lewis Carroll's "
<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phantasmagoria_(poem)> Phantasmagoria"
includes a line about a Spectre who "...tried the Brocken business first/but
caught a sort of chill/so came to England to be nursed/and here it took the
form of thirst/which he complains of still." [ ] In Gravity's rainbow...[
] In <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Dickens> Charles Dickens's
<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Little_Dorrit> Little Dorrit, Book II Chapter
23, Flora Finching, in the course of one of her typically free-associative
babbles to Mr Clennam, says " . . . ere yet Mr F appeared a misty shadow on
the horizon paying attentions like the well-known spectre of some place in
Germany beginning with a B . . . "

And there's more! An "anonymous" posting at
http://xefer.com//2012/07/brocken is really worth checking into (and its
indication of "Realighting on Pale Fire" at "Stochastic bookmark", March 13,
2012, <http://nnyhav.blogspot.com/2012/03/realighting-on-pale-fire.html>
http://nnyhav.blogspot.com/2012/03/realighting-on-pale-fire.html ).

"There is an incident in David Foster Wallace's "Infinity Jest" (1991) that
is a direct reference to Thomas Pychon's "Gravity's Rainbow" (1973). I
believe though that this is actually part of a chain of references going
back to Goethe./ Pynchon is known for his wide-ranging references, so it's
impossible to say exactly where he was introduced to the German mythology
surrounding the mountain. I believe there is a connection to Nabokov
however.There is a oblique reference to The Brocken in Nabokov's "Pale Fire"
(1961) [quote from PF,p.141] Here the protagonist, Kinbote, is in essence
comparing Shade's wife - a rival for his affections - to a witch./ As a
student at Cornell, Pynchon attended Nabokov's lectures while he was
teaching Russian and European literature. There is speculation that his
character Blodgett Waxwing from Gravity's Rainbow is a reference to the
famous opening line of Pale Fire's poem. Could Nabokov's reference to The
Broken have induced Pynchon to dig deeper into its inherent paganism? /
Nabokov was obviously aware enough of The Broken to produce such an arcane
neologism with its biting implication of witchcraft. It is understood that
this is a direct concordance to Goethe's "Faust". Even the use of the word
"goetic" (~Goethe) in the same paragraph referenced above hints at this.
Goethe described the Brocken in his "Faust" (1808), as the center of revelry
for witches on Walpurgisnacht. "


* - Excerpts from the 2008 posting: "Two years ago in December there was a
lively discussion with various contributors commenting on the "brocken
specter" in connection to Pale Fire[ ]: " inspite of frequent
list-headings on a "third man", Shackleton's writings describe three men
crossing the ice while the brocken shadow came as a "fourth" presence. So,
actually, what we find is a "Fourth Man". The third man comes from Eliot
(The Waste Land: Who is the third who walks always beside you?) In
Shackleton we find: "I know that during that long, and racking march ...it
seemed to me often that we were four, not three". One of them was Shackleton
himself, the other two were described as Worsley and Crean."

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