Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0027058, Mon, 13 Jun 2016 13:08:32 -0300

Spell-bound... (natural phenomena in PF)
After associating the name of the polar explorer Shackleton to two different
possible references in VN's novel "Pale Fire" and the poem "The Refrigerator
Awakes" ( the Novaya Zemlya mirage and the brocken effect ), I came to
another indication of the second kind of illusion, recreated by mingling
memory and imagination, in VN's "Speak, Memory". " Every now and then, she
[Mademoiselle] looks back to make sure that a second sleigh, bearing her
trunk and hatbox, is following—always at the same distance, like those
companionable phantoms of ships in polar waters which explorers have
described." (5,1 S.M).

While exploring what I'd initially isolated under "atmospheric trickery" in
some of VN's stories, poems and novels so as to identify more examples of
human beings and animals being deluded by natural phenomena (in contrast to
or in parallel with mimicry), I noticed how these "refractions"arise in
"Pale Fire" with a particular insistence. Its thieving moon, that "fancy's
rear-vision mirror",# provides the reader with a "feeling" that is distinct
from the one that results from simply observing the outside world. Cf. John
Shade:"Maybe some quirk in space/ Has caused a fold or furrow to displace/
The fragile vista" - whose recollection of his parents multiplies images
that suggest a Brocken effect*: "I’ve tried/ So often to evoke them that
today/ I have a thousand parents." Kinbote's "multiplication" is of another
sort, as in the King's disguised followers romping about in the landscape as
an example of "lost similes without a string" ***.

Check also his eerie interpretation of an opalescent cloud as an
approximation to a "novaya zemlya mirage". Kinbote (n.109) sees in it a
common occurrence (in Zembla...) which has merely been renamed by the poet:
"An iridescent cloudlet, Zemblan muderperlwelk. The term "iridule" is, I
believe, Shade’s own invention." and yet, in John Shade's poem we read
something more (and it works as a metaphor): "that rare phenomenon/ The
iridule — when, beautiful and strange,/ 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."

There must be various ways to spot the "parhelia" ( small rainbows close to
the sun and created by refractions in icy particles in the air) which
Kinbote found in Canto I ** - and elsewhere. He is insistent in having a
reader notice his "phenomenal" effect on Shade: The poem, "in its pale and
diaphanous final phase, cannot be regarded as a direct echo of my narrative
[ ], one can hardly doubt that the sunset glow of the story acted as a
catalytic agent upon the very process of the sustained creative
effervescence [ ] I have reread, not without pleasure, my comments to his
lines, and in many cases have caught myself borrowing a kind of opalescent
light from my poet’s fiery orb [ ]". In Kinbote's notes to Shade's retake
of the first lines, the iteration of "mirage shimmers": " Today, when the
"feigned remoteness" has indeed performed its dreadful duty, and the poem we
have is the only "shadow" that remains, we cannot help reading into these
lines something more than mirrorplay and mirage shimmer. We feel doom...."
Beside the mirrorplays, there are mirror words and, perhaps, Word Golf: "I
am quite sure it was I who one day, when we were discussing "mirror words,"
observed (and I recall the poet’s expression of stupefaction) that "spider"
in reverse is "redips," and "T.S. Eliot," "toilest." But then it is also
true that Hazel Shade resembled me in certain respects (Line 347-48) and
later, in Line 819: Playing a game of worlds - "My illustrious friend showed
a childish predilection for all sorts of word games and especially for
so-called word golf. He would interrupt the flow of a prismatic conversation
to indulge in this particular pastime, and naturally it would have been
boorish of me to refuse playing with him" (note "prismatic conversation).

Before the selected quotes become too copious, I'd like to bring up a
different question, now related to what is "real" and "fake". Should we
consider it important that Kinbote alters the nature of a panda rug (real
and imitation) spread in his palace and in his rented room in Coriolanus
Lane? In note to line 12: "During these periods of teaching, Charles Xavier
made it a rule to sleep at a pied-à-terre he had rented, as any scholarly
citizen would, in Coriolanus Lane: a charming, central-heated studio with
adjacent bathroom and kitchenette. One recalls with nostalgic pleasure its
light gray carpeting and pearl-gray walls (one of them graced with a
solitary copy of Picasso’s Chandelier, pot et casserole émailée), a shelfful
of calf-bound poets, and a virginal-looking daybed under its rug of
imitation panda fur. How far from this limpid simplicity seemed the palace
and the odious Council Chamber with its unsolvable problems and frightened
councilors!" and line 80: "It was in this ample nest that Fleur now slept,
curled up in its central hollow, under a coverlet of genuine giant panda fur
that had just been rushed from Tibet by a group of Asiatic well-wishers on
the occasion of his ascension to the throne."


# "All is still, spellbound, enthralled by the moon, fancy’s rear-vision
mirror. The snow is real, though, and as I bend to it and scoop up a
handful, sixty years crumble to glittering frost-dust between my fingers."
(5,1 S.M)

* Compare to CK's commentary to line 287: "The more I fumed at Sybil’s
evident intention to keep it concealed from me, the sweeter was the
forevision of my sudden emergence in Tirolese garb from behind a boulder and
of John’s sheepish but pleased grin. During the fortnight that I had my
demons fill my goetic mirror to overflow with those pink and mauve cliffs
and black junipers and winding roads and sage brush changing to grass and
lush blue flowers, and death-pale aspens, and an endless sequence of
green-shorted Kinbotes meeting an anthology of poets and a brocken of their
wives, I must have made some awful mistake in my incantations, for the
mountain slope is dry and drear, and the Hurleys’ tumble-down ranch,

** "The short (166 lines) Canto One, with all those amusing birds and
parhelia, occupies thirteen cards"(CK,Fwd)

*** CK, note to line 70: "There are events, strange happenings, that strike/
The mind as emblematic. They are like/ Lost similes adrift without a
string,/Attached to nothing./ Thus that northern king,/Whose desperate
escape from prison was/Brought off successfully only because/Some forty of
his followers that night/Impersonated him and aped his flight — [ ] He
never would have reached the western coast had not a fad spread among his
secret supporters, romantic, heroic daredevils, of impersonating the fleeing
king. They rigged themselves out to look like him in red sweaters and red
caps, and popped up here and there, completely bewildering the revolutionary

CK, note to line 80: " his grandfather’s...cheval glass, a triptych of
bottomless light, a really fantastic mirror, signed with a diamond by its
maker, Sudarg of Bokay. She turned about before it: a secret device of
reflection gathered an infinite number of nudes in its depths, garlands of
girls in graceful and sorrowful groups, diminishing in the limpid distance,
or breaking into individual nymphs, some of whom, she murmured, must
resemble her ancestors when they were young — little peasant garlien combing
their hair in shallow water as far as the eye could reach, and then the
wistful mermaid from an old tale, and then nothing.

There's also his observation about the literary creative process being
witnessed by him (lines 47-48): "Incidents of perspective and lighting,
interference by framework or leaves, usually deprived me of a clear view of
his face; and perhaps nature arranged it that way so as to conceal from a
possible predator the mysteries of generation; but sometimes when the poet
paced back and forth across his lawn, or sat down for a moment on the bench
at the end of it, or paused under his favorite hickory tree, I could
distinguish the expression of passionate interest, rapture and reverence,
with which he followed the images wording themselves in his mind, and I knew
that whatever my agnostic friend might say in denial, at that moment Our
Lord was with him."

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