NABOKV-L post 0022228, Tue, 6 Dec 2011 16:46:45 -0200

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Italicized "if" in Pale Fire
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Matt Roth: "As I read it, the genius of this syllogism is that the error we all see (the notion that mortality hinges on "other" rather than on "men") hides a more telling second flaw (the notion that Shade is not another) [...] There are legitimate cases to be made against a theory of secondary personalities, but this passage is one that reveals itself most fully and marvelously only in the context of a reading where Shade and Kinbote share a body. In a traditional reading, Shade's assertion, "I am not another," has no meaningful resonance at all, as the weight of our attention falls merely on the conclusion's ironic foreshadowing. I consider that a loss.

JM: By adding a frame to the theory of secondary personalities, Matt Roth establishes a thriving parallel reality in which Shade's assertion gains a particular resonance. Non-canonic interpretations may add more parallel worlds to that one. For example, because Shade takes resurrection for granted and deduces that there's a powerful something who decides his fate, the premiss "I am not another" may indicate that, for a fleeting moment, Shade is aware of his creator and imagines that he is one and the same with Nabokov (in SO, though, Nabokov denies their shared identity, inspite of entertaining some of Shade's opinions. He also lent him one or two of his poems in English, like he'd done it before with a favorite Russian poem, in "Dar").

In that context who ( the Author? Shade?) placed IF in italics in PF's line 217?:"Yet, if prior to life we had/Been able to imagine life, what mad,/Impossible, unutterably weird,/ Wonderful nonsense it might have appeared!"
What does it mean, since the wonder Shade feels already shines through, with or without the italics?
Shade is certainly writing "if" in English.* The first italicized "if" is probably important.
After the rereader discovers the relation between "if", "peut-être" and how Rabelais indicated a Godhead (Le grand peut-être, ie, the grand potato, the big if ), the italics in line 217 serve to reinforce the supposition about Shade intuiting his "God".


btw: I found no italics for "if" (line 217) in the Brazilian, "Fogo Pálido"; in the French Feu Pâle by Girard-Condreau nor in D.Zimmer's Fahles Feuer.
The "if" is present in the Library of America edition, in Everyman's. and it's found twice in Gingko Press (in the printed brochure and by shade's own hand in the "facsimile"). Shade begins Canto Three with "L'if, lifeless tree..."**

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* - In Kinbote's comments to line 501, we perceive that in it Shade's "L'if" was written in French. Kinbote explains that it stands for " The yew in French. It is curious that the Zemblan word for the weeping willow is also "if" (the yew is tas)."
There are tons of possible associations, most already well explored by N-L but in a different context. Here it suffices to remind you that Nabokov wrote Pale Fire-the-poem while wandering in a park, close to a weeping willow that reminded him of a skye-terrier etc etc. Kinbote also reveals that "gradus" means "tree" in Zemblan.


** - "L'if, lifeless tree! Your great Maybe, Rabelais:/ The grand potato./I.P.H., a lay/ Institute (I) of Preparation (P)/For the Hereafter (H), or If, as we/ Called it - big if! - engaged me for one term/To speak on death..."

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