NABOKV-L post 0021030, Mon, 6 Dec 2010 12:57:53 -0500

THOUGHT: The Little Scissors...
The little scissors I am holding are
A dazzling synthesis of sun and star.

– from Canto 2 of Pale Fire.

Aside from the question of how a pair of scissors can be a dazzling synthesis of sun and star, which was kicked around recently, I'd like to make a couple of other observations.

Shade's proclamation overloads the humble scissor with cosmic significance that legitimately puzzles the reader. As Shade continues he tells the reader that he imagines his thumb and fingers as representative(likenesses) of various persons he knows. The reader is apt to wonder not only why he makes these associations, but also why he feels compelled to inform the listener about them. I'd like to suggest that Shade in this act is identifying himself with the three Fates of Greek mythology, the Moirae, who determined the length of people's lives by measuring and cutting a length of yarn [get references]. <>.

In this light Shade's nail trimming is to be seen as shortening the lifespans of the variously identified personality, with whom one presumes Shade nurses some grudge. This is at odds with the usually benign image of Shade that I think most readers are apt to have. Yet how else can this scene be interpreted. Why does Shade want to make the reader to be aware of these very minor, inconsequential, characters? Not to tell us anything about them; but to tell us something about Shade, and his cosmology.

Indeed the scene prefigures the nameless entities, similar to the Moirae, who exercise control in the physical world in Shade's Plexed Artistry, and whose powers Shade expressly wishes to experience; what might be called authorial control.

It did not matter who they were. No sound,
No furtive light came from their involute
Abode, but there they were, aloof and mute,
Playing a game of worlds, promoting pawns
To ivory unicorns and ebon fauns;
Kindling a long life here, extinguishing
A short one there;

– from Canto 3 of Pale Fire.

The reader should keep in mind that all of Shade's life experiences, including his disillusioning visit to Mrs. Z, have taken place before the composition of Pale Fire has commenced. So Shade's cosmology is indeed available to him when he is writing these lines. He stands aloof, if not exactly mute, while paring his nails.

The reader is free, I guess, to decide whether Shade's ruminations constitute delusions of power or grandeur or mere whimsical musings.
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