Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0020775, Mon, 27 Sep 2010 17:50:33 -0400

Re: Botkin
On Sep 27, 2010, at 11:01 AM, Matthew Roth wrote:

> Some may argue that since Kinbote has concocted this scene... he...
> simply replaced his memory... with a false memory... But once we
> accept this as a solution, Kinbote's New Wye narrative becomes a
> house of cards--we have no way of knowing what really happened and
> what has been replaced ex post facto--or all is allowed, and we can
> pick and choose to suit our interpretive needs.

Perhaps the key to understanding Botkin is not to focus unduly upon
what is real, but upon what is represented to be real over the breadth
of the book before Botkin's role of author is fully revealed. You are
right, the house of cards falls down. As far as I can tell there is no
sure way to assert that Shade was a real as Botkin, or if, like
everything else, doesn't merely exist in Botkin's mind and writings;
which makes Botkin roughly analogous to VN.

Nevertheless Botkin presents us with a character and a story, and it
seems natural enough to ask the purpose of the tale even knowing that
it is contextually fallacious. One answer is that Shade was real, and,
as Jansy speculates, a homosexual. Perhaps by leaving signs and
coincidences that lead the reader to form or embrace the notion that
Shade metamorphoses into Kinbote, Botkin is revealing a side of Shade
that Shade was unable to express in his poem.

Another point is that VN wants the reader to feel the dissociation
that a writer experiences as the work he has been laboring over, and
inhabiting, draws to a conclusion. A writer has to imagine himself as
his characters, however bizarre, and within his imaginative realm
rules like a king, arranging events. Hence Botkin's desire to be
called Kinbote and to be recognized as an exiled king, is only a
rather small step beyond what all fiction writers presumably
experience, exiled as they are in our greater world from that inner
land of their own imaginings. Whence arises our own disappointment
with Botkin and his role as destroyer of contexts, and of the
suspension of disbelief. And thus Pale Fire ends in an unraveling of
its narrative illusion or tapestry.

The other point though is that Kinbote's Notes, or Botkin's Tale, can
still have meaning and purpose along the same lines that existed
before Botkin was revealed. Seen as false in the outer frame, they
still have the force of illusion in the inner one.

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