NABOKV-L post 0020891, Tue, 19 Oct 2010 23:55:24 -0200

Re: Vair and sizïy, columbine, shade: what is the shade of Gradus greyness?
In reply to the query that was recently formulated in a posting ["...Kinbote comments: "Spacetime itself is decay. Gradus is flying west; he has touched gray-blue Copenhagen (...). Once again I must puzzle about the insistence on Denmark (Shakespeare, Hamlet?) by the sudden passage from spacetime, decay, Gradus and "gray-blue" Copenhagen"] I was stimulated to search for such a "Danish connection". In fact, there is one! It's to be found in Priscilla Meyer and Jeff Hoffman's article ( ) "Infinite Reflections in Pale Fire: The Danish Connection (Hans Christian Andersen and Isak Dinesen). Russian Literature XLI (1997):197-221.

Priscilla Meyer's 1988 book on "Pale Fire" is a product of immense erudiction, particularly at a time when "search-machine" facilities were not yet available and only scholarly competence held the floor. Now, in this other (now joint work), some of Meyer's theories gain further branchings, also meticulously detailed and correlated, in order to demonstrate how "the Danish material...provides a model for interpreting Pale Fire." In it, Denmark, is not only associated with the Hamlet tragedy but to "Andersen's magical fairy tales, and Dinesen's fantastical Romantic tales, which serve as a magic lantern slide whose images project the Zemblan (for Kinbote) and Russian (for Nabokov) past onto (Shade's) American present, the Old World onto the New, the imagined onto the actual" (215)

For the authors, "The reflection of Andersen and Dinesen in Pale Fire create infinite perspectives on the permeability of our world by an otherworld: the mermaids underwater idealization of this world is mirrored in the prince's idea of his savior from the temple in an infinite succession of concepts of immortality. As children, Gerda and Kay look through facing windows that in the course of the tale develop into opposing principles, the Ice Queen's ideal of crystalline perfection and the Lapp woman's earthly devotion, which present conplementary paths to immnortality. In the 'Shadow' (as in Pale Fire) the poet and his shadow hold differing views of reality and immortality that are meant to be somehow combined. The several tales show multiple paths to an ideal world, itself depicted as mirroring transcendent realms beneath the sea and the air"...demonstrating that these and other examples (such as two Dinesen tales, in which we find characters named Nat-og-Dag) are "emblematic of counterposed worlds, temporal and eternal. The Copenhagen-based Shadows and "grjaduscji" goon Gradus are the agents of death; the immortal Danish tales of Andersen and Dinesen are themselves about eternal life." (p.217)

For Meyer and Hoffmann we may be "easily trapped in our earthly room, like the bumblebee or in an illusory sense of infinity that is a solipsistic hall of mirrors reflecting only ourselves. But these reflections may also lead outwards to other worlds, to the infinite images found in history, myth and art." * Their arguments serve as guides that help us avoid many of Nabokov's theatrically laid traps which, as the authors show us, are aimed at reproducing reality's "infinite succession of steps, levels of perception, false bottoms, and hence unquenchable, unattainable."( SO,p.11, quoted as an epigraph on p.197) Their quest in not aimed at well-intentioned and inspirational ghosts or any definite ultimate solution to a contrived puzzle, but (so it seems to me) towards Nabokov's "infinite reflections" that stimulate the reader towards an apprehension of another "existence beyond our own" as "it may be discerned in nature, in fate's workings, and in art." (197)

* Since the article is easily available on-line, I will simply quote the parts that relate more closely to my own inquiries, moving from how" Nabokov updates the Danish connection almost invisibly by subtle parallels to Danish history and geography, as well as by references to more modern Danish literature" (besides Shakespeare's Hamlet and the Viking legend of Amlothi and the Danish stiletto as "botkin or bodkin", 202) towards the contrast, brought up by Meyer and Hoffman, after we elaborate upon our initial beliefs that "Shade and Kinbote appear to be simply Jekyll and Hyde, the good (heterosexual) professor-poet and the evil (homosexual) mad professor-editor. But in Nabokov's novel good and evil are more ambiguous and complementary: Shade the atheist struggles toward faith in an afterlife as he writes his poem, but is immune to its signals; Kinbote the Protestant is susceptible to alfear and creates a brilliant and hilarious fantasy, but does not know he is mad. The first has a commonsense American faith in the pragmatic; the second has an Old World acceptance of the magical. FromShade's vantage point, Zembla is a mad fantasy, while for Kinbote it is vivid reality...Pale Fire is predicated on the tension of this opposition " (201).
According to the authors, because of the (German Romantic philosophy's) depiction of "the dilemma of the iimpossibility of embodying the ideal in the real world, characters go mad attempting to reconcile the irreconcilable. The popularized double tales, however, interpret the problem not philosophically, but morally and psychologically...leaving out altogether the problem of an otherworld, or reducing it to mere spookdom."...The mark of this aesthetic philosophy, because "it located madness as an aesthetic rather than a psychological phenomenon," can be recognized in Nabokov, through his 'failed' artists who "are often given mock psychological motivations" whereas their "true problem is the unattainability of an ideal (usually misconstrued) reality."(198). "Shade and Kinbote have facing windows. Shade's quest for the secrets of an otherworld through earthly love and flawed poetry is no more valid than Kinbote's longing for his lost Zemblan ideal in which he seeks to immortalize himself by having Shade record the material of his skewed imagination" (217)
It is important that those who haven't read M&H's article do not base their comments on my hasty appraisal, but go directly to the source should any related argument spring forward after this summary.

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