NABOKV-L post 0020901, Sat, 23 Oct 2010 23:13:40 -0200

[NABOKOV-L] [THOUGHTS] Shade's and Hazel's "faint hope"
From The New York Review (April 23,1992), in Brian Boyd's reply to Robert Adams(The Wizard of Lake Cayuga, January 30, 1992), we find: "I am amused to find him instructing me that Clare Quilty is primarily a phantom of Humbert Humbert's imagination, but not allowing me to suggest that Charles Kinbote might be a phantom of John Shade's. Does he not find it odd to decree that an American playwright in an American novel must be imaginary and a next-door neighbor who happens to be a Zemblan madman (or perhaps an ex-King) must be solidly real?".

JM: Now that we've been matter-of-factedly referring to Botkin's 'solidly real' presence in Wordsmith, it seems that Boyd's arguments have lost some of their original cutting edge. Nevertheless, it's still possible to admit that Shade enjoyed his neighbor's company and, also, that he invented a character, named Kinbote, inspired by his experiences with a "real" Botkin's inenubilable tales.
The problem is that the blending of Shade's seizures with Kinbote's madness, as several readers find in "Pale Fire," because it has this "real" model moving somewhere in the life of the novel, now appears as being a deliberate move on the part of an author. The events in the novel cannot be the product or consequence of mere "phantoms" imagined by Shade and/or Kinbote.

In his reply to R.Adams Boyd quotes the lines I had been searching for (Man's life as commentary to abstruse / Unfinished poem). I was newly intrigued by them, after I'd compared the two incidences of the word "hope" in Shade's poem. Taking "hope" in isolation we are led to suppose that Hazel, like any normal young girl, still hopes to be loved and to find a partner, or that Shade is convinced that there's a reson to "hope" in relation to the hereafter. In the vicinity of his other verses, though, such a "hope" appears to be indicating something else, perhaps that "Art", by imperfectly mimicking the divine artistic design over human life will establish a moment of being that may become eternally present."#

My impression was enhanced by a whiff of Omar Khayyám's verses* in Shade's lines ("playing a game of worlds, promoting pawns/ To ivory unicorns and ebon fauns;/ Kindling a long life here, extinguishing/ A short one there;" ). It gained a special poignancy after I saw a minor movie, in which an eleven-year old chess-genius admits his own unimportance as a pawn in a bigger game**.
There's no hope in Khayyám, nor in the little boy's conclusion: We are God's playthings. There may not even exist an otherwordly intelligence that cares enough to arrange events and move humans like chess-pieces, an unearthly intentionality to promote beauty or cause coincidences to surprise mankind. In that case we'd be simply the victims of blind forces, like those that rule a game of chess or that lurk behind the hazards of our world's economy and history.
And here enters "hope": Nabokov/Shade seems to be initially hinting at such dismal perspective and negating an "overall design," as having any influence over his life. But he also endeavours to get a ride together with these godlike forces, through Art***. As an author, he can behave almost like them when he ordains his characters, promotes beauty, cancels stars and devises a set of traps. However, he still entertains a glimmer of hope (that there is a meaning and a design over his life, even if he cannot understand it). If the names Schmit/Schmidt are badly spelt, or Mountain/Fountain are confused, the coincidence is still valid. The fault lies in our human incapacity to register unearthly voices and this is why they sound like Aunt Maud's blubbering efforts to speak..

# (a) "...Nobody cared); the point is that the three/ Chambers, then bound by you and her and me,/ Now form a tryptich or a three-act play/ In which portrayed events forever stay/ I think she always nursed a small mad hope."
(b) "... I have returned convinced that I can grope/ My way to some - to some - "Yes, dear?" Faint hope."

* This is the only truth: we are pawns
in that mysterius chessgame, played by Allah.
He moves us or makes us stay where we are, moves us
again, to finally throw us, one by one,
into the box of nothingness.
Omar Khayyám

** In a chessgame the player must be ready to sacrifice his pawns and it is meaningless to pity or to grow any attachment to them. It's the game that must be kept alive, not its component parts (my paraphrase). Cf. 2005, "Entrusted", with Brandauer, Thomas Sangster, Giovanna Mezzogiorno.

*** I'll use someone else's words on Nabokov: "Maar sets the "shimmer", a view of the world shot through with mysterious presences and coincidences, manifestations of light and shade, colour and shape.The shimmer suggested at best a distant happiness and at worst a joyous self-deceit. Nabokov's preoccupation with the other world was imaginative, not religious. Maar shows the affinities with gnosticism - a dark world permeated by sparks of light - and with Schopenhauer, who thought that art gave glimpses of goodness and release from human evil. " (Lesley Chamberlain )

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