NABOKV-L post 0012203, Fri, 9 Dec 2005 16:24:53 -0800

Subject
bOYD RESPONDS TO michael glynn RE poem "Pale Fire"
Date
Body


----- Forwarded message from b.boyd@auckland.ac.nz -----
Date: Sat, 10 Dec 2005 10:20:07 +1300
From: Brian Boyd <b.boyd@auckland.ac.nz>
Reply-To: Brian Boyd <b.boyd@auckland.ac.nz>
Subject: Re: RE poem "Pale Fire"
To: Vladimir Nabokov Forum

It is a biological, psychological and social fact that looks matter.
Even infants under experimental conditions prefer to look longer at
images of faces independently rated attractive than at those rated as
ugly. Children associate with good-looking peers rather than with the
less attractive, other things being equal, as has also been confirmed
experimentally. We know this intuitively, and that's why Hazel gets
left out at parties and gets cast in an undesirable role. Looks
matter even more in adolescence and youth, and they matter more for
women, since men choose partners more on the basis of looks than
women choose men on this basis (again confirmed experimentally). As
Nabokov said once, it is cant to say that looks don't matter.


Romantic love is trite, and death is trite, in Michael
Glynn's terms. Both indeed are much triter than the unhappiness of
the physically highly unattractive. Yet many great works of art focus
on romantic love (Shakespearean comedies, Austen novels) or death
(Shakespearean and any other tragedies). The very "triteness" or
commonness of the subject matter in fact indicates how much it
matters to us, and how deeply we are interested. The pains of looking
unattractive are a much less commonplace subject of art, but at the
same time, because we know looks count, a subject with emotional
resonance, amplified in the case of Shade's poem by the fact of
Hazel's death and her parent's grief (more "trite" subject matter).

No one would dispute a rough similarity in subject
matter in the three examples Michael Glynn offers. But if he cannot
see the difference in poetic quality between his three examples, I
fail to see how he can evaluate "Pale Fire" as a poem. Teen angst in
examples 1 and 3, even in terms of subject matter, is actually much
more obvious than the theme of the lifelong humiliation Hazel has had
to suffer and Shade has had to witness. And where in 1 and 3 is there
anything like the bitter irony of "But let's be fair" or the anguish
of "A bent charwoman with slop pail and broom"?

Brian Boyd

On 10/12/2005, at 8:45 AM, Donald B. Johnson wrote:

>
>
> ----- Forwarded message from michael.glynn@btinternet.com -----
> Date: Fri, 9 Dec 2005 18:39:30 -0000
> From: michael glynn <michael.glynn@btinternet.com>
> Reply-To: michael glynn <michael.glynn@btinternet.com>
> Subject: Re: Pale Fire
> To: Vladimir Nabokov Forum
>
> Dear Sir - re Shade's poem and its alleged greatness. Could i
> offer a few
> thoughts extracted from Vladimir Nabokov and the Problem of
> Seeing? Many
> Thanks, Michael Glynn
>
>
>
> When Kinbote finally learns that Shade's poem is wholly oblivious
> to his
> Zemblan idyll, Kinbote's assessment of the great man's work is
> trenchant and
> pointedly Nabokovian. To Kinbote, Shade's poem is simply "an
> autobiographical, eminently Appalachian, rather old-fashioned
> narrative in a
> neo-Popian prosodic style." I would suggest that Kinbote's verdict
> is intended
> to command the assent of the reader, and that Nabokov's treatment
> of Shade and
> his poem is in fact ironic. This is a notion that would discomfit
> some
> critics: Herbert Grabes holds the poem to be "an extremely
> elaborate work of
> art, typical of the later phases of some literary epoch," and
> Andrew Field
> sees it as an important work, one worthy of critical study in
> isolation from
> the rest of the text. Brian Boyd, a staunch champion of Shade as
> presiding
> genius in the novel, hails the poem somewhat hyperbolically as a
> "masterpiece"
> and "a deliberate challenge to both Pound's Cantos and Eliot's Four
> Quartets."
> G.M. Hyde argues that Shade's poem reveals a serious and deep
> kinship with the
> work of Frost in that it manifests the latter's characteristic
> stoicism in the
> face of "terrible and incomprehensible things." Others have,
> however,
> expressed reservations about Shade's poetic offering. Douglas
> Fowler finds the
> poem's heroic couplet form to be limiting whilst Alvin B. Kernan
> argues that the
> poem should be read as "an extended and amusing spoof." In my view,
> the
> challenge Nabokov set himself in writing "Shade's" poem was to
> produce a highly
> competent but highly conventional piece of work, one which would
> ultimately be
> deemed an artistic failure. Nabokov appears deliberately to over-
> egg the
> pudding, having Shade present us with a daughter who is not only
> plump and
> plain but also unpopular, squinty-eyed, clumsy, swollen-footed,
> psoriatic and,
> perhaps not surprisingly in view of her multiple afflictions,
> deeply mentally
> troubled. Furthermore, it appears to have gone generally
> unremarked that this
> central conceit of the plain teenager rejected by her peers is a
> suspiciously
> mawkish one, the stuff of adolescent fiction or any number of late
> twentieth
> century pop songs. A brief comparative exercise will, I believe,
> throw into
> relief Nabokov's slyly ironic intent. Consider the following three
> extracts:
>
>
>
> 1) It must have broke your poor little heart
>
> When the boys used to say to you looked better in the dark
>
> ......................................................................
>
> The teacher would ask a question
>
> And you would always raise your hand
> But somehow you never got your turn
>
> My eyes would fill with water, inside I'd burn, oh yes I did
>
>
>
> 2) At Christmas parties, games were rough, no doubt,
>
> And one shy little guest might be left out;
>
> But let's be fair: while children of her age
>
> Were cast as elves and fairies on the stage
>
> That she'd helped paint for the school pantomime,
>
> My gentle girl appeared as Mother Time,
>
> A bent charwoman with slop pail and broom,
>
> And like a fool I sobbed in the men's room.
>
>
>
> 3) I learned the truth at seventeen
>
> That love was meant for beauty queens
>
> And high school girls with clear skinned smiles
>
> Who married young and then retired.
>
> The valentines I never knew
>
> The Friday night charades of youth
>
> Were spent on one more beautiful
>
> At seventeen I learned the truth
>
>
>
> And those of us with ravaged faces
>
> Lacking in the social graces
> Desperately remained at home
>
> Inventing lovers on the phone
>
> Who called to say - Come dance with me
>
>
>
> As will be readily appreciated, the first and third extracts, song
> lyrics from
> The Chi-Lites' Homely Girl and Janis Ian's At Seventeen
> respectively, are
> characterised by a degree of triteness. However, the second
> extract, from
> Shade's poem, is almost identical in terms of subject matter and
> tone. Nabokov
> was too much the literary sophisticate unconsciously to produce
> such lachrymose
> and hackneyed work. If, as I maintain, Shade's poem is in part
> mawkish and
> conventional, it is because Nabokov intends it to be so. Nabokov
> is suggesting
> that Shade's attempt artistically to confront the loss of his
> daughter fails
> where Kinbote's distorted and distorting exploration of loss
> succeeds. As I
> have already suggested, Shade was instinctively Symbolist,
> concerned ultimately
> with there rather than here. However, when he addresses the tragic
> situation of
> his daughter he attempts to do so in a direct, immediate and
> sincere way,
> thereby hoping to give the reader an unmediated slice of
> reality. I believe
> that Nabokov wishes us to see this as a doomed attempt. Not for
> nothing is
> Shade so called. The poet's effort is eclipsed by the madman's
> commentary.
> When Shade attempts to evoke his daughter's tragic situation in
> conventional,
> heartfelt verse, he is betrayed into triteness. It is Kinbote's
> estranging
> method that can capture the essence of a tragic reality. In order
> to evoke the
> twin pains of exile and unhappy marriage, Kinbote, via oblique means,
> triumphantly transcends what Shklovsky termed "the sphere of
> automatised
> perception."
>
>
> ----------------------------------------------------------------------
> ----------
>
> ----- End forwarded message -----
> Dear Sir - re Shade's poem and its alleged greatness. Could i
> offer a few thoughts extracted from Vladimir Nabokov and the
> Problem of Seeing? Many Thanks, Michael Glynn
>
> When Kinbote finally learns that Shade's poem is wholly oblivious
> to his Zemblan idyll, Kinbote's assessment of the great man's work
> is trenchant and pointedly Nabokovian. To Kinbote, Shade's poem is
> simply "an autobiographical, eminently Appalachian, rather old-
> fashioned narrative in a neo-Popian prosodic style." I would
> suggest that Kinbote's verdict is intended to command the assent of
> the reader, and that Nabokov's treatment of Shade and his poem is
> in fact ironic. This is a notion that would discomfit some
> critics: Herbert Grabes holds the poem to be "an extremely
> elaborate work of art, typical of the later phases of some literary
> epoch," and Andrew Field sees it as an important work, one worthy
> of critical study in isolation from the rest of the text. Brian
> Boyd, a staunch champion of Shade as presiding genius in the novel,
> hails the poem somewhat hyperbolically as a "masterpiece" and "a
> deliberate challenge to both Pound's Cantos and Eliot's Four
> Quartets." G.M. Hyde argues that Shade's poem reveals a serious and
> deep kinship with the work of Frost in that it manifests the
> latter's characteristic stoicism in the face of "terrible and
> incomprehensible things." Others have, however, expressed
> reservations about Shade's poetic offering. Douglas Fowler finds
> the poem's heroic couplet form to be limiting whilst Alvin B.
> Kernan argues that the poem should be read as "an extended and
> amusing spoof." In my view, the challenge Nabokov set himself in
> writing "Shade's" poem was to produce a highly competent but highly
> conventional piece of work, one which would ultimately be deemed
> an artistic failure. Nabokov appears deliberately to over-egg the
> pudding, having Shade present us with a daughter who is not only
> plump and plain but also unpopular, squinty-eyed, clumsy, swollen-
> footed, psoriatic and, perhaps not surprisingly in view of her
> multiple afflictions, deeply mentally troubled. Furthermore, it
> appears to have gone generally unremarked that this central conceit
> of the plain teenager rejected by her peers is a suspiciously
> mawkish one, the stuff of adolescent fiction or any number of late
> twentieth century pop songs. A brief comparative exercise will, I
> believe, throw into relief Nabokov's slyly ironic intent. Consider
> the following three extracts:
>
> 1) It must have broke your poor little heart
> When the boys used to say to you looked better in the dark
> ......................................................................
> The teacher would ask a question
> And you would always raise your hand
> But somehow you never got your turn
> My eyes would fill with water, inside I'd burn, oh yes I did
>
> 2) At Christmas parties, games were rough, no doubt,
> And one shy little guest might be left out;
> But let's be fair: while children of her age
> Were cast as elves and fairies on the stage
> That she'd helped paint for the school pantomime,
> My gentle girl appeared as Mother Time,
> A bent charwoman with slop pail and broom,
> And like a fool I sobbed in the men's room.
>
> 3) I learned the truth at seventeen
> That love was meant for beauty queens
> And high school girls with clear skinned smiles
> Who married young and then retired.
> The valentines I never knew
> The Friday night charades of youth
> Were spent on one more beautiful
> At seventeen I learned the truth
>
> And those of us with ravaged faces
> Lacking in the social graces
> Desperately remained at home
> Inventing lovers on the phone
> Who called to say - Come dance with me
>
> As will be readily appreciated, the first and third extracts, song
> lyrics from The Chi-Lites' Homely Girl and Janis Ian's At Seventeen
> respectively, are characterised by a degree of triteness. However,
> the second extract, from Shade's poem, is almost identical in terms
> of subject matter and tone. Nabokov was too much the literary
> sophisticate unconsciously to produce such lachrymose and
> hackneyed work. If, as I maintain, Shade's poem is in part mawkish
> and conventional, it is because Nabokov intends it to be so.
> Nabokov is suggesting that Shade's attempt artistically to confront
> the loss of his daughter fails where Kinbote's distorted and
> distorting exploration of loss succeeds. As I have already
> suggested, Shade was instinctively Symbolist, concerned ultimately
> with there rather than here. However, when he addresses the tragic
> situation of his daughter he attempts to do so in a direct,
> immediate and sincere way, thereby hoping to give the reader an
> unmediated slice of reality. I believe that Nabokov wishes us to
> see this as a doomed attempt. Not for nothing is Shade so called.
> The poet's effort is eclipsed by the madman's commentary. When
> Shade attempts to evoke his daughter's tragic situation in
> conventional, heartfelt verse, he is betrayed into triteness. It
> is Kinbote's estranging method that can capture the essence of a
> tragic reality. In order to evoke the twin pains of exile and
> unhappy marriage, Kinbote, via oblique means, triumphantly
> transcends what Shklovsky termed "the sphere of automatised
> perception."
>
>

----- End forwarded message -----