Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0005626, Mon, 18 Dec 2000 10:42:07 -0800

Re: Fw: Boyd on NYT Forum and "Nabokov's Pale Fire"
EDITOR's NOTE. Eric Naiman, originator of the item below, is, inter much
alia, the author of "Litland: The Allegorical Poetics of The Defense," the
lead article in the new issue of NABOKOV STUDIES (#5).

----- Original Message -----
From: <naiman@socrates.Berkeley.EDU>

from e naiman

Many thanks to Brian Boyd and Nabokv-L for the early Christmas present.
I don't intend to return the gift (nor Nabokov's Pale Fire, of which I
have already given two copies to deserving readers), but I would like to
point out that it might be wrapped in a different, "more economical"
fashion. (To quote Boyd's rejection of the Dolinin-Connolly line on
temporal discrepancies in Lolita). The Vane Sisters and The Rape of the
Lock are certainly crucial texts for PF, but I am not convinced by Brian
Boyd's assertion that all roads lead to Hazel. Why is Hazel in 15 moves a
better solution than Sybill in 5? or Maud in 2? After all, let us
remember that the Vane Sisters has MULTIPLE authors. The same is
obviously true for PF, and I don't see why we can't add the three women in
Shade's life to the obvious two men. The more candidates for authorship,
the more we should be inclined to look "up" from the text at the author
who has written it. (This is not question-begging; few other authors have
such subtle and beautiful signatures.) In a novel with as many intricate
connections as PF -- and Boyd's book does a phenomenal job demonstrating
the extent of these connections -- one could demonstrate that all roads
eventually lead to any principal character if one is entitled to make an
unlimited number of intratextual and intertextual leaps. To some extent
this is a matter of taste, but I think in reading Nabokov one should
strike a balance between economy (mate in one or two unexpected moves) and
war by citational attrition.(Where art is concerned, everything is
overdetermined but some determinations are over sooner than others).
Notwithstanding the above, I was surprised in Nabokov's PF by
Brian Boyd's not citing some strong evidence in his favor. Maybe I missed
his comment on the line

Virgins have written some resplendent books.

or maybe this is too obvious but "resplendent" captures the meaning of
shining back, shining again (secondarily) but also shining intensely (art
more powerful than life): i.e. pale fire as Shakespeare uses the phrase.
(NB Resplendent is italicized, ostensibly to catch Sybil's spoken
intonations, but let us fit that key to a different interpretive lock)
This would seem to be the single line most supporting Boyd's
interpretation. (A close second: "It was no use, no use" -- ostensibly
about Hazel's lack of attractiveness but a pretty succinct motto of VN's
anti-Chernyshvskian, anti-utilitarian view of art). The problem is that
other lines lead elsewhere (and thence, perhaps, to Hazel but not always
right away and perhaps more quickly to Sybil or Maud and always to VN).
Perhaps we do a disservice to "the cause of poetry" by seeking poetry's
cause rather than its meaning.