Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0004759, Tue, 15 Feb 2000 16:40:42 -0800

Re: Boyd's Pale Fire & homophobia (fwd)
Robert Myers <nanrob@dellnet.com> said:

<<There's something at the heart of Pale Fire which feels vacant and untrue,
despite the pyrotechnics of the narrative technique, and the more I think
about it the more I think the problem is the homophobia inherent in the
work. Somehow, in Lolita, Nabokov was able to create a complex and
(almost) sympathetic pedephilic narrator. Part of the success of Lolita
is the tug of war between Humbert's guilt and his lust. There are echos
of guilt in Pale Fire, but they are distant and muted. Mr. Boyd makes the
argument that Kinbote too is guilty of child molesting, hence his exile
and suicidal nature. But he never convincingly wrestles with this guilt.
And all the caricatured homoerotic promiscuity seems a mere vehicle for
cheap laughs.>>

Yep, that's why I find PALE FIRE problematic; there's something
suspicious about its cultural project. It borrows the homotextuality of
camp gay fancy prose authors (Ronald Firbank's fantastic invert
kingdoms, E.F. Benson's bitchy, snoopy plots and counterplots, and so on
-- talk about borrowing someone else's light!) but uses it to 1)
support homophobic contentions about Kinbote's character and sexuality
(he's not only an invert, he's a cypher and a loonie because of his
sexuality, he's there to give context to the "normal"
character(s)/textuality he steals and misreads in order to define
himself, etc) and 2) enjoy camp's frivolity, irony and indeterminacy so
any contentions about Kinbote's character and sexuality can't be easily

I've sort of been able to make it work for me -- to take myself out of
my suspicion that Kinbote's representation is a purely smug,
mean-spirited, homophobic representation -- by looking at VN's
"twinning" of Shade's daughter and Kinbote, metaphorically, in the
narrative. There's something of Shade's disgust, despair and pity at
his daughter's otherness -- and her subsequent suicide -- that just says
"gay teen/gay parent relationship" to me, and I found myself (perhaps
wishfulthinkingly Kinbotely) looking for relationships between Kinbote
and the girl that would somehow suggest a more sophisticated, redeemable
take on queerness. But this plays on the Homosexual Equals Sick And
Unhappy And A Suicide Waiting To Happen stereotype, natch, so I'm sort
of back at square one.

Quite frankly, I've decided to not get stuck in this tar baby anymore,
professionally speaking, but I can't help but post when someone brings
up PALE FIRE and the queer subject. Maybe someday I'll be able to
figure this out for myself; for the moment, I can only report my
ambivalence. I love the book, but it drives me crazy.

I haven't read Boyd's new book on PF, so I really can't comment on it...

<<<Although Nabokov's treatment of gay characters may, in
some of his works, fall
short of today's "political correctness" (something, in my view,
irrelevant to artistic merit)>>

There IS something to questioning Nabokov's representation of queers,
but it's not a question of it being Bad or Good Art or having it fit
into a Politically Correct canon. It's a question of trying to
understand something about this particular text's relationship to the

Hey, they did it to Joyce (QUARE JOYCE, an excellent book), so Nabokov's
fair game.

<<Kinbote's compassion for both Hazel and Queen Disa.>>

Well, at least we can say that Nabokov didn't go for the Faggots Hate
All Women stereotype!



Aldo Alvarez
Aa : Aldo Alvarez sited : http://www.blithe.com/aa/
Editor, Blithe House Quarterly : a site for gay short fiction : http://www.blithe.com/