Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0004773, Thu, 17 Feb 2000 13:03:36 -0800

Re: Boyd's Pale Fire (fwd)
EDITOR's NOTE. Michael Suh replies to Brian Boyd's posting which may be
found following Michael Suh's posting.
From: Michael Suh <ardishall@earthlink.net>

I should have been clearer, more thorough. Professor Boyd dislikes what he
supposes to be my dislike of _his_ otherworldliness. I didn't mean at all
to remark upon his own sense of the beyond, but rather his emphasis on
Nabokov's sense of it. I'm quite aware of all the compelling evidence in
this direction. But I also think that it begs a more critical--if that is
the right word--treatment. I don't doubt in the least his findings of
ghostly participation (Hazel's, John's, Sybil's, the Shade parents') in
_PF_; indeed I, like Professor Johnson, find these findings--this is royal
fun--absolutely stunning, positively Turingian. What I wonder about is what
Professor Boyd makes of them in terms of Nabokov's view of the world. I
don't mean, that is, to challenge the rectitude of his argument regarding
N's sense of conscious design in the universe, but to wonder about this
sense itself, which in turn is to question the fructiveness of approaches to
N that center upon this. Yes, Professor Boyd notes (not only in _N's PF_
but in _N's Ada_ and his biography) the provisionality of N's views, but
it's here precisely that one feels a sense of incompletion. In _N's PF_,
for instance, he addresses N's insistence upon the unimaginability of the
hereafter and thus suggests that the otherworldly participation in _PF might
best be read as "a metaphor, a possibility space, a concrete
anthropomorphized scenario of the unimaginable." But at the same time he
insists upon the human tenderness and kindness of this participation. Is
this argument possible? Insofar as metaphor necessary implies likeness, and
the beyond is absolutely unimaginable, what on earth can be _like_ the
unimaginable? N's "metaphor" makes sense only in human terms. How can its
tenor point to incomprehensibility when it signifies essential human
concerns? Might it not be possible to reassess its trajectory?

This note itself is irksomely incomplete; I hope the discussion continues.

Michael Suh

> From: Donald Barton Johnson <chtodel@humanitas.ucsb.edu>
> Reply-To: Vladimir Nabokov Forum <NABOKV-L@UCSBVM.UCSB.EDU>
> Date: Wed, 16 Feb 2000 13:38:38 -0800
> Subject: Re: Boyd's Pale Fire (fwd)
> EDITOR's NOTE. BRIAN BOYD <b.boyd@auckland.ac.nz> responds to Michael
> Suh's comments (and my afterthoughts).
> ------------------ Michael Suh dislikes what he supposes to be _my_
> "otherwordliness." Might I point out that: -- I have been writing about
> _Pale Fire_ for nearly thirty years, and far from trying to impose an
> "otherwordly" reading on it, opted for most of that time for Shade as sole
> author, despite elements of the novel like The Haunted Barn that were
> calling out for an otherworldly explanation -- it was Vera Nabokov who
> called the beyond VN's "main theme," a formulation that I thought
> dangerously overstated the case, as I have said to her and in print -- I
> have criticized probably more vigorously than anyone else those (Rowe;
> Alexandrov) who, starting from Vera's formulation, resort to the
> otherworld as a default explanation -- I have paid more attention to the
> this-worldly in Nabokov (in his life, and in his art), over 2500 pages
> worth, than anybody else who has written on him, including paying the
> first serious attention (outside the ranks of lepidopterists) to his
> scientific work -- I have never focussed on the otherwordly in any other
> writer I have written about, from Homer to Art Spiegelman -- I am devoting
> several years of my life to a biography of philosopher Karl Popper, who
> had no interest whatever in the "otherworldly" -- I am currently working
> on an attempt to explain art in evolutionary (Darwinian) terms, which
> allows no room for the otherworldly and which is at odds with VN's
> anti-Darwinianism, a product of _his_ sense of conscious design in the
> universe, not mine.
> I have written about the otherworldly in VN because the evidence compelled
> me to, and because he treats critically and imaginatively what in any
> other version I know sounds simply uncritical and unimaginative. But I end
> the piece Don Johnson refers to, part of our discussion of the role of the
> place of the otherworld in Nabokov studies: "Nabokov was never reductive
> and never uninterested in this world. May I offer some advice? Do not look
> for Nabokov's otherworld just because it is a critical fashion. . . . If
> he could not make this world exist so well in fiction, his otherworlds
> would matter much, much less."
> Don Johnson himself, like Michael Suh, finds my "insistence" on VN's
> generosity "irksome." Might I again point out that
> -- I have never written of any other writer or thinker in terms of
> "generosity." It is not a pet theme that I impose on what I write
> -- it is Nabokov who insists on the generosity of the "waggish artist"
> behind nature in a book aptly called The Gift, whose hero writes "And one
> wants to offer thanks but there is no one to thank. The list of donations
> already made: 10,000 days -- from Person Unknown."
> -- it is Nabokov who in his own person writes of "A thrill of gratitude to
> whom it may concern," and who ends this book with an image of himself and
> Vera as parents waiting for the thrill their child will feel at the surprise
> life has concealed ahead, in a clear image of the surprises that life itself
> offers all of us and that he intends to offer his readers
> -- I admit to having enjoyed some of those surprises, and felt the
> excitement that VN meant to impart, precisely because he thought it was akin
> to the excitement life itself hides for us to find, and it therefore would
> seem to me like ingratitude (something that, as the passages above and this
> very artistic strategy suggest, VN rightly thought little of) not to counter
> the image of VN as someone who felt life was cruel and as someone who
> therefore wanted to pass on his cruelty by tweaking the hapless reader.
> I am sorry that seems irksome.
> Brian Boyd
> b.boyd@auckland.ac.nz
> ______________________________________________________