NABOKV-L post 0003083, Tue, 28 Apr 1998 08:54:25 -0700

PALE FIRE: Kinbote /Shade --reprise (fwd)
>From Brian Boyd, University of Auckland

Since Maurice Couturier's article "Which is to be master in _Pale
Fire_" was announced here, may I just point out that I find
Maurice's reports of my previous theory of Shadean authorship of Pale
Fire unrecognizable ("According to Boyd^Òs theory, Kinbote^Òs
extraordinary saga is Shade^Òs bloated metaphor of his daughter^Òs
pathetic misery and hopeless attempts to gain access to an intangible
reality"), and his criticism of my use of manuscript evidence
misleading and condescending ("Boyd states somewhat naively that
"Nabokov decided not to divulge _Pale Fire_'s secret." But is that
really what Nabokov was doing? Was he not rather playing another of
his little mask games, as he did in peppering his books with
anagrammatic doubles? . . . David Lodge pointed out that this was a
clear case of intentional fallacy": is it not _more_ naïve to suppose
that, since Nabokov is _often_ ironic, irony should become the
default mode of reading him than to determine the presence of irony
according to context? and does invoking the intentional fallacy--
which really amounts to nothing more than not putting excessive
weight on authorial statements of intent outside a work (as if one
should ever put excessive weight on any evidence--not ignore the
considerable body of argument in favor of intentionalism in
discussions of interpretation in philosophy of language and esthetics
over the last dozen years?). Others mentioned in the article may well
feel the same way as I do about the manner in which they are

There are indeed telling arguments against the Shadean hypothesis, but
it needs a little more attention to the text and a little less
reliance on a convenient but rather rusty critical cannon to take
decisive aim against Shade-as-author.

Maurice concludes by talking of the "near-paranoia, widespread among
Nabokovians" in their desire to understand a "tightly-constructed
text." We all attempt to understand each other all the time, and that
means using whatever we can, the language, the form, the context,
including our knowledge of the speaker or writer. The attempt can be
difficult and contentious, especially when we think the meaning
matters, but there is no more "paranoia" in trying to get at Nabokov^Òs
meaning than in trying to get at anyone else^Òs. Nabokov^Òs very habit
of preparing a succession of discoveries for his readers has the
consequence that different readers will make somewhat more, somewhat
fewer, somewhat different discoveries in a somewhat different sequence
from others, rather like people encountering the world. What is
tyrannical or paranoia-inducing about that?

After talking about some of the metaphysical implications I found in
the Shadean interpretation (which arise out of Shade^Òs and Nabokov^Òs
metaphysics, not mine), Maurice claims that "the Shadeans
unconsciously allow their own metaphysical preconceptions . . . to
dictate their interpretations of the novel. . . . the exegetes . . .
do not, properly, interpret the text; they analyse it more or less
scrupulously according to their own metaphysical or aesthetic
preconceptions." I know what Shade^Òs and Nabokov^Òs metaphysical
"preconceptions" are, but does Maurice have the least notion of what
mine are? On the other hand, I do know a little of Maurice^Òs
aesthetic preconceptions, and wish he would not express his belated
discovery of the inadequacies of Barthes^Òs characteristic exaggeration
in "The Death of the Author" by way of a sensationalism of his own, in
this talk of tyranny and paranoia.

From: Brian Boyd
English Department
University of Auckland
Private Bag 92019 Auckland New Zealand
Fax (64 9) 373 7429 Tel (64 9) 373 7599 ext 7480
Home fax: (64 9) 620 6520 Home tel: (64 9) 620 6597

---------- Forwarded message ----------

Date: Wed, 22 Apr 1998 10:54:29 +0200
From: Maurice Couturier <>
To: Vladimir Nabokov Forum <NABOKV-L@UCSBVM.UCSB.EDU>
Subject: Re: "Which is to be master?"

"From Maurice Couturier, Unversity of Nice-Sophia Antipolis

Brian Boyd's angry reading of my "articulet" on Zembla came a bit
as a surprise, though Brian and I did have long sessions of critical
sparring when he was my guest as visiting-professor here in Nice: biography
and literary theory are obviously two different types of discourses, and
their practioners may and will propose different interpretations of the
same work. Yet, I do not fully understand Brian's line of reasoning: though
he may be right to question Beardsley's anathema against "the intentional
fallacy" and my apparent approval of it (in the article from which the
pages published on Zembla were jettisoned and in the book I am writing now,
I try to view the concept in a larger perspective), I do not see how he can
reconcile the reading program suggested (if at all) in the manuscript he
mentions with the near deconstructionist theory implicit in his paragraph
criticizing my use of the word "paranoia". The latest spate of annotations
on the Nabokov forum concerning Pale Fire gives ample evidence that many
readers feel that the book holds a secret and fancy that the author
(perhaps as a result of his statements about Kobaltana or again about the
ghost's message in the barn) is the keeper of this secret. The paranoia is
real, in my view, but this does not induce me to conclude that Nabokov is
the answer. Contrary to what Brian says or somewhat slyly suggests about my
book La figure de l'auteur, this is not my approach at all: how could I
reject the intentional fallacy and revive the myth of the author as keeper
of the meaning of the text? The subtitle to my second book on Nabokov (ou
la tyrannie de l'auteur) was read literally: I do indeed analyze the
strategies whereby Nabokov stubbornly tries to overdetermine his text and
guide our reading, but I amply show also the limits of his entreprise,
especially in the last chapter. In La figure de l'auteur I make no attempt
to rehabilitate the author; on the contrary I view the text as an interface
and analyze the kind of tangential and conflictual communication which
develops between author and reader; I carry the theory a little further in
Roman et censure.
These explanations and the forthcoming article will not necessarily
clarify the debate, I am aware: our discourses about literary works are
governed by different preconceptions and answer different goals. When Brian
quotes passages from Glory in his biography while discussing this or that
part of Nabokov's life, isn't he trying to catch a glimpse of the author's
figure through the text?
If the medium is the message, I wonder if we are not wasting our
time trying to discuss such complex and potentially conflictual matters
over the Internet."