NABOKV-L post 0023936, Tue, 16 Apr 2013 08:27:59 -0700

Re: VNBIB: Reading Voices & Transegmental Drift in PF
In my post below, I should have said that the ear cannot decide between "mirrors
smiled," "mirror smiled," or "mirrors mild." Matt Roth
Dear Matt,

To my ear these are completely different sounding phrases and easily
distinguishable. Perhaps I misunderstood your meaning?


From: "NABOKV-L, English" <nabokv-l@HOLYCROSS.EDU>
Sent: Mon, April 15, 2013 6:54:12 PM
Subject: [NABOKV-L] VNBIB: Reading Voices & Transegmental Drift in PF

Dear list,

I recently happened upon a fascinating analysis of John Shade's verse (and other
things PF) in a chapter (titled "Rhyme's Treason") from Garrett Stewart's book
Reading Voices (U of California, 1990). Stewart focuses on a concept that he
calls "transegmental drift," where, by either elision or liaison, adjacent
phonemes blend into one another. So, for example, Shade rhymes "mirrors smiled"
with "shadows mild." The former works by elision, where we turn the two S
sounds into one (so the ear cannot tell if it is hearing "mirror smiled" or
"mirrors smiled"). The latter case works by liaison, where the sibilant may be
shifted by the ear to the beginning of "mild," to make "smiled." Some other
examples of transegmentals from "PF" given by Stewart:

dance / its stance (elision)
no doubt / left out (liaison)
stress / woman's dress (liaison)
other men die but I / Am not another; therefore I'll not die (elision)
that rapt / trapped (liaison)

A few choice excerpts:

"In Pale Fire Shade and Kinbote . . . seem ultimately to converge-at least to
the extent that each aestheticizes the verbal accident, the happy fault, the
balletic slip."

"There is a weird fatalism as well as whimsy at work, which turns reading itself
into a kind of paranoia. It is apprehensiveness curiously matched by Kinbote's
replotting of the poetic text as his own prolonged flight from death into
textual immortality. To submit to the text as an occasion of paranoia is no
longer to trust your senses. Words can't be relied on to stay in the scripted
place. Their constituent phonemes may at any moment contract new allegiances,
forge new words, or if not words, then unprocessed but palpable new sound
configurations that subtend or overarch the lexical boundary without stabilizing
any alternative phrase."

After addressing drift in "PF," the poem, he analyzes Hazel's barn message, with
its many "variable intervals" between lexical units. An excerpt from that

"[T]he lake in which Hazel dies is located (by way of an aural rebus) in the
alphabetic void-not even a functioning lexical gap-between the towns of 'Exe'
and 'Wye' (l. 490) when pronounced as the phonetic names of adjacent
alphabetical characters. The 'variable interval' guiding Kinbote's researches
into the ghost's code is thus in and of itself the clue to Hazel's fate, and
precisely in its semantic contingency, its nonsignifying mobility. The 'certain
sounds and lights' that the young girl tried to parse into an articulate
message, calling up perhaps the auditory and visual collaboration of ordinary
language, thereby offers a clue to the textual allegory of her end. She has
suffered a vanishing into and between script, a death by letters-merely because
of their phonemic and graphic constituents, shifting and imponderable as they
may be. The clue was there in the alphabetic code itself. Suicide or not, her
death as represented is made to depend on the sheer accident of the alphabetic
code itself."

The larger chapter, by the way, includes discussion of similar moves in Hopkins,
Joyce, and others.

Matt Roth

[EDNOTE. Before this message could be forwarded, Matt added the following
postscript. -- SES]

In my post below, I should have said that the ear cannot decide between "mirrors
smiled," "mirror smiled," or "mirrors mild."

Matt Roth

Google Search the archive Contact the Editors Visit "Nabokov Online Journal"
Visit Zembla View Nabokv-L Policies Manage subscription options Visit AdaOnline
View NSJ Ada Annotations Temporary L-Soft Search the archive

All private editorial communications are read by both co-editors.

Search archive with Google:

Contact the Editors:,
Visit Zembla:
View Nabokv-L policies:
Visit "Nabokov Online Journal:"

Manage subscription options: