Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0022219, Sat, 3 Dec 2011 23:58:42 -0200

Pale Fire, the poem and its mythic reading
Arguments related to Nabokov/Shade's literary ambitions have been recently brought up to the VN-L by Gary Lipon and several important issues have recently popped up in the media questioning if "Pale Fire, the poem, stands out alone as a masterpiece, how seriously we ought to take Nabokov's longest and most ambitious piece of verse" and if it is "the greatest poem of its century"* Commentators argue that Nabokov's creature has been striving to produce immortal verse (with varying degrees of success) or that it was Nabokov who entertained such hopes since, as stated by R.S.Gwynn, this "ambitious poem by the most competitive of authors was an attempt to establish himself as firmly in the canon of American poetry as he had done in prose."

After the poem was "lifted" from its nest in the novel, this growing need to evaluate the poetic excellence of John Shade's verse and its insertion in the American literary canon is rather puzzling because John Shade is not a pseudonym, like Vladimir Nabokov's Russian "Sirin." Even though the poem is recognizably a product of VN's genius, it's still an invention, a "rhyming novella," a prank. It's an authorial "doubling." that bestrides two worlds (fiction and non-fiction) and it's pregnant with fateful whims, losses, aches of love and metaphysical quandaries as experienced and expressed by Shade, not by Nabokov! Its "poetic truth" (if there has to be one) and importance remain a mystery.

Inspite of Kinbote's side-tracking his readers, the quest for a real and true John Shade - in the world of fiction, of course - has always been an active force throughout the novel. How is this quest going to proceed when it derives from an "external world" in lieu of Kinbote? In this respect Gary Lipon's new interpretation of Pale Fire is rather striking** since a "mythic reading of Pale Fire" (in his terms) doesn't require Kinbote's fabulations and facts. By setting his focus exclusively on Vladimir Nabokov's poem - as it has been attributed by him to an invented John Shade - Lipon made it independent from the novel and turned it into a nabokovian plaything in heroic couplets.

While (rather humorlessly) I kept asking myself about who's going to pay the price for Shade's "real" existence as a poet, I was suddenly reminded of a science fiction comedy, S1m0ne (Simone), written, produced and directed by Andrew Niccol. Perhaps the price is simply getting a good laugh at Nabokov's combinatory talents while we enjoy the show!

* "Pale Fire," The Poem: Does It Stand Alone as a Masterpiece? by Giles Harvey - December 2, 2011 http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/culture/2011/12/pale-fire-the-poem.html#ixzz1fUxjS9rQ
"Some books...defeat commentary; others, like "Ulysses," invite it. "Pale Fire," Vladimir Nabokov's resplendent rare bird of a novel, comes with its own commentary built in [...] Given the ludic vitality of Kinbote's portions of the book, it is not surprising that Shade's subtle, meticulously wrought poem should have received short shrift.[...] In a move that is likely to irritate and scandalize many, Gingko Press has lifted Shade's poem from Nabokov's novel and published it as a separate book [...]
The new edition also comes with a svelte booklet containing two essays, by the Nabokov biographer Brian Boyd and the distinguished poet R. S. Gwynn, both of which argue passionately for the aesthetic splendor and autonomy of "Pale Fire" the poem.[...] In one respect, the Gingko Press "Pale Fire" is a fetishist's dream[...] In another, it is a serious statement about how seriously we ought to take Nabokov's longest and most ambitious piece of verse [...].But let's not be coy. The commentary may constitute the main attraction, but as this lavish new edition reminds us, the poem is itself a doozy that bristles with all the humor, yearning, pathos, and metaphysical wit that have become synonymous with Nabokov's name." According to Giles Harvey (op.cit.), R.S.Gwynn "argues that the rise of "confessional" poets like Lowell, Plath, and Sexton in the nineteen-fifties created a critical climate hostile to Nabokov's coy and playful verse...'With the publication of Lolita,' Gwynn writes, 'Nabokov had been hailed as a master of English prose and of the American idiom as well; it is not much of a leap of faith to suspect that this ambitious poem by the most competitive of authors was an attempt to establish himself as firmly in the canon of American poetry as he had done in prose. His failure to do so has little to do with the quality of the poem; it is more a function of a period during which American poetry was in the process of redefining itself.' [...] Paul Muldoon "another great contemporary poet and The New Yorker's poetry editor, had more sympathy than Chiasson for claims about the poem's stand-alone magnificence, and hit upon an apt image for the hermeneutic quandaries it poses: 'I do think 'Pale Fire' is a quite wonderful poem, though it's hard to read it as an entirely discrete entity. Isn't it like one of those tall buildings which incorporates in its core the very crane that raised it?'[...] Novelist Arthur Phillips said: "Even without the marvels of the novel "Pale Fire," the poem "Pale Fire" is a little novel in itself. And, as a rhyming novella, there's really no question who wrote it. Only the novel makes it a poem by Shade; without the Commentary, the poem could only be by Nabokov. [...] as such, it deserves to be published on its own, as a poem by Nabokov. The greatest poem of its century? I'm not ready to go that far, even as I'm ready to call its proper housing the greatest novel of the century"

** G.Lipon writes: "In this interpretation Hazel is destined to die young in order to provide a theme (motivation?) for Shade's Magnus Opus, Pale Fire. Through composing this work Shade believes he has, or will become, immortal.[...] Shade is a poet, a kind of singer, obsessed with his own immortality[ ...]Hazel...isn't the immortality that the EL is granting. Rather she is the means to literary fame (I use the term ovidian immortality).[...] His wish for immortality ...l has been granted, but through the gift of a theme and the experience of grief. And so he sets out to compose Pale Fire. [...]Shade's hubris is that he imagines himself to be a great artist deserving of immortality. For his last year his life has been a forced reliving, and embellishing, of his daughter's death, surely to memorialize her, but mostly to memorialize himself. Eventually this drives Shade insane."

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