Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0022223, Mon, 5 Dec 2011 13:49:37 +0000

Re: Pale Fire, the poem, as myth
Gary Lipon wonders whether or not Shade is serious when he says "Other men die; but I am not another; therefore I'll not die." On its face, the syllogism is clearly a joke. I don't see why we should think that Shade doesn't know that it's a joke, nor do I see any compelling evidence that Shade honestly believes himself to be immortal. (Wishing is another thing.) As I read it, the genius of this syllogism is that the error we all see (the notion that mortality hinges on "other" rather than on "men") hides a more telling second flaw (the notion that Shade is not another). Shade is making a joke, but the joke is on him. In my favored reading of the novel, where Kinbote and Shade are alternate personalities, we see that Shade is indeed another, which leads to an incredible triple (possibly quadruple?) irony. If we follow the unfolding revelations, we might see it like this:

Other men die; but I am not another; therefore I'll not die.

But Shade is another; therefore, according to his own logic, he will die.

But because Shade became a "fat fly" (Kinbote) he did not die on Goldsworth's lawn.

However, because Shade's personality died, Kinbote's parasitic personality could not ultimately persist, leading to K's suicide.

Thus, Shade died.

There are legitimate cases to be made against a theory of secondary personalities, but this passage is one that reveals itself most fully and marvelously only in the context of a reading where Shade and Kinbote share a body. In a traditional reading, Shade's assertion, "I am not another," has no meaningful resonance at all, as the weight of our attention falls merely on the conclusion's ironic foreshadowing. I consider that a loss.

Matt Roth

From: Vladimir Nabokov Forum [mailto:NABOKV-L@LISTSERV.UCSB.EDU] On Behalf Of G S Lipon
Sent: Saturday, December 03, 2011 5:33 PM
Subject: [NABOKV-L] Pale Fire, the poem, as myth

On Dec 3, 2011, at 1:05 AM, Jansy wrote:

In the Nab-L interpretations for the irony in Shade's lines ( "other men die, but I/Am not another...") has been brought up in the past in connection to Marcel Duchamp's epitaph: "D'ailleurs, c'est toujours les autres qui meurent" ("Besides, it's always other people who die.") and other suggestions.

Thanks for the Duchamp citation as possible allusion. It is, I think, in itself, worth knowing.
But the point I was making is that, for a variety reasons, it seems that Shade believes himself to be immortal.
In fact he says so explicitly in the lines beginning: Other men die...
The issue is: does he mean them; or is there an alternative, ironic interpretation.
I don't see that the Duchamp quote provides such an alternative.
Perhaps I'm overlooking something.


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