Thursday, March 15, 2007

Pale Fire or Silvery Light?

Excuse: Kubla Khan's post about Pale Fire.

Isn't this cover amazing? It is one of the most beautiful looking books ever.

Some extracts, just to clear some mysteries about the title of the novel. In case you don't know about the novel the wikipedia link is here. Yes that's where the title of the blog comes from.


Excerpted Poem by John Shade and the Commentary by Charles Kinbote.

And while this lasted all I had to do
Was close my eyes to reproduce the leaves,
Or indoor scene, or trophies of the eaves.

Lines 39-40: Was close my eyes, etc.

These lines are represented in the drafts by a variant reading:

39 .............and home would haste my thieves,
40 The sun with stolen ice, the moon with leaves

One cannot help recalling a passage in Timon of Athens (Act IV, Scene 3) where the misanthrope talks to the three marauders. Having no library in the desolate log cabin where I live like Timon in his cave, I am compelled for the purpose of quick citation to retranslate this passage into English prose from a Zemblan poetical version of Timon which, I hope, sufficiently approximates the text, or is at least faithful to its spirit*:

The sun is a thief: she lures the sea
and robs it. The moon is a thief:
he steals his silvery light from the sun.
The sea is a thief: it dissolves the moon.

For a prudent appraisal of Conmal’s translations of Shakespeare’s works, see note to line 962.

Dim Gulf was my first book (free verse);
Night Rote Came next;
then Hebe’s Cup, my final float
In that damp carnival, for now I term
Everything "Poems," and no longer squirm.
(But this transparent thingum does require
Some moondrop title. Help me, Will! Pale Fire.)

Line 962: Help me, Will. Pale Fire.

Paraphrased, this evidently means: Let me look in Shakespeare for something I might use for a title. And the find is "pale fire." But in which of the Bard’s works did our poet cull it? My readers must make their own research. All I have with me is a tiny vest pocket edition of Timon of Athens — in Zemblan! It certainly contains nothing that could be regarded as an equivalent of "pale fire" (if it had, my luck would have been a statistical monster).

*Original Shakespeare has the following:

The sun's a thief, and with his great attraction
Robs the vast sea; the moon's an arrant thief,
And her pale fire she snatches from the sun;
The sea's a thief, whose liquid surges resolves
The moon into salt tears;

Note how the Zemblan translator changes the gender of the Sun and the Moon. Such fun at the cost of a poor translator!


Cheshire Cat said...

"Pale Fire" is mysterious. Nabokov's reputation, even more so...

Alok said...

Yes it is mysterious, more like a puzzle, inviting you to piece things together...

and you think Nabokov's reputation is not justified?

nico said...

Hi ALok, I noticed that you included Kluger's book in your list! That's great. Plase consider for the future Irene Nemirovsky's novel "Suite Francaise" (maybe this 'woman' will enter your top's -joking!). Just a thought or impression on Nabokov, don't you sometimes feel he has a superiority complex toward his characters? I haven't read him for a while but have always felt he pities and condescends his characters. For me it suggests an ungenerous soul, maybe lacking real solidarity? The total opposite of Sebald, or even Joyce Carol Oates. I hadn't heard of that hungarian novel, I'll take note of it, thanks, Nico.

Cheshire Cat said...

Nabokov's reputation is justified, but also (or maybe therefore?) surprising. That mandarin sensibility taken to an extreme - I wouldn't imagine people would take to it.

Alok said...

Hi Nico, Yes it is a little troubling initially. His "mandarin sensibility," as cheshire cat calls it and his detachment which appears as cold and inhumane, often even sadistic. But he is not really concerned with human beings and human affairs much at least not as much as language itself. How language can be moulded into meaningful forms, how it works internally etc. There is also a very nice and provocative essay by the philosopher Richard Rorty on Pale Fire in which he argues Nabokov to be read as a moral thinker. (Basically he argues that Nabokov is a critic of solipsism and takes it from there.)

His novel Pnin for example is very compassionate. (Even there a Nabokovian figure comes in the end to make fun of the poor figure in the end though). btw, Sebald was a big fan of Nabokov. In fact Sebald's tone and style somewhat match Nabokov's in their indirection and avoidance of emotionalism even when dealing with extremely painful subjects. Sebald also wrote a nice short essay on Speak, Memory collected in Campo Santo. And Nabokov himself makes guest appearances in The Emigrants.

Yeah I got Kluger from the library yesterday. The other two I couldn't find there! Also if you are talking of Melancholy of Resistance I will recommend it very highly. One of the most entertaining and remarkable books i have read recently.

Cat: I am sometimes a little surprised by the popularity of Lolita. I somehow like this geeky attitude towards world, this idea that there are mysterious things all around, in small details, and if you can find and piece them together you will learn something new. Not really pedantry but still this mandarin sensibility is my most favourite virtue of all :)

Alok said...

Also reg. Nabokov I dislike his snobbery and arrogant and pompous opinions about literature and other writers (some of whom are my favourites) very much even though most of them are very entertaining. Also though his biographer defends him valiantly but from his tiffs with his friend Edmund Wilson he comes across as ungrateful curmudgeon at best. He doesn't really fit the type of the lovable Russian but that's okay for me :)

KUBLA KHAN said...

dont you positively adore the wanted wanted poem in lolita....dont you love lolita, i mean, metaphorically speaking.
nabokov is a literary rarity.
have you read Ada? it is lush.

Alok said...

Yup, I had in fact put that poem on the blog a long back. must be somewhere.

Haven't read Ada yet. I started it last year but for some reason got distracted with other readings.

nico said...

Hi Alok, thanks for the advice (Melancholy of resistance, I'll check that out, though it isn't at WashU library currently). Regarding the Nabokov comparison I was thinking more of Austerlitz and that curly haired wandering man. But what still strikes me is that sometimes extravagant links are made between authors: Sebald with Borges or Calvino. I have spent a lot of time (and even taken a class) reading Borges and I still cannot imagine why people like him (regardless of his political tendencies). Of course I understand his relevance (especially in Latin America), but aesthetically it doesn't move me, for me it's too structured, too perfect and mathematical. So there I would put Julio Cortazar next to Calvino and Ricardo Piglia next to Borges. But that's the thing with these networks, they can take you to unexpected clues! By the way (and sorry to mix genres) I just finished 'Abscence' by Handke: he really knows how to express the gestures of silence, abolutetly precious in its mood, mystical, almost biblical. Later, nico.

Cheshire Cat said...

I didn't know of that poem before. Such an awful poem, but also delightful because it is so deeply imprinted with Nabokov's characteristic style...

Alok, yes, I'm fond of mandarins too. Henry James was another.