Sunday, July 22, 2012

Beyond any Text or Texture

Pale Fire
by Vladimir Nabokov
Further Thoughts:
Textual Conundrums

But all at once it dawned on me that this
Was the real point, the contrapuntal theme; 
Just this: not text, but texture; not the dream
But topsy-turvical coincidence,
Not flimsy nonsense, but a web of sense.
(Pale Fire, the poem, Canto Three, lines 806-10)

We learn in the commentary to Pale Fire (pp 57-230, inclusive) that the poet, John Shade, is a magician with words.  His poem is full of subtle puns like the one in lines 727-728.   The commentator explains, "The subtle pun here turns on two additional meanings of 'shade' besides the obvious synonym of 'nuance.'  The doctor is made to suggest that not only did Shade retain in his trance half of his identity but that he was also half a ghost."(p 194)
But the commentator cannot leave it there and he is compelled to add this final sentence:
"Knowing the particular medical man who treated my friend at the time, I venture to add that he is far too stodgy to have displayed any such wit."  And the commentator is playing loose with the definition of friend as his friendship with Shade stretches only as far as his obsession with the poet allows. 

Beyond the punning, this 'novel' is rife with what are referred to as "Contrapuntal pyrotechnics". (p 194)  This reader found that the components of the novel were unlike any I have encountered in my extensive reading experience, namely:  The "Foreword" (pp 9-22) jumps back and forth between a traditional introduction and commentary on the narrator's personal life;  The poem "Pale Fire" (pp 23-56) is an apparently straightforward poem in four Cantos, but it is missing its final line.  According to the Commentator, the missing line is supposed to be the same as the first line, but the poet was dead when the commentary was written so this cannot be confirmed.  Further, the "Commentary" which is more than seven times as long as the poem is primarily the story of the assassination of the King of Zembla, the connection to the poem of this tale is dubious; finally, the "Index" (p 231-39) is self-reflexive and has almost no relevance to the poem, being primarily useful in deconstructing the life of Kinbote, the narrator.  
If that were all the issues, nay conundrums, facing the reader it would be a complex text.  It is however filled with "topsy-turvical coincidence" and is beyond any text or texture of writing that I have ever seen.

No comments: