Pale Fire page 127

“Without consulting each other, the young Prince and his friend veered in absurd panic and, with the pedometer beating wildly, raced back the way they had come. “Ouf!” said Oleg once the last shelf had been replaced. “You’re all chalky behind,” said the young Prince as they swung upstairs. They found Beauchamp and Campbell ending their game in a draw. It was near dinner time. The two lads were told to wash their hands. The recent thrill of adventure had been superseded already by another sort of excitement. They locked themselves up. The tap ran unheeded. Both were in a manly state and moaning like doves.”

Alternative End to Pale Fire, continued

There in the bloom of colored carnations

We nestled in a nook of the nation

Relaxed, basking, independent as cats,

Gently asking, “Would you like fries with that?”

Time rippled outward and we made our home

Cardinals roosted the roads we would roam

Ghosts: our daughter’s, our enemies’, our own

Left us, quietly, finally, alone.


*a nook of the nation

Our poet is, of course, referring to his own falsification of his murder and subsequent move to a different state. His story of immigration reminds me of my own flight from Zembla. Having spent many long nights yearning for the majesty of my homeland, I can imagine perfectly how much Shade must miss the rolling hills of Appalachia. Still more, he must truly despair at my absence from his life, but I am certain he only keeps his location hidden from me for my own safety.

*“Would you like fries with that?”

I recall many a tender night when Shade and I shared fries alongside deeply intellectual conversations. Oh how I miss the warmth and constancy of his friendship, and of those medium-sized bags of crispy potato!

*the roads we would roam

Shade draws a contrast between the New World and the Old. The cardinal is a North American bunting, related to but different from buntings of the Old World. In highlighting this bird, this dear man clearly pays homage to Zembla by representing a bird seen across boundaries. It is a subtle signal of his deep affection for me.

*quietly, finally, alone

I must say I’m not quite sure why John seems to take such pleasure in the state of being alone. I’m not enjoying it much myself.

It’s Nabokov’s birthday!

“I confess I do not believe in time. I like to fold my magic carpet, after use, in such a way as to superimpose one part of the pattern upon another. Let visitors trip. And the highest enjoyment of timelessness—in a landscape selected at random—is when I stand among rare butterflies and their food plants. This is ecstasy, and behind the ecstasy is something else, which I cannot explain. It is like a momentary vacuum into which rushes all that I love, a sense of oneness with sun and stone, a thrill of gratitude to whom it may concern, perhaps to the contrapuntal genius of human fate or to the tender ghosts humoring a lucky mortal.”

Death in Pnin

pg. 20 “I do not know if it has ever been noted before that one of the main characteristics of life is discreteness. Unless a film of flesh envelops us, we die. Man exists only insofar as he is separated from his surroundings. The cranium is a space-traveler’s helmet. Stay inside or you perish. Death is divestment, death is communion. It may be wonderful to mix with the landscape, but to do so is the end of the tender ego.”

pg. 68 “In a set of eight tetrametric quatrains Pushkin described the morbid habit he always had— wherever he was, whatever he was doing—of dwelling on thoughts of death and of closely inspecting every passing day as he strove to find in its cryptogram a certain “future anniversary”: the day and month that would appear, somewhere, sometime upon his tombstone. ” ‘And where will fate send me’, imperfective future, ‘death,'” declaimed inspired Pnin, throwing his head back and translating with brave literality, ” ‘in fight, in travel, or in waves? Or will the neighboring dale’— dolina, same word, ‘valley’ we would now say— ‘accept my refrigerated ashes’, poussiere, ‘cold dust’ perhaps more correct. ‘And though it is indifferent to the insensible body … ‘”

pg. 135 “… no conscience, and hence no consciousness, could be expected to subsist in a world where such things as Mira’s death were possible.”

pg. 136 “The sky was dying. He did not believe in an autocratic God. He did believe, dimly, in a democracy of ghosts. The souls of the dead, perhaps, formed committees, and these, in continuous session, attended to the destinies of the quick.”

These quotes, and our discussion in class today, made me think of this article I read recently in a new light (in case the link doesn’t work, it’s called “What Does It Mean to Die?” from the New Yorker). By the definitions of death Nabokov posits, is Jahi McMath alive? And is Pnin alive beyond the novel as he drives away from those who torment him?

Lolita imagery

“Mentally, I found her to be a disgustingly conventional little girl. Sweet hot jazz, square dancing, gooey fudge sundaes, musicals, movie magazines and so forth- these were the obvious items in her list of beloved things. The Lord knows how many nickels I fed to the gorgeous music boxes that came with every meal we had!”

H.H.lists a series of objects which prompt vivid mental images from the reader, making me think of 50s diners in small town. By calling these “disgustingly conventional,” he challenges the romantic lens through which America looks back on this past aesthetic. He is dismissive of the staples of pop culture which Dolly loves, just as he disparages other Americanisms he considers unrefined. However, this line does more than just insult two birds with one stone. To me, it is just another reminder of why the novel cannot be called a love story. The fact that H.H. doesn’t even pretend to be interested in Dolly beyond her looks makes his “love” appear flimsy and shallow, as though being based around rape and pedophilia doesn’t in itself disqualify it as love. He indulges her personality as he indulges her desire to hear jukebox music- as a sort of peripheral cost to his repeated defilement of her body.

Theatricality in Invitation to a Beheading- pg. 134

“No, you’re still only a parody,” murmured Cincinnatus.
She smiled interrogatively
“Just like this spider, just like those bars, just like the striking of that clock,” murmured Cincinnatus.
“So,” she said, and blew her nose again.
“So, that’s how it is,” she repeated.
They both remained silent, not looking at each other, while the clock struck with nonsensical resonance.
“When you go out,” said Cincinnatus, “note the clock in the corridor. The dial is blank; however, every hour the watchman washes off the old hand and daubs on a new one- and that’s how we live, by tarbrush time, and the ringing is the work of the watchman, which is why he is called a ‘watch’ man.”
“You oughtn’t joke like that,” said Cecilia C. “There are, you know, all sorts of marvelous gimmicks…”

Why “The Defense”?

Luzhin is a character who, outside of chess, has very little agency in his life. He seems to be like a chess piece himself, shoved around by his parents, Valentinov, his wife, and of course the grandmaster Nabokov, alternately moving in lines and circles. I think part of why the Turati game tips Luzhin over the edge and into his downward spiral is because it diminishes his power in the only realm in which he’s truly been able to exercise it. This made me wonder why Nabokov decided to call the novel “The Luzhin Defense” when “the defense Luzhin had worked out had proved an utter waste” (136). If this defense ended up falling flat, is there a different defense in the novel that could explain the title? Or is the point to highlight that Luzhin is ultimately defenseless, and the only way he is able to retaliate against the powers that constrain him is by jumping out of the window at the end?