Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Pale Fires And Other Deceptions

Pale Fire, that fantastic novel written by Nabokov, should perhaps be the first novel that students of literature must read. Though there are many reasons, the most important one is that it will prevent us from over -analyzing or over -interpreting any work of art.

The fantastic paraphrase that Charles Kinbote, John Shade's friend and biographer indulges in, is nothing short of a diatribe, a rhetorical allegory of the poet's life. The constant self references, the almost paranoid explanations of the I, I and the me , me is a reflection of the attitude that we so often take when we read novels or poems or watch movies.

How could Kinbote actually know what Shade was thinking of, when he wrote that particular line or this one. The steely almost comical way he suggests so is Nabokov at his scathing best.
We have been forced to accept not only the greatness of certain writers but we have been told who not to read.This suffocating cultural imperialism , nothing short of a malaise of the intellect is an overwhelming force in literary circles and outside of those.

How can we assume to ever get under the skin of any writer when we don't even know who we are........from time to time, we change from childish monsters to poetic freaks, from sad eyes to happy thoughts.......from hapless chimeras to absurd dreams.

And yet, we claim to have understood this writer because we have read him extensively, because that translation was great, because I liked his words, because he is considered a great writer and so on. Novels written ages ago or now cannot reflect but a mood, a phase, a concern or at best, an attitude. Most novels that are considered great have become greater now, after having been made so by the Kinbote's of this world.

I am not trying to even think of questioning any work here, for I leave that to serious students of drama and art, one of whom considers this blog as an exercise in dilletantism. But I do find that one cannot actually comment on the worth of any novel or poems because to do so would be a brave man's job.

In this respect, Pessoa deserves credit as he wrote from four different perspectives and yet, it was he who wrote. Any misdemeanour on the others part is his mistake.
It is also important to remind oneself that most great writers took puny selfish positions when it came to taking political stands, people like Sartre and so on, who revelled in arm chair humanism and promoted confusion about their views.
Isn't it just plain delusional thinking to actually thus interpret and understand any book? I mean we can try to, we can live that music, hum that tune, but understand.....no.

It is in this context that I was reminded of Pale Fire, and perhaps I should end by saying that I admire it without understanding any other motive on the writer's part, apart from the most obvious one which I just mentioned.

Having indulged in such rhetoric myself, we sufferer's from words must go on and read more. I will end by quoting from Correction, this monster masterpiece by Bernhard, reflecting my Bernhard phase, which too will pass.

At certain points in our existence we break off the nature of our existence and proceed to exist only on books, in written stuff, until we again have the opportunity to exist in nature, very often as another person, always as another person. we take refuge in reading, and live for a long time in our books, a more undisturbed life. i have lived half my life not in nature but in my books as a nature-substitute...................to everything we think and fill our own life and that we hear and see, perceive, we always have to add: the truth, however is that uncertainty has become a chronic condition with us. When we think, we know nothing, everything is open, nothing, so Roithamer.The nature of the case is always something else, so Roithamer.


* said...

interesting piece. need to think of it a bit and then I comment on it.
I was always thinking what a wonderful title that is, 'pale fire'. How can a fire be pale...that's lovely nabokovish.

Kubla Khan said...

pale fire....darkness in the fire....the sun is not so bright after all, inside its heart...
Have you heard of solar pessimism?
perhaps nabokov realized that even his words were just pale fire....as are all other fires that have died and are dying....

Alok said...

hmm, what's solar pessimism?

pale fire is actually a shakespearean phrase for moonlight... from "Timon of Athens"

Do villainy, do, since you protest to do't, Like workmen.
I'll example you with thievery:
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;
the earth's a thief, That feeds and breeds by a composture stol'n From gen'ral excrement.

I havent read this Shakespeare though. But I like this quote very much. It also has some connection with creativity and thievery which is one of the themes of pale fire.

* said...

oh I didn't know that, thanks alok for pointing that out :) great quote. I need to reread the Nabokov.

* said...

enlighten us about the solar pessimism,kubla.

Kubla Khan said...

antonia, alok:
I came across this idea of solar pessimism in Louis Mcneice's preface to The Outsider.
Camus valued the sun and outdoor life in Algiers, such things were close to his heart. He grew up in a working class area of Algiers, his mother worked as a char woman, he was poor.
But the sun was free...and he could share the sun with the elitist french settlers there...it was there for the taking. naturally, being poor, Camus did not have the joys of childhood that his other peers had. In his Notes, Camus writes that he was ashamed to mention that he was from Belcourt,a poor area in Algiers. his ambition, it seemed was to...'have a heart free from bitterness'.
The concept of solar pessimism thus becomes a motif for something that was his chain and liberation at the same time. at the same time, in later years, Camus the celebrity prided in belonging to this poor area....his hope in the future was offset by his despair at the existential tension, or absurd as he called it. He advocated philosophical suicide, and in his great essay The myth of sisyphus, he finally urges to carry on inspite of his disbelief in life aftre death.
solar pessimism thus will seem easier to relate to in his context, in that environment, in his absurdist philosophy. It is a chance to live, a hope to survive amongst so many other reasons to die.
solar pessimism, as I have understood it, is thus a kind of optimism.
i have been cynical about the outsider for a long time now....but Camus the foreigner is also camus the Algerian.
we can disagree with his politics, but not ignore his greatness as a novelist and a solar pessimist philosopher.
I hope i have been clear.With pale fire, i tried to relate it to the same kind of optimistic despair, as John shade grieved for his daughter, Kinbote misunderstood his optimistic facade. shade is in my opinion a solar pessimist...or am i talking of nabokov?
Please do try to find more about this solar pessimism...i havent actually tried to do any thing more about it.

Alok said...

wow, thats intriguing. and its a nice phrase too, solar pessimism!

* said...

it makes sense. optimistic despair is a good one and I think this is what the sisyphus-thing is about,he onlyis happy when he walks down the mountain to fetch the rock and roll it back...