Monday, July 26, 2010

Sometimes two is better

Another controversy involving Vladimir Nabokov is about to ensue, Slate magazine's Ron Rosenbaum informs is, when his publisher issues a stand alone publication of the titular poem from the novel Pale Fire. More than a few tempers will flair, more than a few words will be shot over the figurative bow.The controversy from a few years ago, involving the publication of the index cards comprising the first draft of the unfinished The Original of Laura, is different than the impending ado over releasing the poem from the novel Pale Fire by itself. One wasn't even a finished piece of writing, something that had existed as reed thin sketches that might later be fleshed into a work worthy of Nabokov's esteemed reputation.

I was among those argued for the destruction of the "manuscript", such as it was; I suspected that the endeavor was to compel us to further stress our credit limits and credibility in the same instance, to make money on slim offerings and, indeed, to see the Nabokov faithful fawn and fall over themselves raising the skeletal notes to absurd levels of desperate praise. The issue was that I am generally against the posthumous publication of rough drafts by famous writers; I generally assume that there is a good reason why the works weren't published in the author's life time. A good writer would know when they 're writing with less than a full tank of gas. An interest in an unpublished manucript is warrented, I think, provided that the tome is, more or less, a complete work , or in a state of near-completion; though lacking the fnal grace notes a note late writer might have provided, the finessing that creates the signature tone, it remains a fairer idea in comparing the posthumous publication with the ouvre that came was produced during an author's productive years. The Original of Laura, though, is rather too skeletal an artifact . Considering a finished work, as a few critics have done, borders on literary necrophilia.

The new issue is something different, as the poem in Pale Fire, titled "Pale Fire", is a strong work on it's own terms, separate from the meta-narrative that surrounds it. It highlights the writer's brilliance with English--the flowing musicality, the lyric wordplay, the seduction of the senses that gives lust and obsession a rationale, a heartbeat. No one, I suspect , would be embarrassed by reading the poem as a stand alone object. I think this could the start of a interest exercise in meta-texting; Kinbote's annotations to the fictional Shade's epic are themselves a poetics based on the assumptions of a inquisitor who's credentials , it turns out, are fictional, and that the whole novel turns out to be a a tightly knot of considerations premised, it seems, on what the commentator needed to exorcise. The poem published by itself could be reinterpreted by a generation of new critics intrigued with the prospect of reviving a form of Freudian criticism, investigating ideas on the supposition that Nabokov was engaging issues he wasn't aware of on the waking level. And it's not as if the original novel is being replaced by the unchained poem--it will be available as long as readers care about how beautiful, sly, musical, sexy, and hilarious prose can be .

1 comment:

  1. mmmm - publishing the poem alone seems to miss the point of the novel though. The novel leads with the poem in its entirety - it is beautiful in places, always smart, often hilarious - but ultimately a farce...the action of the novel concludes with the posthumous fate of Shade's poem, so I guess there is something meta meta happening here. Seems like profit is the real motive...


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