My Commentary: Pale Fire

Careful now.

The problem with Pale Fire is that it isn’t worth the initial read. “You cannot read, you can only reread,” said its author once, and that might be true, but at least with Lolita I was able to enjoy the read before I reread. Not so, with Pale Fire. I only got to about the halfway mark before I became so distracted and frustrated that not even the future pleasure of rereading Nabokov could haul me over the finishing line. This is not to say that I hated it, (I loved the bits about Disa and the King’s non-love dream-love for her), it is to say that, whenever not in Zembla, I tended to enjoy Pale Fire even less than Pnin might have. I think the builders outside my moonlit window have turned a radio on.

Perhaps a rereading of Pale Fire would, like for Kinbote, clear the “red hot mist of disappointment from my eyes”; but unfortunately one cannot reread what one has not read.

A syllogism: To reread something you must have read it.

I didn’t read it; so I can’t have reread it.

In order to write this, I didn’t have to finish the novel. Maybe I would have been able to finish it, if I had only trusted dear old Kinbote when he said to me that the best way to read the poem of Pale Fire in Pale Fire, was by reading the notes first, and not the poem. In order to write this, I stress, I didn’t have to finish the novel. I gave up on the novel after, “a rather handsomely drawn plan of the chambers, terraces, bastions and pleasure grounds of the Onhava Palace,” and after this exact point whatever knowledge I have of the book is entirely the result of my takings from literary-trawler-types. Andrew Ferguson’s Mirror World Minor World, David Galef’s The Self-Annihilating Artists of Pale Fire, John Haegert’s The Author as Reader as Nabokov: Text and Pretext in Pale Fire, Maurice Couturier’s Nabokov’s “Pale Fire” or The Purloined Poem, and Mary McCarthy’s Bolt from the Blue; I am totally reliant on the analysis of these; of those who have read and reread and who can see the self-indulgent cross-references going on between lines 47, 62, and 691, and then back again, which apparently tells us who the King is. Bah! Why should I care who the King is? Like a Heraclitean river, the only point of Pale Fire is that it is never the same twice, never even the same for the same reader, so it is impossible to reread anyway. And I don’t care enough to find the crown jewels either. They were boring. I’m not lying, although I suppose that’s exactly what someone who did find the crown jewels would say. How can I convince you? I can’t even swear it on God, because even that flirts on the brink of falsification.

Nabokov once said that his characters were galley slaves… well, it was I, the reader, who felt the chains this time, and like clumsy Ophelia I opted for the easy way out. This time Nabokov did not invite me into his novel with his usual grace, but instead told me to stand outside and marvel in at his supreme act of authorship from the cheap seats. So I refused, and I refuse to look up what “grimpen” means as well.

The saving grace of Pale Fire is, of course, the actual poem, which I read with great interest. Never again will I be able to think about Chapman’s Homer without thinking also of a home run by a Boston Red Sox player called Chapman. Other than that, though, the only thing I found boyishly pleasing was this…

A syllogism: “other men die; but I

Am not another; therefore, I’ll not die”

I must be careful not to let the shady character of Vivian Darkbloom get too much of a hold on me, because it always ends in failure to try and emulate from a position of love, just as it does when one tries to showcase love through emulation… my, just how awful is this literary steinmann? I feel the need to run away from Pale Fire and go to the cinema to watch Blade Runner 2… I’ve heard it’s awful, however, and doesn’t have enough fight scenes…


I met a Sexton once, who told me:

Nabokov’s Index cards have here fallen into slack,

The only saving Grace a lost Kingdom from above.

What thoughts I have of you tonight, and what thoughts I lack,

There is no radio, only the builders push and shove.

He kept the Knack, but turned to Quack,



Nabokov has pushed me, without a parachute, from his waxwing plane. I have slipped through at the centre of it all, at Lochan Neck, into death-wish madness. I know nothing. I think nothing. Adieu. I shall write no more blog posts. Please consider this grey space. Enough of this. Exit Jack.

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