Thursday, October 29, 2009

Chris has posted a blog entry on the poem Ulalume, by Edgar Allen Poe, which he persuasively argues is to Pale Fire what Annabel Lee is to Lolita. I'll have to read it now.

There was also an interesting discussion of the Latin phrase et in arcadia ego(even in Arcadia am I), which goes with a couple of paintings with Classical figures in a pastoral landscape standing around a grave with Death among them. So, even in world's of fantasy and beauty, death still is present. This is certainly something that N. was aware of, and he wrote his novels with this in mind. It certainly is the case with Pale Fire, where death is a constant threat in Zembla, in the personification of Gradus. Or Jack Grey, as he is known in the "real world".

Jared also noted something interesting; in the commentary, pg. 136 I think, Kinbote talks about the Thuleians and their dealings with the Zemblan king; apparently "Thule" is an antiquated name for an island made up by a crazy person(!). It's also what they would put on maps passed the point of the "known world". Very funny. And as N. once pointed out, the only difference between comic and cosmic is an s. So within the comic, it is possible for us to find that which is of cosmic importance.

And we than had a great impromptu presentation on The Vane Sisters, and the ultimate ghostly acroustic revelation: ICICLES BY CYNTHIA METER FROM ME SYBIL. Leave it to N.

And we have been given the assignment to artistically depict John Shade, given the knowlede that he resembles four people: Samuel Johnson, Judge Goldsworth, the recreation of early man(ie. Neanderthal) in the Extor museum, and the hag who dishes out potatoes in the cafeteria.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Shakespeare, as Gretchen Minton pointed out, was probably N.'s biggest cause of "anxiety of influence"(if one is going to talk like Harold Bloom). Really Shakespeare's probably every writer's biggest anxiety of influence, but what if N. wasn't inspired by Shakes, but by another Will? There is a poem by William Butler Yeats entitled A Poet to His Beloved, with a line that references "the pale fire of time." Or maybe N. , being the sneaky super-genius, knows this and had both Wills in mind for the title of his book?

I thought it was interesting how Chris, in his attempted deciphering of Hazel's transcribed letter groups, finds that a word that cogently comes out repeatedly is "atalanta". What is an atalanta? It is a butterfly, alternately known as the Red Admiral or Red Vanessa(one of Shade's terms of endearment for Sybill in the poem), the same butterfly that crosses Shade's and Kinbote's path before Shade is shot by Gradus--or Jack Grey?--. What duhya know?

And it has been discovered that the books "Amber to Zen" that Kinbote reads while staying in the Goldsworth's house are Forever Amber and The Prisoner of Zenda. The former what I refer to as 'trash novels'(and I would know because my mother reads a great many of them), the latter is one among many examples of the pulp fiction trope of a tiny European country that does not exist. From Zenda we have Ruritania, we have Oz, we have Freedonia from Duck Soup(apparently N. loved the Marx brothers, which I did not know)and we have Cagliostro from The Castle of Cagliostro, Hayao Miyazaki's first film as a director(a movie I happen to enjoy very much).

It was suggested that Kinbote, in his reading of 'pointless' books and developing a fantastical new reality out of them, is very much like Don Quixote. Now that certainly isn't implausible(N. stated in a couple of places that he thought Don Quixote was the greatest novel ever written). As a character I'd say that Kinbote maybe isnt' as charming or admirable as the Knight of the Sorrowful Face, but he certainly does have imagination.

It was also brought up that Disa, King Charles wife, "the Duchess of pain and moan", means "double" in Greek, as well as a particular genus of orchid. And Charles meets her when she is dressed as a dancing boy. Shades of Twelfth Night are we getting? Oh Willy Shakes, you are indeed inescapable!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

As always, much material was covered. Not the least of which the sheer number of Sibyls(meaning in Latin "prophetess")there are to be found. Not just in the work of N. (Sibyl Shade of course, but also Sibyl Vane, in a renowned short story entitled The Vane Sisters), but also throughout literary and mythological history: there is the Cumaen Sibyl, consulted by Aeneas before venturing into the underworld in The Aeneid. She spells out her divinations with leaves, which the wind is apt to scatter.

We have all been assigned the task of deciphering Hazel's letter groups, formed on the night of her interaction with the white light in the haunted barn, on page 188. "pada ata lane pad not ogo old wart alan ther tale feur far rant lant tal tol"

What is to be made out of this? What could resemble these clusters of words? A great many things, undoubtedly, since the name of the distant northern land properly is, according to Kinbote near the end of the commentary, Zembla-Land of Resemblances. It is not life, but it is an imitation of life, as all of N.'s work and all creative writing is. Being me, I was suddenly reminded of this trashy 1950's soap opera-type movie directed by Douglas Sirk entitled Imitation of Life. Huh-huh. Curioser and curioser.

And how the names of the Judge's daughters(whom Kinbote is doing a shitty job housesitting for) are named in alphabetical order from A to D. So are Charles Xavier's relatives--Alphin, Blenda, Charles, Disa. So this is where Kinbote got it from!

N. claimed to hate TS Eliot, and yet he has Hazel, in the poem Pale Fire, ask the meaning of three words: chtonic(having to do with the underworld), grimpen(a swamp or mire) and sempiturnal(divurging off from the eternal), all of which are to be found in The Four Quartets. Oh N. you tease!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Something which we have discovered is the meaning of a lemniscate, mentioned in Pale Fire in canto one of the poem. It is a figure -eight, at least that is how best I can describe it. I now know what a figure eight's proper name is. And, in seeing one as made by bicycle tires, Shade experiences something which a German philosopher named Behma(sic?) called "the signature of all things." All of this goes right over Kinbote's head. Why are we not suprised?

Another large thing that discussed is the imagination, and the role it plays in empathy and understanding and reasoning, perhaps even more so than direct experience. Stephan Crane hadn't been in battle(he was just a correspondent)yet he wrote The Red Badge of Courage. N. is also a firm believer in the superior power of the imagination--this is what enfuses so much of N.'s fictive universe that it must not be underestimated.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Class began with the recommendation from Mr. Sexson of a new novel entitled Generosity by Richard Powers. This title is probably the attribute that the poet of Pale Fire, John Shade, has in greatest abundance. And that which the commentator/critic/stalker Charles Kinbote(and do we pronounce the e or not?)has the least amount of.

The general consensus, at least at the beginning, is that Pale Fire is a daunting text. But, is it really? The main thing that it probably ends up really being about is this question: what do you(the reader) bring to the text? If you're Kinbote, whatever you damn-well please. Or, rather, you bring to it the story of revolution and attempted regicide and daring escape in Zembla, a distant Northern land for those who do not know. The poem may in fact be a eulogy for the death of the poet's daughter Hazel; but if you're the commentator than you have the last word!

And of course, Kinbote is what could be called an unreliable narrator, which we have had from at least when Henry James wrote The Turn of the Screw.

Apparently absolutely everybody is a thief(everything you think, say, do and so on you got from somebody else). And this is exactly what Pale Fire is concerned with. Its no accident that the line from Timon of Athens that gives it the title goes : "The moon is an arrant thief, and its pale fire it stealth from the sun." I intend to double check and make sure that quote is correct.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

We listened to a ten minute NPR segment on the 50th anniversary of Lolita, which was rather interesting, not the least because of the unintended humor of an interviewee named "Carol Tart". You'd think it was a name N. had come up with.

And, Jennie Lynn has proved in her latest blog that N. was rather influenced by Finnegans Wake, despite his assertions of dislike for it. Little children making a RAYNBOW... how oddly Joycean, and Nabokovian.

And we made up answers for the test on Thursday. We shall see what happens if McFate doesn't intervene.