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Nabokov’s Selling Out!

Hey everyone,

I hope that your week has been going well! My thesis is in… so I am not necessarily a basket case anymore. Hooray for that!

We started this Monday’s class by noting that next week, 4/10, we will be meeting at the JFK library from 2:30 to 4:30. Bring your love for Hemingway because they have some of the best Hemingway archives in the world… found this out from one of my most beloved professors in undergrad. I personally cannot wait to see them! Also everyone should be very excited to read Hemingway’s “A Very Short Story” which comes from his In Our Time collection, and its brilliant and lovely and all things wonderful. Before next class however, you should email Alex a 250-word summary of what you are considering doing your digital exhibition on. Good luck to all of you in finding interesting works to showcase.

Alex then went over a brief biography of Nabokov where we learned that he was born in St. Petersburg, his father was assassinated, and he moved to the U.S. at the very onset of WWII. He taught locally, and published Pale Fire in 1962. Alex (and Duncan White, by the way) failed to mention that Nabokov was also obsessed with butterflies, which I believe to be an incredibly telling influence in the production of Pale Fire. (Just thought I’d mention that).

Next, we discussed our own readings of the novel. The strategies we used, the order in which we read the sections (if we read it by sections at all). Alex pointed out that most of us hadn’t read the index even though he had specifically told us to read everything. I guess that some of our reading habits are just too difficult to break. We also decided that many of us were resistant readers because we had refused to read the novel the way in which Kimbote (or Nabokov) had told us to. I was very interested in our distinction between docile and resistant readership, and what that means especially in light of the history of the book. When we speak of the ways that title pages or covers are going to impact the way we read things are we speaking of docile readership? How are these things going to impact resistant readership then?

At the next part of class we split into groups to discuss the four sections of the novel. We each picked specific passages that we thought were reflective of the aims and decisions of the poem, and then shared them with our classmates. We discussed a number of interesting things, I had jotted down in my notes the way that Nabokov hated Freud but continually refers to him or references his theories e.g. when he has Kimboth fetishize the notecards upon which the fictional poem “Pale Fire” is written. (Duncan White later told us that he thought Nabokov doth protest too much in his resistance to Freud’s theories on the human psyche). We tried to solve the riddle of the italics, but again, as Duncan White noted later, the book seems to tempt the reader into this very trap of overreading. We examined the index which contained a self-referential, ever-repeating loop of entires—and from this we gathered that Pale Fire encourages a sort of textual assembly, but it is an assembly which does not make sense.

We then skyped with Duncan White who told us about his most recent project on Nabokov wherein he hopes to demystify his genius. In regards to our interests, his book sounds like it acts as a historicist insertion that seeks to provide contextual clues as to why Nabokov wrote Pale Fire when he did. White noted that Nabokov was constantly struggling against his own marketable value, and might have written Pale Fire in response to Lolita’s runaway success. One metaphor I thought particularly funny was when White noted that “like a rock band, Nabokov did not want to sell out”. We discussed the various ways in which Pale Fire seems to contain an anxiety about a madman Kimbote taking over our text. Nabokov, preceeding Barthes, still seems to have believed in the control of the author, although death appears to Nabokov as being principle threat. Lastly, White asked us if we felt that the poem was actually a good poem, which I find to be a fascinating question because I don’t actually believe it is. However, we feel about that though, White told us that “Pale Fire” the poem had been published in the past sans its commentary—which seems to be completely missing the point of the whole exercise.

For the last period of class, we worked on annotating the first few paragraphs of the forward in the novel. For next class, we are to have annotated and commented upon the other person’s annotations that we received when it was passed back randomly. I hope everyone got interesting annotations! See you all at JFK!