Friday, January 20, 2012
Nabokov's Pale Fire may be even better than his Lolita. A total put-on of a work—consisting of a poem by one "John Shade" and a foreword and commentary by Charles Kinbote—Pale Fire almost immediately reveals itself to be a farce, with the foreword so self serving on Kinbote's part that even the praise he lavishes upon his "dear" friend John is, on some level, all about him. The poem itself is neglected, a beautifully structured poem of unabashedly prosaic subject matter, speculating on life by way of the sights and sounds immediately at the poet's disposal. This style was anachronistic even when Nabokov published the book, but there's something charming about "Shade's" creation. That only makes Kinbote's resultant breakdown of the poem all the more hilarious. Vividly skewering the ability of critics to read anything in a work of art, especially if it conforms to some preconceived notion they have going into a piece, the notes flagrantly ignore the sensual (in the literal sense) quality of the poem to speculate about Shade's supposed allusions to the country of Zembla, which Kinbote may or may not have ruled before being deposed. There's not a single page of these notes that didn't make me laugh, even when it delved into darker realms of black comedy. Nabokov loved his pranks and jokes, and Pale Fire is his most immaculately crafted gag.