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Nabokov Studies 5 (1998/1999) FORUM RESPONSE BRIAN BOYD (Auckland) Reflections on Narcissus Kevin Ohi's correcter-than-thou critique of my interpretations of Pale Fire charges me with being homophobic in my evaluation of Kinbote and of overlooking, in my anxiety to denounce Kinbote for his narcissism, the strong and inevitable element of narcissism in Shade's poem as well as in Kinbote's commentary.1 For all its doggedness, the case he makes in his private prosecution fails on many levels. First, I use neither the word nor the concept of narcissism in the pieces he tries to impugn, the Pale Fire chapter in Vladimir Nabokov: The American Years, or "Shade and Shape in Pale Fire."2 Ohi berates me for making the clichéd association of homosexuality and narcissism, and for the homophobia that this supposedly bespeaks, yet it is only he who has introduced this association into the discussion, intoning the word "narcissism" with dreary insistence, up to forty times within three paragraphs. Unlike Ohi I have never used the term in association with homosexuality, in print or in speech, although I have used it of the heterosexual relationship of Van and Ada Veen.3 Second, my evaluation of Kinbote focuses not on his homosexuality but on his egotism. The main discussion of the moral opposition between Kinbote and Shade in my recent Nabokov's Pale Fire: The Magic of Artistic Discovery4 begins with Kinbote's self-obsessed behavior as editor, which it sets against Shade's search for self-transcendence as a poet, and does not refer at all to Kinbote's sexual orientation.5 1. "Narcissism and Queer Reading in Pale Fire," Nabokov Studies 5 (1998/99), 153-78. 2. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991 and Nabokov Studies 4 (1997), 173-224. 3. In, for instance, VNAY 548. 4. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1999, 70-74. 5. Ohi also reproves me for homophobia in my reference to Kinbote's "rampant" homosexuality, yet I have written of Van and Ada Veen's "rampant" 180 Nabokov Studies Third, Ohi assumes that 7 assume an equation between moral and esthetic value. Not at all; what is interesting is precisely that Nabokov has designed Kinbote's shortcomings in response to a work of art so that in this case they also represent, in vividly unexpected and comically memorable fashion, certain moral failures. Fourth, in Ohi's view I am only out to castigate Kinbote, to expel and demonize him, and can see no similarity between Kinbote and Shade. Yet, as I stress, the whole novel hinges on what is similar in the experiences of loss with which Kinbote and Shade both try to cope, in their very different ways, and on Kinbote's speaking in a sense for us all, his representing an irony in life that literature has never before expressed so luminously. In Nabokov's Pale Fire, I end the discussion of the contrast between Shade and Kinbote and poem and commentary on which Pale Fire pivots in this way: [J]ust as Shakespeare, in the words of A. D. Nuttall, "likes to take a stereotype and then work against it"6—when for instance he makes Prince Hal rebel against the gravity of his father's age and authority by spending his time not so much with other wild youths as with a man older than his father and grave only in girth—so Nabokov takes the expected opposition of poetry and scholarship and inverts it. Instead of offering us a turbulent poet and a dry, methodical scholar, he presents us with a poet who is controlled, serene, happily homely, rather realistic, somewhat prosaic, almost static, and a scholar who is a proud romantic exile, a natural storyteller full of vivid, extravagant invention, who careens chaotically from ecstasy to despair. Only one term links these two stark opposites: loss. Shade composes his poem because he has lost his daughter, Kinbote compiles his commentary because he has lost what he looks back at as a kingdom beyond the seas. Shade confronts his grief with courage, dignity and artistry, facing up to the real but probing in imagination for a way beyond it. Kinbote responds with fantasy...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1548-9965
Print ISSN
1080-1219
Pages
pp. 179-183
Launched on MUSE
2010-10-13
Open Access
No
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