Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Quote of the Day, 8/1/06

With a decided "thunk!" a package of books landed on my porch this afternoon. I'm excited to see my replacement copy of Stephen King's On Writing, which I'll quote from tomorrow in honor of my trip to see him read tomorrow evening. But also, I forgot that I ordered a replacement copy of Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov.

Today's quote is from Pale Fire, but first, a little explanation and a book recommendation. Pale Fire is an extraordinary novel in that you might not realize it is a novel. It is set up as a 999 line poem, written by a Robert-Frost-like poet named John Shade just prior to his death; there is a forward to introduce the poem, and substantial commentary after the poem. Note that in my copy, the forward is 17 pages, the poem is 47 pages, and the commentary is 229 pages. There is also a several-page index at the back.

Here is where it gets very cool -- the forward, index and substantial commentary are in the voice of the poem's editor, a man who knew the poet briefly, and who believes that the poem was actually written about his own experiences ... as the exiled king of Zembla. He annotates the poem completely in his own delusional context. It is a lot of fun to read, though not nearly light enough to be what I'd call a good "airplane/beach book."

The quote is from the forward, when you are not yet sure that the person voicing this forward is nuts. In this passage, the editor is commenting on his respect for the poet:
I am looking at him. I am witnessing a unique physiological phenomenon: John Shade perceiving and transforming the world, taking it in and taking it apart, re-combining its elements in the very process of storing them up so as to produce at some unspecified date an organic miracle, a fusion of image and music, a line of verse.

Then the editor goes on:
Let me state that without my notes Shade's text simply has no human reality at all since the human reality of such a poem as his... has to depend entirely on the reality of its author and his surroundings, attachments and so forth, a reality that only my notes can provide. To this statement my dear poet would probably not have subscribed, but, for better or for worse, it is the commentator who has the last word.
Check this book out if you get a chance. As I said, it's good fun!

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