both in turn inspire
and even how Kinbote's experiences in New Wye
inform his delusions, he cannot definitively reconstruct Kinbote's past as
most he (and anyone) can
is that he "seems likely to be a Russian
who has lived until recently in Scandinavia"
and that he may have been forced
to flee the country and his university post after molesting a child (96). Nabokov
seems to have made it impossible for the reader to construct the "drab and unhappy
past" of Kinbote with any
of conviction, though it remains a palpable presence
behind the commentary. Though he certainly does not shy from revealing the depths
of Kinbote's despair ("Dear Jesus, do something"
Nabokov is more interested
in having us appreciate how Kinbote transmutes that pain into art by inventing the
dazzling otherworld of Zembla.
Shade's parodic treatment of the I.P.H. and Mrs. Z. makes it eminently clear,
though, that we ought not to literalize the otherworld, a vulgarization we can extend
to equating it solely with an afterlife, however eruditely aestheticized. And if we
should not abstract Pale Fire to a metaphysical treatise on life and afterlife-a
"spiritualistic case history" (226) in Kinbote's contemptuous words-neithershould
we reduce it to an aesthetic one on life and art. Home and exile, original and double,
self and other, "drab and unhappy past" and fantastic delusion are equally applicable
renderings of the divide between world and otherworld. If Brian Boyd's book on
Pale Fire makes the first of these literalizing mistakes by providing a supernatural
solution to the puzzles of the text, it does not necessarily make his argument "wrong."
As Boyd notes, many of Nabokov's stories and novels show an interest in "not just
the possibility of an afterlife but also the possibility of some communication between