Himadri, the Argumentative Old Git, wants more confessional writing on book blogs: “why don’t you write a post about a passage from your reading that is of particular significance to you, and explain why it is significant?” Because it’s none of your business, that’s why – I mean, sure, how about this.
A., Baron, Oswin Affenpin, last Baron of Aff, a puny traitor, 286.
Acht, Iris, celebrated actress, d. 1888, a passionate and powerful woman, favorite of Thurgus the Third (q.v.), 130. [I’ll skip the rest of this entry]
Alfin, King, surnamed The Vague, 1873-1918, reigned from 1900; K.’s father; a kind, gentle, absent-minded monarch, mainly interested in automobiles, flying machines, motorboats and, at one time, seashells; killed in airplane accident, 71.
Andronnikov and Niagarin, two Soviet experts in quest of a buried treasure, 130, 681, 741; see Crown Jewels.
I am, of course, copying out the beginning of the Index at the end of Vladimir Nabokov’s Pale Fire (1962). Should a novel have an index? The numbers refer to the line numbers of S.’s poem and K.’s commentary on it. Nabokov's novel, not straightforward to begin with, seems to have ended yet here are nine more pages. What does one do with it? Some people read it. I did, twenty-five years ago. Now, how to read it. I will follow the directions, this time at least.
Crown Jewels, 130, 681; see Hiding Place.
One of the directions, at least, since I could also turn to line 130 or line 681 or line 741. A good reader should do that sometime, but for now I will stay in the index.
Hiding Place, potaynik, (q.v.).
Potaynik, taynik (q.v.).
Taynik, Russ., secret place; see Crown Jewels.
All right, you got me. But I am not done yet. I can go back to the relevant lines, or take another stab at the Index. This looks familiar:
Niagarin and Andronnikov, two Soviet “experts” still in quest of a buried treasure, 130, 681, 741; see Crown Jewels.
And then there is one more entry I will omit since it contains the solution to the puzzle of where the Crown Jewels are hidden, or one of the solutions.
All works of art are puzzles. Nabokov is merely unusually direct and specific about the kind of puzzle he has created, but every text is a code that assumes a set of rules and methods for decipherment. Some of these shared rules fall in the categories of “language” and “reading,” but otherwise the types and meaning of the puzzles vary endlessly. The greatest writers invent their own puzzles. “Puzzle” has now become a metaphor, I admit.
To squeeze the metaphor, we all make a start on each literary jigsaw puzzle, but the best ones are so complex that we rarely finish them, or when we do there are pieces left over, suggesting that if I combined the pieces differently I would see another picture. I am amazed how many readers assemble a portion of the border and then plop the box on top of the mound of pieces – look, I have finished the puzzle, isn’t it beautiful – but that is another story.
Anyway, this was all revelatory, this index of clues and paradoxes. “Flatman, Thomas, 1637-88, English poet, scholar and miniaturist, not known to old fraud, 894” for example – this is an obscure puzzle, but a good one. One of the neatest tricks is how the last line of the index is effective as the last line of the novel.
Someday I will rewrite this post and substitute “magic tricks” for “puzzles” (this is from Kinbote's Foreward):
Shade’s poem is, indeed, that sudden flourish of magic: my gray-haired friend, my beloved old conjuror, put a pack of index cards in his hat – and shook out a poem.