Rereading Pale Fire: Literal and Poetic Readings

Yannicke Chupin, Université Paris 4 Sorbonne

This paper will tackle the "internal reader's process" in Pale Fire, a novel written by Vladimir Nabokov in 1962. It will focus on the character of Charles Kinbote, regarding his reading of the poem written by his neighbor, the American poet John Shade.

In the closing notes to Pale Fire, Kinbote informs his reader of his very first discovery and further readings of the manuscript he has coveted for so long. These pages in Pale Fire will be analyzed with a particular emphasis. The essay will focus on the nature of Kinbote's reading and re-readings and will do so by respectively comparing Kinbote's first reading and his further readings to two different and exemplifying modes of reading described by Marcel Proust in the last volume of In Remembrance of Things Past and in his Contre Ste Beuve.

Relying on a theoretical framework established by Roland Barthes, I am going to question the real nature of Kinbote's re-readings and wonder in which way Kinbote's first reading might be termed as purely literal whereas his further re-readings verge on the more poetical or "creative." The essay will tend to analyze to what extent Kinbote's re-reading might exemplify the principle of "creative reading" established by Barthes according to which:

La relecture (...) sauve le texte de la repetition (...) la multiplie dans son divers et son pluriel (...)

Si donc on relit le texte, c'est pour obtenir comme sous l'effet d'une drogue (celle du recommencement, de la différence), non le "vrai" texte, mais le texte pluriel.

(S/Z, 157)

Rereading a text saves a text from repetition.(...) It multiplies it in every extent as a plural object.

One rereads a text indeed in order to obtain -as though one were drugged (a drug for difference), not the "real" text but the plural text.

My analysis will thus serve to demonstrate to which extent Kinbote's re-reading could be considered as a creative act that does not endlessly repeat the delusion but on the contrary renews and multiplies the poetic meaning of the text. I will analyse how the example of Kinbote as a reader exemplifies the extreme Barthes principle, according to which, in every text, only does the reader speak.

Barthes, Roland. S/Z. Paris : Seuil, "Points Essais ", 1970.
Nabokov, Vladimir. Pale Fire.Harmondsworth, Penguin Books, 1962.
Proust, Marcel. A La Recherche du Temps Perdu. Paris: Gallimard, 1922.
Proust, Marcel. "Le Balzac de M Guermantes" in Contre Ste Beuve. Paris : Gallimard (collection Folio), 1954.