PRESENTATION: The Possible Worlds of Pale Fire

July 3rd, 2013 § 0 comments

Abstract: Arguably the greatest debate in Pale Fire scholarship has been the problem of the internal authorship of the poem and commentary. The proposed solutions to this puzzle range from either John Shade or Charles Kinbote as the author of the entire text to more recent models involving influences from the afterlife proposed by Brian Boyd and René Alladaye. Nabokov’s own responses to the indeterminate nature of the authorship suggest an unclear position as he posits two conflicting opinions in different interviews, thus denying the traditional authorized single solution often associated with many of his other works. The literature on the internal authorship of Pale Fire has focused on using these fractures to propose a solution, this paper instead analyses the faultlines in the narrative world as sites of indeterminacy. Is there a limit to the number of characters we can claim as author? Where are the places at which this indeterminacy flourishes? These internal debates can be formally analysed by use of Possible Worlds Theory, introduced to literary studies by Thomas Pavel and Lubomír Doležel and more recently expanded by Marie-Laure Ryan, who, in Possible Worlds, Artificial Intelligence, and Narrative Theory suggests Pale Fire represents a destabilised Textual Actual World, whereby the reader is required to reconstruct the narrative’s internal consistency from what little concrete information we can garner from the text. Possible Worlds Theory formalizes the worlds in which the narrative works and can demonstrate the ontological dissonance in Kinbote’s assertions throughout the commentary which have led to many hypotheses regarding the novel’s content. Through this theoretical approach, the worlds of Pale Fire’s potential authorship can be analysed with regards to their stability. The method demonstrates the extent to which authorship attribution can be justified and why there will be no definitive solution emerging in forthcoming Nabokov scholarship.

Forthcoming ”The Possible Worlds of Pale Fire.” Indeterminacy in Nabokov Panel. MLA. January 2014. Chicago

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