This Zemblan pizza rezembles pizza, yet the meaty balls are not meaty sausage but date rolls, the peppers are dried mango, the parsley, green apple skin! The crust is a pancake, the sauce raspberry-strawberry and the cheese — oh, the cheese! — Moscarpone-frosting.
The pizzza is a vegetarian dessert, created by Erica Eller and Kayvon Ghashghai for the metaclass, in honor of vegetarian Dr. Charles Kinbote, who edited the poem “Pale Fire.” In the preface and commentary, Kinbote reveals more about himself, an eccentric, homosexual professor, and more about the colorful, gay king of Zembla, Charles the Beloved, than the writer of the poem, American writer John Francis Shade, whom Kinbote stalks and spies on. Kinbote hopes to impregnate Shade with his own history, which he hopes Shade will turn into great poetry.
Gradually we realize that king and Kinbote are the same and many other characters, like Gradus the assassin, are figments of his imagination. Both king and Kinbote may also be personalities of the mad professor V. Botkin or Botkine (an anagram of Kinbote). Some critics have argued that John Shade is also a figment of Kinbote’s deranged imagination. Others say Kinbote is an invention of the poet.
Such readers may interpret the book as they see fit and no one can stop them, but I am inclined to read these characters as real — real within the fictional realm, that is. (See how easily we get caught up arguing for the reality of fictional characters.) On the last page Kinbote, looking to future possibilities, hints, “I may assume other disguises, other forms . . . I may turn up yet, on another campus, as on old, happy, healthy, heterosexual Russian, a writer in exile.” The “heterosexual Russian, a writer in exile” is Vladimir Nabokov, the author of the metafictional novel Pale Fire, and all characters, obviously, are children of his brain, so what’s the use of arguing who invented who? If one or more of those characters eventually become the author, then the author “Nabokov” is also a fiction, a story told on fly leafs that his bears some rezemblance, nothing more, to the real guy who wrote in exile.
So, Pale Fire is Nabokov’s book? Well, no. Who can predict what prefaces and commentaries each reader will attach to the book? Discussing the novel in the metaclass, sometimes it seemed that we had all read different fictions. It is useless to argue where the truth absolutely lies, because each one filters story, event, and character through their own mad brains.
Who is real and what is fiction? The novel is full of rezemblances, mirrors, shades, and counterpoints. Novaya Zemlya or Zembla? King or Kinbote? Shade or Nabokov? Writer or reader? Shade’s poem reshapes — and of course distorts — his own story of loss. Kinbote’s commentary recreates Shade’s poem. We, the readers, rewrite poem, commentary and Nabokov’s novel as we read it. Everything, everything we read, everything we think, everything we experience, everything we eat, must pass through a fantastical mirror of our own personal language that recreates — and distorts.
Kinbote in his commentary suspects the title of the poem, “Pale Fire,” comes from a play by Shakespeare, but he cannot check because he has had to flee to a cabin in the woods without any books but a copy of Timon of Athens twice translated, once into Zemblan and then back again into English. Thus, he cannot recognize the title in the double translation he quotes: “The sun is a thief: she lures the sea / and robs it. The moon is a thief: he steals he silvery light from the sun. / The sun is a thief: it dissolves the moon.” This translation is but a pale reflection of Shakespeare: “The sun’s a thief and with his great attraction / Robs the vast sea: the moon’s an arrant thief, / And her pale fire she snatches from the sun: / The sea’s a thief whose liquid surge resolves / The moon into salt tears: the earth’s thief / That feeds and breeds by composture stolen / From general excrement: each thing’s a thief.”
Shakespeare’s line is but a shadow of what he wanted to write and what you read, whatever that is, is a distortion of what Shakespeare wrote. If “each thing’s a thief,” then you, dear reader, are the thief, you, yes you, the murderer of poets, the killer of authors, and once you have stolen this poem, book and blogpost, you will make of them things that bare a rezemblance, but are wholly new. It may not be a pizza, but it tastes great.
Nabokov, Vladimir. Pale Fire. New York: Vintage International, 1989.