Stochastic Bookmark

abstruse unfinished commentary

about correspondence


Eternal Return

Prompted by Brodsky's (and one of my fellow alumnus') high praise of Andrei Platonov, I returned to his short stories in The Return (having set it aside after a so-so early story). The title story vindicates the judgment that Platonov's stories can compare to the best of Joyce's Dubliners, and I'm eager to test the theory that he reversed Joyce's order of composition by taking up the precursor novel The Foundation Pit. But the ancillary material has piqued my interest in another novella as a possible referent in a problematic passage of Nabokov's Pale Fire, actually Shade's "Pale Fire", at the end of the shaving stanzas of Canto IV:

And while the safety blade with scrape and screak
Travels along the country of my cheek,
Cars on the highway pass, and up the steep
Incline big trucks around my jawbone creep.
And now a silent liner docks, and now
Sunglassers tour Beirut, and now I plough
Old Zembla's fields where my gray stubble grows,
And slaves make hay between my mouth and nose.

Man's life as commentary to abstruse
Unfinished poem.
Note for further use.

The last bit of the top stanza is a seemingly unprepared departure from the travelling metaphors employed through the rest of it (though Kinbote's commentary floats a related draft for a prior stanza: "England, where poets flew the highest, now / Wants them to plod and Pegasus to plow"); the couplet following, handing the commentator the last word, is a similarly abrupt shift. But perhaps this conclusion alludes to Platonov's 1931 Vprok i.e. "For Future Use", a satirical tour of Soviet agricultural collectivization, wherein amongst the anecdotes a kolkhoz is constructing an electrical sun. This was the novella that prompted Stalin, with his own commentary marginally inscribed for guidance ("Talented, but a bastard"), to first set the State Critical Literary apparatus (and the rest of the apparatus as well) upon Platonov. It's a slender thread to hang upon, but Nabokov does spin fine webs ...


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