A Contrapuntal Theme

by Steven H. Cullinane on March 5, 2001

In Nabokov's Pale Fire (1962) a poet, John Shade, has a vision during a near-death experience. He later reads an article about a woman who had the same near-death vision, of a "tall white fountain." He contacts the article's author, hoping to find out more about this evidence of life after death, but finds that the word "fountain" was a misprint. Shade writes:

He took his article from a steel file:
"It's accurate. I have not changed her style.
There's one misprint--not that it matters much:
Mountain, not fountain. The majestic touch."

Life Everlasting--based on a misprint!
I mused as I drove homeward: take the hint,
And stop investigating my abyss?
But all at once it dawned on me that this
Was the real point, the contrapuntal theme:
Just this: not text, but texture; not the dream
But topsy-turvical coincidence,
Not flimsy nonsense, but a web of sense,
Yes! It sufficed that I in life could find
Some kind of link-and-bobolink, some kind
Of correlated pattern in the game....

The Maker's Gift

by Steven H. Cullinane on December 10, 1990

The Mind of The Maker
by Dorothy Sayers,
first published in 1941
(Harper & Row paperback, 1987)

The Gift
by Vladimir Nabokov, written in 1935-1937, first published in 1952
(Popular Library paperback, 1963)

Page 171 ---------------------------
...the God's-eye of the author...

...the procession of the ghost from the son.

Page 349 ---------------------------
...one complete and free eye, which can simultaneously see in all directions...

Strange -- I used to think before that Yasha was always near me, that I had learned to communicate with ghosts....

Page 172 ---------------------------
...complicated states of mind or detailed bulletins of information which it would strain the combined resources of a Henry James and a Gibbon to compress into a paragraph.
Page 350 ---------------------------
Funny that I have thought of death all my life, and if I have lived, have lived only in the margin of a book I have never been able to read.
Page 173 ---------------------------
Gnostic also is the preposterous stage-direction at the end of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Drama of Exile...
The stars shine on brightly while ADAM and EVE pursue their way into the far wilderness. There is a sound through the silence, as of the falling tears of an angel.
"How much noise," inquires G. K. Chesterton with brutal common sense, "is made by an angel's tears? Is it a sound of emptied buckets, or of mountain cataracts?"
Page 351 ---------------------------
The following day he died, but before that he had a moment of lucidity, complaining of pains and then saying (it was darkish in the room because of the lowered blinds): "What nonsense. Of course there is nothing afterwards." He sighed, listened to the trickling and drumming outside the window and repeated with extreme distinctness: "There is nothing. It is as clear as the fact that it is raining." And meanwhile outside the spring sun was playing on the roof tiles, the sky was dreamy and cloudless, the tenant upstairs was watering the flowers on the edge of her balcony, and the water trickled down with a drumming sound.
Pages 174 - 175 --------------------
Take the case of In Memoriam...
The poem should have been a cry above the conquered years. It might well have been that if the poet could have said sharply at the end of it, as a pure piece of dogma, "I've forgotten every feature of the man's face: I know God holds him alive."
Pages 352 - 354 --------------------
Fyodor noticed that he was unable to keep his thoughts on the image of the man who had just been reduced to ashes.... but gradually... he felt that all this skein of random thoughts, like everything else... was but the reverse side of a magnificent fabric, on the front of which there gradually formed and became alive images invisible to him.
Commonsense will interrupt me at this point to remark that a further intensification of such fancies may lead to stark madness. But this is only true when the morbid exaggeration of such fancies is not linked up with a creative artist's cool and deliberate work. A madman is reluctant to look at himself in a mirror because the face he sees is not his own; his personality is beheaded; that of the artist is increased.
V. Nabokov -- The Art of Literature and Commonsense

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