Interesting analysis of the process of literary creation regarding "Pale fire", by Nabokov... "The poet ingests life and produces a poem, a “sudden flourish of magic.”"
By Katy Waldman
in The New Yorker
I started writing this essay in order to understand what fiction is made out of. Then something happened to change my thinking. Susan Choi’s “Trust Exercise” and the Question of Appropriating Other People’s Lives as Fiction
One of literature’s most striking descriptions of the creative process can be found in Vladimir Nabokov’s novel “Pale Fire.” An academic, Professor Kinbote, recalls standing on a terrace with the poet John Shade. Shade, he says, is soaking in the view: “perceiving and transforming the world, taking it in and taking it apart, re-combining its elements in the very process of storing them up so as to produce at some unspecified date an organic miracle, a fusion of image and music, a line of verse.” The moment reminds Kinbote of one from his childhood, when he watched “a conjurer . . . quietly consuming a vanilla ice.”
Nabokov disliked the idea that others would search his writing for glimpses of his personal life. In a 1944 biography of Nikolai Gogol, he stated his disdain for “the morbid inclination we have to derive satisfaction from the fact (generally false and always irrelevant) that a work of art is traceable to a ‘true story.’ ” Novels, Nabokov felt, were best regarded as the ex-nihilo dreams of their creators.
The passage from “Pale Fire,” though, complicates that picture. Here, art does not arise ex nihilo; rather, it is reconstituted from the view from the balcony. Reality and fantasy seem to commingle in Shade, who melts together, in Kinbote’s mind, with the conjurer, appearing hazily out of the past. The poet ingests life and produces a poem, a “sudden flourish of magic.”