you don’t understand pale fire

Just about a month ago, when I was out of the country, I got a voice-mail from an old friend, Mo Cohen, who offered to show me a new Nabokovian objet d’art that is likely to touch off the next big Nabokov controversy. One that takes us deeper into the heart of the work of perhaps the greatest novelist of the past century than the dispute over Laura did. And one that’s similar to the Laura affair in that it once again tempts us into divining a dead author’s intentions. I’d met Mo years ago on the mean streets of SoHo (when he was running the lamented Spring Street Books) and knew that he now ran a distinguished art-book publishing house called Gingko Press on the West Coast. He said he wanted to send me something, an object, an icon of sorts. A black-bound mock-up of a stand-alone edition of the poem “Pale Fire,” the 999-line centerpiece of Nabokov’s novel Pale Fire, an edition that he and Manhattan artist Jean Holabird intended to publish this November. I realized as he described this unique object, part book, part artwork, part literary manifesto, that he was talking about something more than some coffee-table-deluxe-edition-type thing. With the publication of “Pale Fire” as a stand-alone poem, Mo was throwing down the gauntlet, challenging the world’s most avid Nabokov readers and critics, telling them that for 50 years, most of them had gotten a central aspect of, arguably, his greatest work flat wrong.

more from Ron Rosenbaum at Slate here.