What if we awake one day, all of us, and find ourselves utterly unable to read? (Nabokov’s Pale Fire)

We are absurdly accustomed to the miracle of a few written signs being able to contain immortal imagery, involutions of thought, new worlds with live people, speaking, weeping, laughing. We take it for granted so simply that in a sense, by the very act of brutish routine acceptance, we undo the work of the ages, the history of the gradual elaboration of poetical description and construction, from the treeman to Browning, from the caveman to Keats. What if we awake one day, all of us, and find ourselves utterly unable to read? I wish you to gasp not only at what you read but at the miracle of its being readable (so I used to tell my students). Although I am capable, through long dabbling in blue magic, of imitating any prose in the world (but singularly enough not verse – I am a miserable rhymester), I do not consider myself a true artist, save in one matter: I can do what only a true artist can do – pounce upon the forgotten butterfly of revelation, wean myself abruptly from the habit of things, see the web of the world, and the warp and the weft of that web.

From Vladimir Nabokov’s novel Pale Fire.

2 thoughts on “What if we awake one day, all of us, and find ourselves utterly unable to read? (Nabokov’s Pale Fire)”

  1. I can’t express myself in anything but words: i can’t understand paintings, i omly listen to music with words to feel anything. It’s the only art i’ve ever known, and if thatwas taken from me, it would be like another bridge between the flesh i live in and who i really am was burnt. It would be like madness, sa painful and awful and so true and so unfair…

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