Artistically caged

It is funny and weird that I stumbled across someone who is currently doing the same master’s degree as I did in 2010—same class, same tutor. Of course, it had me reminiscing about that time. But what bothers me the most about all that is realising how fast ten years can pass and how soon I could be 50 without rereading the books I always wanted or writing the stories I still need to tell. Accomplishing a blog at Goldsmiths’ library every Saturday wasn’t just any accomplishment, nor was it just an activity for disciplinary purposes. I did it to vent because I was no longer an undergraduate, not to mention a postgraduate. Completing four years of university doesn’t mean that you’re all grown up and ready for any predicament that gets tossed in your path.

My favourite writer calls my generation “Generation Wuss” for a good reason. There was a time when the constant need for self-validation dictated my life to a point that it had to all fall apart for me to realise that reality was real. Suddenly, board games like Monopoly and Risk were no longer just board games; they had been templates of life. When I got angry, it was easy to blame romance novels, optimists, cheaters, and scammers for having activated a false hope syndrome. Seeing the world through that lens and falling on one’s face, as a result, is a wake-up call everyone should experience at least twice in life.

For a long time, I deluded myself as though there was no other way out of all that joyless nonsense that I didn’t understand. But in the back of my head, I knew that my degrees would amount to nothing and that my art was solely for my own sanity and my readers’ three-minute dose of entertainment. Still, no matter how much of a millennial fuckup Ellis might think I am, I still wouldn’t have done anything different. I don’t know what would have become of me had I chosen a degree that didn’t define me. I probably would have dropped out, or I would’ve leapt off the edge much sooner. The whole intention of getting a degree was to connect, distract, and simply fuel the motivation to write and move forward with the 10-year redrafting process of an amateurish book.

After a long chat about consciousness the other week, I couldn’t stop thinking about Nabokov’s Pale Fire for a long time. Though I didn’t bring up the book in the conversation, it crossed my mind so often that I had to reread it. It was Ben W.’s favourite Nabokov book (probably my second or third favourite), and had he not mentioned it in class back in 2010, I probably would’ve never laid hands on that book. He thought it would change my mind about poetry; strangely, it did. I discovered my interest in epic poems and picked up books like Paradise Lost as I got obsessed with the 10-syllable rhythm. However, Pale Fire is considered a parody of epic poetry. Despite it all, there is the story of John Shade and his interestingly dark and artistic worldview. (Never mind Charles Kinbote’s intrusive commentary that borders on insanity.)

I was the shadow of the waxwing slain
By the false azure in the windowpane;
I was the smudge of ashen fluff – and I
Lived on, flew on, in the reflected sky.

There are stanzas in the book that could make you cry: How the death of a man’s daughter can paint his worldview black, with a few cracks here and there for some light. So you delve into poetry with the attempt to better understand the world you live in. What you’ll find is that you’re nothing but a shadow, for your name is John Shade.
And whatever you do, there is always some insane stalker watching your every move. Suppose when you steal someone’s fire, it won’t burn as strongly as you want it to.

What stayed with me after reading the book are these lines:

One opal cloudlet in an oval form
Reflects the rainbow of a thunderstorm
Which in a distant valley has been staged
For we are most artistically caged.”

We’re all chained to nature, no matter how hard we try to be superior to it. When looking at nature, how real does it appear to be? It could be a stage for all we know. But the truth is it’s vast, and we’re nothing but caged birds. The illusion of fiction and being an artist gives us silent satisfaction—a very important one.


I recommend reading the poem first without the commentary. Step into Shade’s world first. Then, reread it with the commentary but with a focus on Kinbote.

Besides, what is there not to like about the 10-rhythm?

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