NABOKV-L post 0026572, Tue, 27 Oct 2015 07:09:29 -0700

Re: L*lita and TW (Trigger Warnings)
Hi all,

I would like to thank everyone for their consideration when I emailed this listserv a few years back about Dolores and her "star men" - there wasn't much of a response to my inquiry about possible comics, but what response there was was very nice. I have been a very quiet enjoyer of the posts here, and quiet mainly because I am not primarily a Nabokov scholar.

I am speaking up now about "trigger warnings" because I feel that there are times when we should warn friends or students about potentially traumatic reading responses. I'm not sure I would go so far as to warn about racism or colonial issues, but certainly books which treat rape - especially the repeated violence that Dolores Haze experiences - are something that I often do warn people about when recommending good literature. This would include "Lolita," certain works by Ahmadou Kourouma, others by J. M. Coetzee, etc.

The reason I warn my friends - and why I would warn my students if I were including such a work in a course - is that I have read accounts online by real people who have been rape victims, and how reading certain scenes (in a novel, or reading someone else's account of their rape, etc.) can reawaken their trauma. In other words, reading "Lolita" or "Disgrace" or "The Suns of Independence" has the potential to seriously harm a rape victim by triggering flashbacks, depression, and possibly suicidal thoughts by reminding them of their rape.

In a class of thirty students, chances are that one of your students has been a victim. When I started college 15 years ago, the estimate of female victims in the United States was one in six. Today the estimate is one in four. As a student, I have read works by Nabokov, Kourouma, and Coetzee (and others who wrote about rape) in courses, and I think that even though I have not been a victim of rape, students deserve consideration when such texts are assigned.

As Janzy Mello so nicely put it, "Literature and Beauty are extremely dangerous testimonies and expressions of the human soul and the world of fantasy," and as such, we shouldn't shelf literature based on plot points - but I would hope that we would also consider that those plot points may also be harmful.

Kristina Sutherland

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