Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0004538, Wed, 3 Nov 1999 16:41:53 -0800

Re: Hairy Hermpahrodite Explained (with tongue-in-cheek)x
"Finally, I did achieve an hour's slumber--from which I was aroused by
gratuitous and horribly exhausting congress with a small hairy
hermaphrodite, a total stranger." (LOLITA, Part One, Chapter 27)

I've been focussing on this passage in conjunction with a chapter I'm
writing on envisioning Humbert as a perverted version of "real" artists
like Godunov-Cherdyntsev. The reader's eyes tend to gravitate towards that
hairy hermaphrodite, but lets expand our scope outwards in both directions
first. We can read this sentence as a metapoetic nightmare. Gratuitous
and stranger both have metapoetic resonance. Etymologically, we can link
"gratuitous" (parodically, antonymically) to the theme of gratitude
(blagodarnost') that is so central to The Gift. (Dollinin's recent zametki
is a good place to start). (Whom should Humbert thank for this dream?) The
stranger can be placed in the line of estrangement that is, again, so
central to The Gift. (The word strange is often used in The Gift to refer
to the working of fate. It is often translated as queer, which is
completely appropriate and should eventually earn Nabokov a place as a
paradoxical forerunner not only of postmodernism but also of queer
studies.) Congress is a sexual reference operating on an obvious and
punning level (as do many words beginning with these three letters in all
of Nabokov's English fiction -- the clue is dropped in his diatribe against
Rowe (to whom, in my opinion, many apologies are owed)). The hairy
hermpaphrodite is Humbert's version of his muse, Aphrodite's flowing hair
here reduced to a crude, exclusively physical sexual organ (of ambiguous
gender, as befits Humbert's character). In other words, a metapoetic
primal scene.

E. Naiman