Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0003077, Mon, 27 Apr 1998 15:29:26 -0700

Comment on Roger Shattuck on LOLITA, the novel. (fwd)
From: Brad Buchsbaum <brad@petlab.mssm.edu>

I think the Roger Shattuck article raised some interesting points about
LOLITA and the "Art for Art's sake" doctrine in general. In his view,
Lolita escapes the charge of amorality because Humbert Humbert is
punished in the end. On the other hand, Tarantino's PULP FICTION is
denounced because gratuitous murders with impunity. The killer's are,
moreover, portrayed as "cool" and have droll things to say as
they perpetrate the most gruesome crimes.

Nevertheless, if "Art for Art's sake" is to be taken seriously, artistic
representation should be evaluated independently of its moral context.
In other words, if a murder is portrayed in a work of art, the *reason*
for the murder should not in any way affect the work's aesthetic
reception. And yet it does. Clearly, there is no such thing as a
purely aesthetic sensibility when the subject matter is fundamentally
moral in nature (as opposed to, say, abstract art where there may not
be any subject matter beyond the visual experience).

Thus, there seem to be some definite rules for the portrayal of murder
in art. It must be accompanied by a reason and/or justification--i.e.
murder as heroism, murder for ideology, murder for revenge ("Lolita"),
murder for vanity ("Despair"), murder as fate (Oedipas)--and, if this
reason is not deemed morally justifiable ("Crime and Punishment",
"The Stranger"), there is inevitably some kind of punishment. The point
being that the pure act of murder, is, in itself, morally *and* aesthetically
repugnant. Only when murder (as art) is carried aloft by the talons of
morality does it transcend its inherent ugliness.

But what about PULP FICTION? Does "Pulp Fiction", a movie which
presents murder, as it were, for the sake of murder: viz. meaningless,
unjustifiable, glib murder--does this movie afford "aesthetic bliss"?
Would Oscar Wilde have found it beautiful? And if not, for what reason?
Because it is amoral?

Brad Buchsbaum