Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0002669, Wed, 24 Dec 1997 16:38:58 -0800

MLA97 abstracts for Pifer VN Panel (fwd)
EDITOR's NOTE. AT present, only the following abstract is available
for the "Lolita in Context" VN session 30 Dec. 10:15-11:30

Robert Barringer
"Imagine Me": The Myth of the American Road in Lolita

My essay argues that Lolita is a specifically American novel, and
that its Americanism manifests itself primarily in the road sections of
the novel. Playing on the myths of Manifest Destiny, unending horizons,
and escape from authority, Nabokov places Lolita in the tradition of such
works as Huckleberry Finn and On the Road.
The road is not only the novel's primary metaphor for the United
States, it is also the only specific place where Humbert and Dolores can
have an extended sexual relationship. Its anonymity guarantees pedophile
and nymphet the opportunity to pass as father and daughter, in a
succession of motels where "nobody bothers anybody" (93). Furthermore,
Humbert's contempt for the poshlost of the banal roadside landscape is in
continual conflict with his dependence on the American landscape he
I argue that the Nabokovian concept of poshlost is related to Eco's
definition of hyperreality, a condition in which absences of the real are
masked by absolute fakes. Like the hyperreal roadside attractions they
visit, Humbert's Lolita-ideal is itself a hyperreal recreation of a real
girl (Annabel Leigh). The relation of hyperreality to road to Lolita
connects her to her place (the United States), just as Humbert connects
himself to Europe, which in his mind is the original, "real" model of
civilization. Because he has created a hyperreal romance with a real girl,
Humbert needs myth to keep the romance alive. When the myth of the
never-ending road runs out, Lolita metaphorically dies and becomes fully
Dolores again, while Humbert adopts a new myth, that of revenger. In
closing, I speculate that Nabokov's concept of individual or "true"
reality corresponds to the kind of personal myth-making in which Humbert