Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0001260, Sat, 31 Aug 1996 08:37:35 -0700

Dolorology UK (fwd)
UK 'critic' James Wood's article in the [formerly MANCHESTER] GUARDIAN
this past week wriggles around to come up with a defense [:-)] of
The Novel in the face of accusations of paedophlia:

"Aesthetics have always dealt in a coercive manner with literature
that it fears will corrupt us. Both classical and romantic aesthetics
assure us that vileness in art is cautionary or cathartic: that is,
the absence of good in the work of art excites our desire for the good
by showing us the misery of the bad; or that we lose our vileness in
the work of art's exaggeration of it. But the moral of King Lear is
not simply that we should try to avoid blinding people; and the moral
of LOLITA is not that we should try to avoid seducing 12-year-old girls.

The novel's greatness has to do with Humbert's complexity. He is both
a monster and a charmer; corrupt and civilised. He thinks he knows
himself - he calls himself monstrous and wicked - but it is clear to
the reader that he does not really understand the true depths of his
corruption. That is what gives him pathos. He is a child-molester
[sic] yet he loves Lolita, and the novel's induction of us into
comprehensibility of this love affair is what makes the novel
remarkable. It widens our own humanity; as visiting a criminal in
jail might widen our humanity."

Incidentally, Wood thinks that the novel is a "moral tract" because
"we see that Humbert Humbert, the novel's paedophile narrator, is
condemned as a monster. Why, he writes the tale from a prison cell."

So there!

The article gets front page splash in the cultural supplement -
and is illustrated by the much-used picture of Sue Lyon in her
heart-shaped sunglasses, sucking on a lolly.Semioticians,
product designers, and cultural theorists might ponder the
enduring nature of this image.

Dr Roy Johnson | roy@mantex.demon.co.uk