NABOKV-L post 0000807, Wed, 8 Nov 1995 14:10:53 -0800

MLA VN session. "Varia" (179) #4

"Reflections on Modernism: Lolita and Political Engagement, or, How the
Left and the Right Both Have it Wrong"

Literary modernism has been described as both a retreat from the
catastrohpic world of politics into ivory-tower aetheticism and as a
"historically explosive paradigm" (Astradur Eysteinsson) that uses
radical defamiliarization to contest the social status quo. Does
modernism retreat into fairyland, or is it the "conscience of a
scientific age" (Harry Levin)?
I take Lolita as a case in point. Nabokov repeatedly claimed that
Lolita "has no moral in tow." He suggested that he saw his art as a
defiant escape from domination by vulgar real-world concerns and petty
ideological struggles. "Reality," he declared, "is neither the subject
nor the object of true art, which creates its own special reality which
has nothing to do with the average 'reality' perceived by the communal
eye" (Pale Fire).
But Lolita is nothing if not socially provocative.
Indeed, Nabokov throws down the gauntlet by choosing the seduction of an
All-American teenager by a mature and nefarious foreigner as his subject.
I argue that Lolita is a particularly distinguished, defiant, and
duplicitous struggle with this issue of aesthetics versus politics. It is
revolutionary because it seduces and then compels the reader to become an
emotional and intellectual battleground for its exacerbated
oppositions: between conscience and pleasure, the law and defiance,
masculine and feminine. Lolita compels the reader to recognize that
he/she has been caught up in the text's staged warfare and to recognize
his/her implication in it and complicity with it. Through the reader, the
text's internal strife thus engages the world.

I hope this is satisfactory.

My e-mail address is:

I look forward to meeting you at the MLA.

Sarah Herbold