Sheynzon, Elizabeth M. Transposing Lolita: Virtual Emigration. 2007

Bibliographic title
Transposing Lolita: Virtual Emigration
Periodical or collection
Nabokov Online Journal
Periodical issue
v. 1
Publication year

The intricate world of Vladimir Nabokov's writings, full of cross-references, allusions, codes and riddles, is ostensibly self-contained and artificial. Yet it manages to transcend its insularity and continues to reveal its relevance to the critical concerns of our times. This essay reads Nabokov's Lolita in conjunction with a recent example of Nabokov's transcultural relevance, Azar Nafisi's Reading Lolita in Tehran. In her Memoir in Books, as she defines the genre of her writing, Nafisi describes her experiences teaching American literature, first in a university setting and then - as censorship, dress codes, and other religiously motivated limitations become more and more severe - in a private seminar she holds in her Tehran home for a few female students. While they read and discuss quite a few books, Lolita becomes the top-billed title. Nabokov's novel is chosen because it goes "against the grain of all totalitarian perspectives." Lolita counters totalitarianism by literary means and not political ones. Nafisi's book puts in stark relief such issues in Lolita as foreignness, virtual and real emigration, gender relations, the individual versus the collective (or the mass), meta-discourses (with their imitations) versus unique narratives, and the universality of subjective and objective judgments. This analysis of Nabokov's relevance features Kant's moral, aesthetic, and political philosophy, Derrida's discussion of foreignness, and Lyotard's interpretation of otherness in order to bring to the fore the stakes of Nafisi's memoir.