Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0022217, Sat, 3 Dec 2011 16:06:56 -0500

Letter: Nabokov Defines Pornography
Are Nabokov’s definitions of pornography reliable? The difference
between the
erotic and the pornographic is often as arbitrary as the one between the

sensuous and the sensual. Alain Robbe-Grillet once said that
“pornography is
the others’ eroticism.” Paul Valéry went even further, saying
that “sentimentality and pornography are twin sisters.” In "On a Book
Lolita" and elsewhere, Nabokov often overstated his case to justify his
treatment of sex, what I called his poeroticism.

In the book I am currently writing in English, "Nabokov's Eros", I
examine that
question at some length.

Maurice Couturier


> Letter: Vladimir Nabokov Defines Pornography
> by Judy Berman. Posted on 3:00 pm Thursday Dec 1, 2011
> In 1964, Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart famously wrote that,
while he
> couldn’t definitively state what makes a work “pornography,” “I know
it when
> I see it.” Had Stewart only consulted with Vladimir Nabokov, whose
1955 novel
> Lolita was temporarily banned in France and the UK and withstood
> reviews that stated or implied that it was pornography, he might have
> at a more precise definition. In a 1965 letter to his friend Morris
> Nabokov addressed the “irate Paterfamilias” response to the book and
> a characteristically eloquent take on what is and isn’t pornography:
> “‘Pornography’ is not an image plucked out of context; pornography is
> attitude and an intention. The tragic and the obscene exclude each
> See the typewritten missive after the jump, and visit Letters of Note
for the
> transcription.
> Tags: Letters, Vladimir Nabokov
> ________________________________
> Wednesday, 30 November 2011
> Pornography is an attitude and an intention
> Ever since it was first published in France in 1955, Lolita — Vladimir
> Nabokov's novel about a middle-aged man's obsession with, and
seduction of, a
> young teenage girl — has, unsurprisingly, courted controversy. The
> letter was written by the author in 1956 to a friend named Morris
Bishop, and
> offers in its third paragraph a fantastic glimpse at Nabakov's
reaction to
> the uproar surrounding his "best book." Said uproar grew, and within
> the novel was banned temporarily in Britain and France.
> Lolita was adapted to film by Stanley Kubrick in 1962. Numerous other
> adaptations have since followed.
> Transcript follows. Image above kindly supplied by Grant F.
> +++++++++++++++++++++++++
> Transcript
> 6 March 1956
> Dear Mr Morris,
> It was a pleasure to receive your letter and that drab little view of
> 1906. Thanks also for depositing the check. We hope to see both of you
> In a few minutes we are setting out for New York, where I shall make
> to-morrow a recording of "ONEGIN", Canto One, for the BBC's Third
Program. We
> plan to be back Thursday night.
> I have just learned that Gallimard wants to publish LOLITA. This will
> her a respectable address. The book is having some success in London
> Paris. Please, cher ami, do read it to the end!
> Frankly, I am not much concerned with the "irate Paterfamilias". That
> philistine would be just as upset if he learned that at Cornell I
> "ULYSSES" before a class of 250 students of both sexes. I know that
> my best book sofar. I calmly lean on my conviction that it is a
serious work
> of art, and that no court could prove it to be "lewd and libertine".
> categories grade, of course, into one another: a comedy of manners
written by
> a fine poet may have its "lewd" side; but "LOLITA" is a tragedy.
> "Pornography" is not an image plucked out of context; pornography is
> attitude and an intention. The tragic and the obscene exclude each
> You know all this as well as I do -- I am> random because you happened to conjure up the possibility of an
> We are both very much interested in Alison's exhibition. You will have
> tell us all about it.
> Best love to all three of you.
> (Signed)

Search archive with Google:

Contact the Editors: mailto:nabokv-l@utk.edu,nabokv-l@holycross.edu
Visit Zembla: http://www.libraries.psu.edu/nabokov/zembla.htm
View Nabokv-L policies: http://web.utk.edu/~sblackwe/EDNote.htm
Visit "Nabokov Online Journal:" http://www.nabokovonline.com

Manage subscription options: http://listserv.ucsb.edu/