NABOKV-L post 0018023, Sun, 22 Mar 2009 10:54:37 -0700

Re: SIGHTING--new essay on Lolita by Francine Prose
I think I prefer Alfred Appel Jr.'s test for pornography detailed in his intro to the Annotated Lolita: show the book to a bunch of soldiers and if it strikes them as being too fancy--"goddamn lit-ature", I think was the phrase--then pornography it aint. I read Ms. Prose's article and thought she seriously underestimated the amount of sleazy sex in the book, and I'm not just talking about the dirt Humbert sweeps under the rug of expensive, untranslated French phrases. The couch scene was the least of them. The time Humbert performs oral sex on her while she has a fever; making the girl touch him while he watches grade schoolers getting off a bus; the time he makes Lo manually work him over in a class room while he looks at another girl's nape, to make Lolita pay for the privilege of getting to be in The Enchanted Hunters, and much much more--this leaves out the side sleaze of other characters, either imagined (wife swapping in motels, Jean Farlow's
being offered to him by John, which in Kubrick's film were magically blended into real wife swapping) and Quilty, who literally is a pornographer. Now I agree the book isn't smut--neither Nabokov or Humbert do much to describe penetration or lavish direct colloquial attention on specific genital reactions--but I remember reading it as a young man in the mid 1990s for the first time and being rather shocked by just how much proud sex Humbert does recount having with a twelve and a half through fifteen and a half year old girl (what were those "fancy embraces" he got from Lolita at an extra cost, because he couldn't simply hold her down and take what he wanted?--"souffle"s which Lolita had refused to give Quilty's "beastly boys", or something more sinister or scintillating, which ever way you want to think of it.) Personally I think we Nabokovians ought to start empasizing how dirty and violent the book is, and how it'll warp young minds. Once they
think that, kids'll line right up to read the thing, and find themselves having been duped into reading half a good book for once. Also if you keep your focus on all the filth Humbert lets fly, it compromises somewhat Humbert Humbert's confession as "love story", which in my opine-ion the book is not.

--- On Sat, 3/21/09, jansymello <jansy@AETERN.US> wrote:

From: jansymello <jansy@AETERN.US>
Subject: Re: [NABOKV-L] SIGHTING--new essay on Lolita by Francine Prose
Date: Saturday, March 21, 2009, 9:02 PM

Jim Twiggs SIGHTING--new essay on Lolita by Francine Prose : LAPHAM'S QUARTERLY Francine Prose || Reconsideration: Lolita 
JM: Francine Prose mentioned both Freud and Lacan in her text. 
From Freud, we have "Eros versus Thanatos" (although Freud never used this word: "Thanatos"), present in her argument in favor of Eros as a life force and as an added element used to distinguish erotic and pornographic novels.  
F.Prose notes:"If Eros is the life force, then Lolita is—for all its ironic remove and tragic desperation—Eros between the covers".
O, yes. Life saving, indeed. F.Prose concludes the sentence on Lolita as a novel that enchances the life force: "...each time we open the book, even now, especially now, at this moment in our history when it so often appears that Thanatos has Eros pinned like those sex offenders on the front lawn."
And yet, Lolita  (-,my Lolita) represents a literary experience with its normal blend of "eros and death drives", and where we follow how HH crosses the bridge that  carries him over from nymphet to pregnant Mrs. Schiller - when he admits his loss ( the nymphet) but can see to cherish his Lolita.
What a pity that F.Prose didn't remember the distinction (introduced by Lacan) concerning to "love as Eros" ( Lolita is a love-story, too).
Lacan considers that a person's life and history will take a different course whether "erastes" ( to love ) or "eromenos" ( to be loved) predominate.
In HH's case  (some have argued against this positive view) it's no longer a story of "pederastes", but about a prevalence of "erastes" as un-dated "love".
Poor Lolita. she merely let herself be loved or be carried away by fads and Mom's love-interests (Quilty, Dad HH).
So it's Humbert who gets to tell their love story. The novel as an expression of VN's "erastes" ( "pity, compassion, beauty")*
* -I hope I got the distinction correctly such as it was described in "The Symposium", re-examined by Lacan in his Seminar III
extracts: Some vestiges of a broader understanding of Eros and the erotic have managed, against all odds, to survive. One could still claim that the dinner scene in Henry Fielding's Tom Jones is erotic in its depiction of gastronomy as foreplay. A restaurant critic might claim that the effect of the fish lightly kissed with a tomato-licorice foam is positively erotic, without confessing he wants to have intercourse with the halibut on his plate [...]
While certain works of erotic art from the past [...]would still easily earn an "R" rating, others (James Joyce's Ulysses, Édouard Manet’s Olympia) seem now[...]as mild as a baby aspirin. Given how our sense of the erotic and the pornographic has changed over the last half-century, it's interesting to consider a work, Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita [...] and to look at how it appears to us now in light of the changes that have since transpired in our culture.
In his essay, "On a Book Entitled Lolita," written in 1956, shortly after the novel's publication, Nabokov offers a characteristically incisive and useful description of pornographic fiction: In modern times the term 'pornography' connotes mediocrity, commercialism, and certain strict rules of narration. Obscenity must be mated with banality because every kind of aesthetic enjoyment has to be replaced by simple sexual stimulation which demands the traditional word for direct action upon the patient…. Thus, in pornographic novels, action has to be limited to the copulation of clichés. Style, structure, imagery should never distract the reader from his tepid lust. The novel must consist of an alternation of sexual scenes. The passages in between must be reduced to sutures of sense, logical bridges of the simplest design, brief expositions and explanations, which the reader will probably skip but must know they exist in order not to feel cheated…
Moreover, the sexual scenes in the book must follow a crescendo line, with new variations, new combinations, new sexes, and a steady increase in the number of participants (in a Sade play they call the gardener in), and therefore the end of the book must be more replete with lewd lore than the first chapters….
It was similarly characteristic of Nabokov to want to define [...] whether or not Lolita was pornographic.[...] its nominative subject matter (Humbert Humbert's pedophilia) is fully as controversial as it was in the forties and fifties, perhaps even more so, since it is so often the first thing we think of when we see a priest's cassock, a coach's whistle, or a boy scout troupe-leader's chestful of merit badges
Check out the section, early in the book, in which Lo has her legs across Humbert's lap." During that scene, which I hadn't recalled, Humbert contrives to sing a popular song as the pressure of Lo's legs (she is munching on an apple): "By this time I was in a state of excitement bordering on insanity, but I also had the cunning of the insane..."[...] Is the moment erotic? [...]
The scene at once celebrates and exemplifies all those aspects of Eros—energy, passion, vivacity, humor—that include and go beyond the merely sexual[...] But does it go beyond the erotic? Is it pornographic? Gentlemen of the jury, I'd argue that the passage is too cerebral, too humorous, too ironic, and above all, too giddily verbose to perform the work of pornography. The dazzle of language distracts us from the concentration that sexual excitement requires and provides[...] It's hard to imagine a reader whose sexual buzz could remain unaffected by phrases such as "the hidden tumor of an unspeakable passion" or "the corpuscles of Krause were entering the phase of frenzy." [...]
Defending his novel against the charge that it was pornography, Nabokov focused on its form, on the ways in which the novel's structure differs from that of the conventional pornographic narrative[...] But just as important, clearly, is the question of content.In making a case for Lolita as art [...]
let's return for a moment to the wider way in which pornography is currently defined: voyeuristic, exploitative, decadent [...]
But sexuality is a mystery, as individual as our fingerprints [...] Among the qualities—beauty, intelligence, grace, complexity, facility of language, wit, among countless other literary virtues—that distinguishes Lolita as a work of art is the fact that it functions as the opposite of and the antidote to programs like To Catch a Predator. Lolita deepens our well of compassion and sympathy [...] 
If Eros is the life force, then Lolita is—for all its ironic remove and tragic desperation—Eros between the covers, Humbert Humbert's loopy, unpleasant, celebratory, obnoxious human voice erupting like a jack-in-the-box each time we open the book, even now, especially now, at this moment in our history when it so often appears that Thanatos has Eros pinned like those sex offenders on the front lawn.

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