NABOKV-L post 0017037, Thu, 11 Sep 2008 00:06:21 -0700

Re: THOUGHTS re: Excerpts from "Lolita"

In a way I disagree with your song-of-experience assumption that true love, necessarily, must also be "selfless love", therefore  matter-of-factedly distant from childhood nostalgias and fairy-tale dreams.
J.A.: I think this mixes up two things "selfless love" and "childhood nostalgias". But obviously real love has to have some level of selflessness to it or else all you want in a partner is someone who reflects you or is merely a kind of marionette. You are probably right since I'm unable to, in cold-blood, define or describe this "erastes" kind of love (so unlike "charitas"!!!!). 
HH's woe-is-me often drives me to tears ( even the simple exclamation, "my Lolita", in the way he inscribes it, touches me deeply).
J.A.: Seriously, you cry over that? Usually it seems like in English that sort of thing rings false, because it sounds antiquated and too deliberate, too stylized. To achieve genuineness one usually has to work in a little awkwardness. In this sense, Humbert's terrible poem he writes after Lolita's disappearance strikes the inner ear, or my inner ear anyway, as arising from something resembling real despair. But none of Humbert's sobs and refrains move me emotionally. Too often Humbert throws up poetic eloquence to blur his motivations, which change throughout the book. To my mind he keeps intoning, "this Lolita, my Lolita" not only to fall in line with the great arc of literary love, but also to remind us that the only Lolita he cares about is the one he writes, his girl, who seems different than the one we perceive wriggling between the lines; who is thankfully allowed to die outside the range of his memoir. 
HH, contrary to many other men, really loves his Lolita  and this happens not only after the "choir of children" bit: "All I want to stress is that my discovery of her was a fatal consequence of that "princedom by the sea" in my tortured past.".
J.A.: But how can he love her? He neither knows, understands or respects her--there's a long line of these guys in N.'s fiction. Does Sebastian really love that Russian lady in RLSK? If Nina Rechnoy is right, he spends most of his time either trying to get in her pants or condescending to her. Does the narrator of Spring in Fialta really love Nina? What I read in that story is a mixture of desire and contempt; and it is a cousin of this contempt Humbert liberally expresses almost all through Lolita. It seems to me that in The Gift, we see the shadow of love, though it is not dramatized--Fyodor likes, respects and wants to impress Zina, but that relationship is closed to us as the one between the Nabokov of Speak Memory and "you". In Ada, Nabokov tries to dramatize something like real love, but it's still mixed with that weird solipsism thing his narrators can never escape from, but at least Van admires and respects Ada and doesn't talk down to
Did HH, while censoring Lolita's unpoetic expletives, act like Satan rebuking sin  or...well, back to the beginning: "why did HH write his confessions"? 
J.A.: This is at the heart of where we disagree. Lolita's expletives are the real poetry in the book, what Humbert tries to suppress, but which comes out anyway and which, in a weird way, accidentally makes his book so great, which amazingly Nabokov seems to have planned. It's the miracle of his book, how an obsession reflects in distorted form the heroic attempts of a girl trying to become a woman, but whose terrible fate in the form of Humbert keeps her from making it. Lolita's brash childishness brings charm and air and life to Humbert's emotionally crippled purple curliques. Nabokov always said he had his personal favorite moments in the book, but mine are different: when on the drive to the Enchanted Hunters, after being picked up from camp Q, Lolita says if she has to look at another cow she's going to throw up; when Lolita says, "the word is incest" to Humbert at The Enchanted Hunters; when Lolita steadfastly refuses to be moved by
natural wonders during their trip and reads a paper instead; or when Lolita in her last appearance says, "the past is the past"--indicating that she is able to do what Humbert can never do. What moves me are not Humbert grotesque howls, but when Lolita says, "you mean you're giving us four thousand bucks?" The poor thing's been so deprived for so long she can hardly believe in this moment of generosity, which is Humbert's one genuine act of love, and the main reason he gets a little reprieve from hell once a year.  

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