Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0026206, Fri, 29 May 2015 09:01:18 -0300

[NABOJV´L] Ira Wells on "Forgetting Lolita"
vladimir nabokov ⋅ May 29, 2015.NEWS The New Republic http://www.newrepublic.com/article/121908/lolita-cultural-icon

Forgetting Lolita: How Nabokov's Victim Became an American Fantasy by Ira Wells

In January of 1959, the 600 residents of Lolita, Texas, found themselves in the midst of an improbable identity crisis. The town had been named in 1909 for Lolita Reese, the granddaughter of a Texas patriot. But following the U.S. publication of Vladimir Nabokov’s novel in 1958, “Lolita” had suddenly acquired a whole new set of connotations.
“The people in this town are god-fearing, church going, and we resent the fact our town has been tied in with the title of a dirty, sex-filled book that tells the nasty story of a middle-aged man’s love affair with a very young girl.” So read a petition circulated by R. T. Walker, deacon of the local First Baptist Church, who hoped to change the town’s name from Lolita to Jackson. In the end, however, the proud citizens of Lolita decided to hunker down and wait out the storm: As the Texas historian Fred Tarpley put it, “Lolita was retained with the hope that the novel and the [upcoming] film would soon be forgotten."
[…] And yet, there is also a sense in which the citizens of Lolita, Texas, have been proved right. We have forgotten Lolita. At least, we’ve forgotten about the young girl, “standing four feet ten in one sock,” whose childhood deprivation and brutalization and torture subliminally animate the myth that launched a thousand music videos. The publication, reception, and cultural re-fashioning of Lolita over the past 60 years is the story of how a twelve-year-old rape victim named Dolores became a dominant archetype for seductive female sexuality in contemporary America: It is the story of how a girl became a noun.
[…] One may violently disagree with Lionel Trilling—who suggested <http://www.unz.org/Pub/Encounter-1958oct-00009> , in “The Last Lover,” that “we naturally incline to be lenient toward a rapist … who eventually feels a deathless devotion to his victim”—while still registering the deep pathos of Humbert’s final moments with Lolita.
[…] It is precisely this invitation to imaginative pedophilia that has disturbed readers about Humbert Humbert. We know, after all, that Dolores Haze did not exist. No little girls were sexually violated in the making of Lolita. And yet there is something disquieting about Humbert’s insistence that you, dear reader, must collaborate with him in the rape of a child. “I want my learned readers to participate in the scene I am about to replay,” he says just prior to their first sexual encounter. And, later: “Imagine me; I shall not exist if you do not imagine me.” […]“Glee Gone Wild” is an example of the “polite pedophilia” that fructifies in the American sexual imaginary. Historically, adult actors portrayed child roles in order to save children from the theater and its insalubrious associations. Today, popular culture rewards adult women who act like children for the collective erotic enjoyment that will not speak its name.
[…]What Lolita names, today, is not simply a “precociously seductive girl,” but also the immense act of cultural repression that is partially accomplished by that dubious definition. Britney, Katy, and Miley may tap into the Lolita myth through the performance of precocity, but that precocity was never native to Dolores Haze; it was, in fact, projected onto her by her rapist. The widespread cultural acceptance of this fantasy at face value is tantamount to the declaration: #IBelieveHumbert. The American public imagination has accepted Humbert’s definition of the nymphet while strenuously muffling the pedophilic exertions involved in the creation of the myth.
But while the erasure of Humbert may be necessary to sustain the fantasy, Nabokov was in the business of puncturing fantasies, not perpetuating them, and nothing kills a fantasy faster than its fulfillment. Sixty years on, celebrity culture everywhere confirms that Lolita is still the most thrilling ride in the amusement park, though her creator wanted us to hear the sobs in the night—every night, every night—that were the price of admission

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