NABOKV-L post 0026567, Mon, 26 Oct 2015 11:37:38 -0200

L*lita and TW (Trigger Warnings)
Dear List Nablers,

When I first read “Lolita” I was already in my early thirties and only vague
rumors about its “pedophilic content” had reached me. They exercised no
influence over my first reaction to my reception of it: simple hair-raising
enchantment. It was my first Nabokov novel but I had ordered it from England
in an edition that held four other works: “The Gift”, “Invitation to a
Beheading”, “King Queen Knave” and “Glory,” which I enjoyed but not as
passionately as it was the case with “Lolita.” After “Pale Fire”, “Speak
Memory” and subsequent re-readings I became addicted to V.N.

Yes, “It was love at first sight, at last sight, at ever and ever sight.”
Nabokov altered completely my relationship to the English language, to the
power of words and to art, particularly because he forced me into thinking
about the conjunction of “objective” humanity and fiction in unsuspected
ways, VN demands of me a permanent revision of established ideas in a
strangely “universal” ethical way. Besides, surprises never stop coming in
to upset any cozy accommodation to VN’s writings, no berth of certainties
and closures.

While I was googling for Dorothy Parker’s “Lolita” which, as I remembered it
correctly, was published at “The New Yorker,” I came to a more recent
article in which “Lolita” impelled the writer’s considerations towards
“trigger warnings”. Judging from what happened with me (fortunately let
loose in the wild), I can only say that the only “TW” that might be
acceptable in relation to great works of art would be “Keep in mind that
Literature and Beauty are extremely dangerous testimonies and expressions of
the human soul and the world of fantasy.”


PAGE-TURNER, MAY 21, 2014 Trigger Warnings and the Novelist’s Mind BY JAY

(longuish excerpts): “During a graduate-school lecture on “Lolita,” my
professor stood up in front of a crowded classroom and said something I have
never been able to shake: “When you read ‘Lolita,’ keep in mind that what
you’re reading about is the systematic rape of a young girl.”
I had read “Lolita” in high school and then again in college, when it became
my personal literary liquor store—whenever I got stuck in a scene, or
whenever my prose felt flat or typical, I’d open “Lolita” to a random page
and steal something. My professor’s pronouncement felt too didactic, too
political, and, although I tried to put it out of my mind and enjoy “Lolita”
’s cunning, surprising games with language, I could no longer pick up the
book without feeling the weight of his judgment. The professor wasn’t wrong
to point out the obvious about Humbert and Dolores Haze, and I don’t
believe—at least not completely—that literature should only be examined as
an object unto itself, detached from time and history, but I haven’t read
“Lolita” since.

I thought of that professor and his unwelcome intrusion when I read a
students-squirm.html> story in last week’s Times about how several colleges
across the country have considered placing “trigger warnings” in front of
works of art and literature that may cause a student to relive a traumatic
experience. For example, a student might be forewarned that J. M. Coetzee’s
“Disgrace” details colonial violence, racism, and rape with a note on the
class syllabus that would read something like “Trigger Warning: This book
contains scenes of colonialism, racism, and rape, which may be upsetting to
students who have experienced colonialism, racism, or rape.”

SQUIRM,” and the inclusion of some seemingly innocuous titles, like “The
Great Gatsby,” as candidates for such warnings, dredged up all my distaste
for my professor’s prescriptive reading of “Lolita.” If he could produce
such a chilling effect, what harm could a swarm of trigger warnings—each one
reducing a work of literature to its ugliest plot points—inflict on the
literary canon? What would “Trigger Warning: This novel contains racism” do
to a reading of Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man”? What would “Trigger
Warning: Rape, racism, and sexual assault” do to a reading of Toni
Morrison’s “Beloved”? [ ]

“Censorship was never the point,” Alexandra Brodsky, an editor at the Web
site Feministing, told me. “We knew that violent and traumatic narratives
could have a grave effect on the reader, so we, working together as a
community, created guideposts for people to navigate what has always been a
tricky terrain.” Those guideposts helped. Trigger warnings “made people feel
like they could write explicitly and honestly about things that they may
have not written about under different circumstances,” Brodsky said. “They
let people know that this was going to be a different type of conversation.”

That logic eventually found its way into the academy. Last year, Bailey
Shoemaker-Richards, a master’s student at the University of Findlay, in
Ohio, started using trigger warnings in her academic presentations on cyber
sexism and online abuse. The warning, she said, takes up roughly fifteen
seconds at the start of a talk, and serves only as a reminder that those who
are uncomfortable discussing online abuse are free to leave the room. “I
don’t think a trigger warning will prevent conversations that may be
upsetting,” Shoemaker-Richards told me. “But they might force people in the
class to think through their reactions a little more.” [ ] Brodsky feels
conflicted about university-mandated trigger warnings for potentially
troubling works of art and literature, as do other feminist thinkers I spoke
to, but she still thinks that they should be used in the classroom. “You
can’t copy the language from a Jezebel post and paste it onto a syllabus,”
Brodsky explained. “With that being said, literature is important, and has
effects beyond momentary pleasure and discomfort. ‘ [ ] Many of the op-eds
and articles on trigger warnings published this week have argued on behalf
of the sanctity of the relationship between the reader and the text. For the
most part, I have agreed with them. A trigger warning reduces a work of art
down to what amounts to plot points. If a novel like José Saramago’s
“Blindness” succeeds because it sews up small yet essential pockets of human
normalcy against a horrific backdrop, a preëmptive label like “Trigger
Warning: Violence and internment” strips it down to one idea.[ ] “Why is
the depersonalized, apolitical reading the one we should fight for?” I
admit, this was an angle I had not yet considered [ ]A good reader may
very well finish “Lolita” and conclude that the book is about the systematic
rape of a young girl, or that such a troubling text should require a trigger
warning, but a writer should have the freedom to look at “Lolita” as nothing
more than a series of sentences that exist only for their own sake. If
reading, as Joyce Carol Oates wrote, is the “sole means by which we slip,
involuntarily, often helplessly, into another’s skin, another’s voice,
another’s soul,” a trigger warning, even through gentle suggestion, guides
us into that skin. For writers, who cull everything from what they read, any
amount of guidance will lead to dull conformity.[ ] Any excess language—in
the form of a trigger warning—amounts to a preëmptive defacement…”

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