Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0026579, Wed, 28 Oct 2015 21:50:15 -0200

Re: L*lita and TW
Subject: Re: L*lita and TW (Trigger Warnings)
From: Kristina Sutherland
Reply-To:Vladimir Nabokov Forum
Date: Tue, 27 Oct 2015 07:09:29 -0700

Hi all,

I would like to thank everyone for their consideration when I emailed this
listserv a few years back about Dolores and her "star men" - there wasn't
much of a response to my inquiry about possible comics, but what response
there was was very nice. I have been a very quiet enjoyer of the posts
here, and quiet mainly because I am not primarily a Nabokov scholar.

I am speaking up now about "trigger warnings" because I feel that there are
times when we should warn friends or students about potentially traumatic
reading responses. I'm not sure I would go so far as to warn about racism
or colonial issues, but certainly books which treat rape - especially the
repeated violence that Dolores Haze experiences - are something that I often
do warn people about when recommending good literature. This would include
"Lolita," certain works by Ahmadou Kourouma, others by J. M. Coetzee, etc.

The reason I warn my friends - and why I would warn my students if I were
including such a work in a course - is that I have read accounts online by
real people who have been rape victims, and how reading certain scenes (in a
novel, or reading someone else's account of their rape, etc.) can reawaken
their trauma. In other words, reading "Lolita" or "Disgrace" or "The Suns of
Independence" has the potential to seriously harm a rape victim by
triggering flashbacks, depression, and possibly suicidal thoughts by
reminding them of their rape.

In a class of thirty students, chances are that one of your students has
been a victim. When I started college 15 years ago, the estimate of female
victims in the United States was one in six. Today the estimate is one in
four. As a student, I have read works by Nabokov, Kourouma, and Coetzee (and
others who wrote about rape) in courses, and I think that even though I have
not been a victim of rape, students deserve consideration when such texts
are assigned.

As Janzy Mello so nicely put it, "Literature and Beauty are extremely
dangerous testimonies and expressions of the human soul and the world of
fantasy," and as such, we shouldn't shelf literature based on plot points -
but I would hope that we would also consider that those plot points may also
be harmful.

Kristina Sutherland


Hello, Kristina

By some ethereal quirk among servers your message to the VN-L didn't reach
my inbox. This is why I'm copying it in my reply to guarantee that other
VN-List subscribers who might have missed it can find it.
I was very touched by your arguments related to the dangers of inadvertently
reawakening a trauma while reading specific novels in class - since this is
very real threat in certain cases. The statistics you cited are staggering.
Trigger Warnings may be an important precaution for the teacher but it is
"society," in other words the "real world" and not the novel itself or its
author, which has to be considered as the main agent of renewed and
unbearable shock.
As I see it, with the necessary "caveat" and adequate space for discussions
in class, good literature may even prove to be helpful by enabling an
affected reader's processes of working through his/her personal issues or as
an encouragement for them to look for appropriate counselling resources. The
big issue, the existence and increase of violence, though, remains a
monstrous failure of...what? Humanity?

Jansy Mello

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