NABOKV-L post 0004544, Fri, 5 Nov 1999 11:17:41 -0800

Hairy Hermpahrodite redeemed
Thomas Braun argues for a more relaxed reading of Nabokov's novel. Well,
perhaps an escalator should be installed on the side of the mountain the
reader is supposed to climb. But such interpretive laxity has its dangers.
(For example, the hairy hermpahrodite passage occurs before Humbert begins
"availing himself of Dolores several times a day.") In my opinion, a
list-server is a perfectly suitable vehicle for over-active minds.
Passages which strike many of us as opaque are often the ones which, when
mulled over (transformed into an object of vitural obsession, etc), offer
productive insights into the text as a whole. (And if they don't, the
academic world is none the poorer).

>EDITOR's NOTE. Thomas Braun has a point. While a-/be-musement has its
>place on NABOKV-L, let's declare a moratorium on hairy handed sons (&
>daughters) of toil--barring new information.
>From: "Thomas E.Braun" <>
>I have been reading, with increasing bemusement, the various responses to this
>issue. In my view, far too much is being made of this. Not everything in
>"Lolita" is some sort of overly complex riddle. Just as Nabokov, to make
>Humbert appear as an aesthete and not a pervert, had his "hero" refer to
>Lolita's act of fellatio as something done "the hard and nauseous way"
>(instead of using more direct language), so VN here has his creature use
>flowery language (which Humbert may be using to help in his legal defense!) to
>mask the simple act of masturbation - something he apparently had to do so
>seldom while he was availing himself of Dolores several times per day, it
>seemed like a congress with a total stranger.
>Thomas E. Braun
>NABOKV-L <> wrote:
>> "Finally, I did achieve an hour's slumber--from which I was aroused by
>> gratuitous and horribly exhausting congress with a small hairy
>> hermaphrodite, a total stranger." (LOLITA, Part One, Chapter 27)
>> I've been focussing on this passage in conjunction with a chapter I'm
>> writing on envisioning Humbert as a perverted version of "real" artists
>> like Godunov-Cherdyntsev. The reader's eyes tend to gravitate towards that
>> hairy hermaphrodite, but lets expand our scope outwards in both directions
>> first. We can read this sentence as a metapoetic nightmare. Gratuitous
>> and stranger both have metapoetic resonance. Etymologically, we can link
>> "gratuitous" (parodically, antonymically) to the theme of gratitude
>> (blagodarnost') that is so central to The Gift. (Dollinin's recent zametki
>> is a good place to start). (Whom should Humbert thank for this dream?) The
>> stranger can be placed in the line of estrangement that is, again, so
>> central to The Gift. (The word strange is often used in The Gift to refer
>> to the working of fate. It is often translated as queer, which is
>> completely appropriate and should eventually earn Nabokov a place as a
>> paradoxical forerunner not only of postmodernism but also of queer
>> studies.) Congress is a sexual reference operating on an obvious and
>> punning level (as do many words beginning with these three letters in all
>> of Nabokov's English fiction -- the clue is dropped in his diatribe against
>> Rowe (to whom, in my opinion, many apologies are owed)). The hairy
>> hermpaphrodite is Humbert's version of his muse, Aphrodite's flowing hair
>> here reduced to a crude, exclusively physical sexual organ (of ambiguous
>> gender, as befits Humbert's character). In other words, a metapoetic
>> primal scene.
>> E. Naiman
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