Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0025049, Thu, 6 Feb 2014 23:45:19 -0500

Re: [Old SIGHTING] Nabokov's Berlin: Nabokov, art and evil
Thank you, Mr. Boyd, for sharing your eloquent and enlightening words. A
more brilliantly clear and concise explanation of VN's intentions regarding
the construction of *Lolita* would be hard to find indeed.

On Wed, Feb 5, 2014 at 9:53 PM, Brian Boyd <b.boyd@auckland.ac.nz> wrote:

> Agreed, Jansy. Humbert sneers at the Shade household and America in
> general for their poor taste, while himself exemplifying far poorer morals.
> The following (from my article "Arts, Humanities, Sciences, Uses" in the
> current special issue on "Use" in literature and the humanities, in *New
> Literary History*, 2013, 53, 577-96, pp. 593-94) makes not quite the same
> point, but a similar one: Nabokov's critique, although he thinks that art
> and imagination are ultimately on the side of good (see the foreword to The
> Waltz Invention), of any notion that by themselves they* guarantee* good:
> The best art, like the best science, critiques itself, both building on
> and challenging what has gone before. In Lolita, Nabokov throws down a
> strong challenge to his own chosen art. Despite John Ray, the pages that
> follow his foreword show literature cannot guarantee superior sensitivity
> or conduct. It is no accident that the two men who prey on Lolita are both
> littérateurs, one a scholar and poet who tries to marshal Dante,
> Petrarch, and Poe as precursors, exemplars, and excusers of his own love
> for Lolita, the other a playwright who knows his Aristophanes, Shakespeare,
> Molière, Sheridan, Shaw, and Maeterlinck and who has fashioned "many plays
> for children." Humbert, the lone, tense, scholarly European, draws on
> literature as exalted romantic aestheticism, as if it underwrites what he
> thinks the rare elevation and refinement of his passion. Quilty, the
> relaxed, gregarious, and populist American, sees little difference between
> art and commerce, piquant pleasure and pornography, the slick and the
> sleazy. Both are "well-read" in literature, but neither is morally better
> for it. . . .
> As Nabokov shows, literature does not guarantee elevation of conduct or
> extension of sympathies: those who engage with literature are too various,
> and literature itself would run counter its own deepest nature if it sought
> to impose a rigid, and rigidly enforced, uniformity of response on the
> diversity of real readers. But here in Lolita, Nabokov invites good
> readers, as we respond to Humbert's perspective, to reject that perspective
> precisely for its failing to consider or see Lolita's. Lolita invites us
> to confront the human capacity to ignore the suffering of others, in the
> supposedly refined Humbert; to see beyond the blinkers of our own roles as
> protagonists and narrators of our own stories, and beyond the privileges
> and power our education may give us; to expand our sympathies to those with
> little power or voice. Literature at its best, Nabokov suggests, can
> invite, though never ensure, an expansion of human possibilities, into a
> world where "curiosity, tenderness, kindness, ecstasy" become "the
> norm"--ecstasy in its root sense of standing outside oneself, not at all in
> the sense of Humbert on the davenport crushing out against Lolita's left
> buttock "the last throb of the longest ecstasy man or monster had ever
> known."
> Art guarantees nothing, Nabokov's critique of Humbert and Quilty
> suggests, but then this complex world precludes large guarantees.
> Brian Boyd
> On 6/02/2014, at 1:54 pm, Jansy Mello <jansy.nabokv-L@AETERN.US> wrote:
> "*Nabokov, who saw in art the possibility of redemption, was tempted to
> think taste ruled out evil*.". *Nabokov in Berlin* by Lesley Chamberlain
> (July/August 2010 - Standpoint Magazine)
> I isolated this commentary by Lesley Chamberlain with the hope that some
> Nabler would clash against it or chime in. His wording is careful, but the
> intention is clear (taste rules out evil and redemption is possible through
> art). Nevertheless, what Nabokov expresses, when speaking through a
> possibly sincere Humbert, denies L.C's conclusion. Isn't he saying that art
> is a melancholy consolation for the pains and horrors which are a part of
> earthly life or that the hope of a redemption is selfish because it doesn't
> make past wrongs to other people acceptable?
> In "Lolita" we find that: "Unless it can be proven to me -- to me as I am
> now, today, with my heart and by beard, and my putrefaction -- that in the
> infinite run it does not matter a jot that a North American girl-child
> named Dolores Haze had been deprived of her childhood by a maniac, unless
> this can be proven (and if it can, then life is a joke), I see nothing for
> the treatment of my misery but the melancholy and very local palliative of
> articulate art. To quote an old poet:
> The moral sense in mortals is the duty
> We have to pay on mortal sense of beauty."
> and, in the last lines: "I am thinking of aurochs and angels, the secret
> of durable pigments, prophetic sonnets, the refuge of art. And this is the
> only immortality you and I may share, my Lolita." No examples that
> corroborate L.C's thesis occur to me now...
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