Kathryn James’s (University of Illinois at Chicago) article, “Checking In/Checking Out: Humbert’s Search for Authenticity in the Ubiquitous American Motel,” explores Humbert’s subtle obsession with the motels of the American roadside in Nabokov’s Lolita and considers their relevance in the deterioration of his aesthetic sensibility into a vulgar commercialism. Critics have long neglected the space of the motel in their readings of the novel, instead focusing their attention on the complementary road and consequently larger themes of travel as Humbert knots his way cross country. This paper, however, detours from the fast-paced transit of the highway system—the site of common critical commentary—and instead decelerates to a place of pause, a point of rest, in which the motel as object of the time-obsessed and aesthetically-minded Humbert comes into view. For Humbert, the motel with its chronotopic implications presents itself as the ideal space to pursue his aesthetic project of immortalizing Lolita; for scholars, the motel and its operation within a highly commercialized tourist environment awards a key insight into Humbert’s increasingly debased aestheticism. Indeed, the motel as it functions within the novel is more than just an inconsequential site to temporarily house his corrupt, illicit affair with Lolita. Rather, the American motel—in its endless and universally reproduced seriality and its standing as hollowed product of a kitschy consumer culture—must ultimately be read as undermining Humbert’s aesthetic ambition and instead preserving Lolita as degraded commodity, leaving a hopeless Humbert struggling to transcend the consumerist mentality qualifying his degraded aesthetics.
Checking In/Checking Out: Humbert’s Search for Authenticity in the Ubiquitous American Motel
Periodical or collection
Nabokov Online Journal