Sunday, August 2, 2009

Better Late Than Never Lolita

There is no real excuse for me to be posting our discussion of Lolita at the beginning of August. However, as I think back over the book and the discussion, it does make me question what is factor that determines what your conversation over the book will be like? Some books stimulate heated conversations while others seem to fall flat, and surprisingly, at least for me, Lolita was one of those books. Given the still somewhat scandalous reputation of Nabokov's novel, I expected that we would have much to talk about. However, I presumptuously think that we still struggle with Humbert Humbert's narrative in light of both A. What we know he is and B. The way in which our society views individuals like him. Obviously we recognize that a grown man essentially kidnapping (though I may use that term a bit too freely) and sexually exploiting a young teen is a no-no. Therefore, I think many readers have difficulty with Humbert's narrative version of events because while he knows that his actions are taboo in society, he also attempts to explain to the reader how he cannot help himself. Sounds like a great mental defect defense, huh?

One thing Nicole brought up and which after having read the book is still not something I have sorted out in my mind is the significance of Lolita both in the novel and in present day language use. In Nabokov's work Lolita is pretty much reduced to Humbert's sex object who learns to barter her "favors" for small desires typical of many teens. One could argue that if she's going to be forced to give in to Humbert's demands she might as well get something no matter how small in exchange. However, I would argue that Lolita is the victim here; yet, the word/name Lolita has taken on its own negative associations in modern society. What I am curious about is how did this association come about as if she is somehow at fault and culpable for the things that happen to her while she is with Humbert.

Lastly and perhaps the most noteworthy portion of our discussion was our analysis of Nabokov's language. In Lolita Nabokov executes a use of poetic language that would be noteworthy in any writer, and his skill is even more notable given that English is not his primarly language. Somehow he manages to order Humbert's narrative in such a way as to allow Humbert to both rationalize and romanticize his actions. This manipulative function of narrative often purposefully influences the reader's unconscious response to the narrative, and to a certain extent I see this same thing taking place in Lolita. While I had a basic idea of what the novel was about, I have to admit that I was very surprised by the fact that the sex scenes were not nearly so graphic as I anticipated. In fact, some were so subtle that they could almost be missed. This lack of graphic imagery as well as the narrative properties of Humbert's story work together to almost lessen the intensity of what Humbert does. I'm not exactly arguing that Humbet does or should escape judgment, but what I do argue is that the judgment we exact is somewhat different, thanks to Nabokov's narrative style, than it would be if he included violent rather than romanticized images and language.

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