Tuesday, March 31, 2009


“Although I could never get used to the constant state of anxiety in which the guilty, the great, the tenderhearted live, I felt I was doing my best in the way of mimicry” (188).

In Humbert’s attempt to convince the audience, community, and himself of his successful attempt at fatherhood, he uses almost every language trick in the book to form his “fancy prose.” In this paragraph, he refers to himself as “dark-and-handsome, not un-Celtic, probably high-church, possibly very high-church, Dr. Humbert,” “Professor H.,” “Mr. Edgar H. Humbert,” “Monsieur H. H.” To create credibility, he gives himself official titles. He is attempting to fool us in this paragraph just as he used his credentials to fool his colleagues and neighbors. Humbert provides us with a listing of the Fatherly Activities he engages in. The paragraph ends with Lolita’s friend comparing him to a movie character. The little girl notices that he resembles someone playing a role. He is, in fact, playing a role, the role of Good Father.

Just a Quote

After todays lecture and the lectures proceeding it and all the blog posts and feelings and opinions about Lolita (along with this poorly formed sentence), I cam across a quote that represents my feelings of Lolita in its first read. 

" I never saw an ugly thing in my life: for let the form of an object be what it may- light, shade, and perspective will always make it beautiful." -John Constable. 

Monday, March 30, 2009

The Case for Humbert

As numerous people before me have emphasized, yes, Humbert is a rapist, we all accept this. But perhaps we can take more from Lolita’s plot if instead of focusing on the parts of Humbert’s character we don’t identify with (presumably, the whole pedophilia thing), we focus on the seemingly more numerous parts of his character that we do identify with. Although Humbert admittedly has a rather disgusting sexual appetite, he is also at the same time articulate, self-aware (to an extent), and often quite hilarious. In fact, if the pedophilia thing is taken out of the equation, he is a rather witty social commentator with a knack for wordplay. I think this seemingly incongruous duality in Humbert’s life is a large part of what makes him so interesting as a character. On one hand, we as readers want to like him because he displays many characteristics that we admire, not the least of which is his beautiful writing style; but on the other hand we must constantly remind ourselves that we cannot allow ourselves to actually admire him, lest we abandon all moral decency. In a way though, rejecting Humbert as merely an asshole is a cop out, because he’s a heck of a lot more than that. By admitting that there are some very admirable parts of Humbert, you have to also accept that you empathize with, and even admire an admitted child rapist. If you write him off as a mere asshole you simply dodge this unsettling realization of comradery with Humbert to hide behind a shield of denial. However, this does neither yourself nor the book justice, because I would bet money everyone in this class felt empathy and even rooted for Humbert at some point while reading Lolita. For me, this is one of the main struggles and rewards of the novel, that it forces us into this duality of right and wrong, and really makes us question not only Humbert’s morality, but our own.

Linking my terrible weekend to Lolita

I was brainstorming about topics to cover in my blog post tonight, but I've been a little preoccupied lately due to the bat that kept hiding itself my closet all weekend. Eventually I found a way to relate the bat to something else besides my absolute terror (I just hate things that fly, and come on, bats are scary). Basically here is what happened: I saw a bat in my living room on Saturday evening, then I locked myself in my roommate's room, where I had been reading. My roommate refused to come home because he didn't believe me, and when I finally got a hold of animal control they refused to come because I could no longer tell them exactly where the bat was. Turns out it had been hiding in my closet, which I didn't find out until the next night as I was about to turn out my light. Once again I was home alone, but this time I was in a closed room with a winged rat swooping around my ceiling. I managed to escape, and after a huge ordeal got animal control at my apartment around 3:30 AM. Then the guy couldn't find the bat, even though it was closed off in my room. Finally I got the pest control man from my apartment complex to come today, find the bat, and put it in a little box to take away. Throughout this whole time I was simply terrified. I've never been more scared in my life than when I was hiding under my comforter listening to the sound of wings right above my head (no matter how pathetic that is). But still, before the man  left with my bat, I asked him what he was going to do with it. He said he was going to take it somewhere else and release it, which I was glad to hear. Even after all that I went through, I didn't want the bat to get hurt. It's not his fault that he accidentally got inside my room, and I'm sure he wanted to escape just as I badly as I wanted him out. Unfortunately, the animal control people called me later saying that they needed the bat to make sure it doesn't  have rabies, and I'm pretty sure that process entails euthanasia and some sort of bat lobotomy. 

I feel like Humbert is a kind of bat, to both the reader and to Lolita. He is horrible and scary, yet somehow he still convinces us that he can't help who he is. His graceful prose makes him less frightening, and even Lolita isn't too scarred by him to contact him for help when she's older. No matter what terrible things he has done, Lolita does not try to punish him. Humbert's point of writing is to convince someone else that he isn't completely rotten. I'm almost on his side.

Things I Put Up With Out of Love

Emily, I really like your last sentence about how only true love can overlook flaws, which proves how much H.H. really loves Lo. It immediately reminded me of this (from Magical Thinking by Augusten Burroughs):

"What's painful and wonderful about loving somebody is loving their small things, like the way he is able to smile when he sips his wine, the way his hands fall down at his sides, fingers slightly cupped, or the way he is conducting the orchestra on the radio. Or now, the way he is lighting candles, just now this one in front of me. This is the one he lit first, actually. The one in front of me. Even though there was one on the way, he passed that one, lit it next.

"The truth is Dennis has no bad qualities and no faults. When he's working late and I'm alone, or sometimes when we're in bed together, the lights off, I try and make even a small list in my mind of his faults: Things I Put Up With Out Of Love. But I haven't been able to think of a single thing that I am not able to first overlook and then come to cherish. Even the fact that he sometimes loses things has led to a treasured nickname: Mittenclips.

"Unconditional love. That's what this is. I love him, as is, fully. I've had to stop arm wrestling with the facts. Why me? Didn't I already have a big love once? And lost it? So why should I get it again? I've had to stop trying to look for cracks and flaws to prove that it's not as good as it seems. Because it's as good as it seems. Even when we fight, we fight inside the container of good.

"Somehow, through a flip of the coin, I ended up here. Feeling like somebody at the top of the heart-lung transplant recipient list. Damaged but invigorated and fucking lucky."

Anyways, I thought I'd share that. I've had this idea that love and hate are irrevocably intertwined, like good and evil, "you don't know what its like to be alive until you now what it feels like to die" ect. 

Untraceable and insanity

Yesterday, I watched Untraceable starring Diane Lane. This movie was similar to Lolita in its encounter with the abnormal mind. Owen Reilly, played by Joseph Cross is a boy who has a site where people are tortured and killed. He rigs whatever torture device he chooses to use in a way that the more people that log onto the site, the faster the victim dies. The boy who was responsible for all the murders was always referred to as” a piece of shit”, and I did not think that was entirely fair. How about the people who after realizing how the site worked continued to log onto it, or the people who had given created this monster by making a public spectacle of his father’s death? I am not defending Humbert’s act in any way, but do we as a community ever fantasize about doing what Humbert did, or anything equally outlandish? If no one else was there to make sure we were reacting to Humbert the way society expected us to, would we see him differently? On the movie, when the site killwithme.com was pulled up, and there were people being tortured and killed, on the side there was an area in which people were blogging. Some were saying really nasty things, some were laughing, others wondering where they could download the torture to watch it over and over again. These people seemed to have a mask they could hide behind. They could say what they were really thinking because as they were anonymous, they feared no consequences from society. They could wake up the next day, show their faces in public, and no one would be any wiser.
To some degree we are all mentally insane, but would it benefit or hinder society if everyone was to come out and claim insanity? I guess it is the difference between killing someone and “simply” thinking about it, but how big is that difference?

Why does Lolita have to be a brat?

While reading Lolita, I thought it was really interesting that the child is truly a total, annoying brat. No matter the situation, it is always easier to gather sympathy when the person in question is kind and genuine. In the beginning of the book, Lolita is portrayed as an ill mannered pre teen by her mother, but Charlotte’s portrayal is taken with a grain of salt, because Charlotte seems bitter, bizarre, and ultimately not a valid source of information. Any mother who calls her daughter names and wants to send her away as often as possible is not someone whose opinion should be highly regarded. I dismissed Lolita’s attitude problem until Humbert, a man who is insanely in love with the girl and recognizes only her positive qualities, writes that Lolita has a major attitude problem. It would have been easier for Nabokov to make Lolita into a sweet, obedient child than make one of the main characters into a nuisance. Why is Lolita written to be a brat?

At one point, soon after Humbert and Lolita begin their year long road trip and rape, Humbert writes that Lolita turned out to be more of a handful than he expected. …”Lolita, when she chose, could be a most exasperating brat. I was not quite prepared for her fits of disorganized boredom, insane and vehement griping, her sprawling, droopy, dopey-eyed style, and what is called goofing off-a kind of diffused clowning which she thought was tough in a boyish hoodlum way.” (pg. 148) The man saying these words is madly in love with every inch of this girl and still, he takes detailed notes of her sour attitude. I was really at a loss as to why Lolita had to be portrayed as an angst-filled prepubescent and it got me thinking. Maybe Lolita’s bad attitude makes the situation seem more real. Humbert’s adoration of Lolita is almost too much and too far; a little unrealistic. So, by making her character into a little bitch, it’s clear that Lolita is human and has flaws. It also makes Humbert’s love for Lolita even more intense, because only someone who is absolutely and completely in love with someone is capable of overlooking unappealing character flaws.

Humbert is an asshole and whatnot...

Who are we to judge? I hear that all too often on this campus. I am sorry to all I offend with this post, but I was raised to believe that there is right and there is wrong. These two ends of the spectrum are of course (as we have discussed before) often confused and intertwined and even blend together to form some neutral shade, but they still exist. In living in a society we all agree to a social contract. I am sure we are all aware of Hobbe's social contract in which according to Thomas Hobbes:

"human life would be "nasty, brutish, and short" without political authority. In its absence, we would live in a state of nature, where we each have unlimited natural freedoms, including the "right to all things" and thus the freedom to harm all who threaten our own self-preservation; there would be an endless "war of all against all" (Bellum omnium contra omnes). To avoid this, free men establish political community i.e. civil society through a social contract in which each gain civil rights in return for subjecting himself to civil law or to political authority."

Upon entering this social contract we agree to remain more or less civilized for the greater good of society and for individual protection against outsiders and our own countrymen. Therefore, the right to rape little girls is given up in order to maintain some semblance of civility and cut down on the "nasty, brutish, and short." If we roll over on our backs and say "Oh, his morality is not society's morality...he can't be blamed." Then we are giving up every little girl's right to innocence and normality.

Humbert Humbert gave up his right to freedom when he violated the social contract. Humbert was not moral, correct or even pitiable. Nabokov never intended that we sympathize with him nor did he intend that we hate him. He merely wanted to create the perfect story, a fairytale in which he satirized everything that we laymen hold dear in our interpretation of a microcosm. Fuck you Nabokov.

Re: Humbert is an asshole and Hmmm...

Maybe I wasn’t clear in my last blog—I completely agree with Edgar that Humbert was an asshole. He is a manipulative, twisted bastard. And it is true that Humbert took advantage of Lolita completely and as an adult he should have known better. However, it’s not like this (according to Humbert) was a case of a man overpowering a girl and forcing himself on her. Lolita was young and probably didn’t know that her flirtatious actions would lead to a horrible two years for her, but she did play a part in it. Humbert always had the desire for “nymphets” in him, but it seems like Lolita was the major catalyst that set him off. That being said, Humbert is completely responsible for his actions and just because Lolita may have tempted him didn’t give him the right to touch a young girl.

On another note, I’m with you Liz! I miss the days when plot was a major focus of study (i.e. high school). It’s interesting and nice to learn about the authors’ styles and what not, but I don’t read a book to marvel at the genius of writers—I read books for their plot. But maybe I need to get out of my high school mindset.

Language Leaves a Mark

In Good Old Neon, David Foster Wallace makes this observation about language: “Words and chronological time create all these total misunderstandings of what's really going on at the most basic level. And yet at the same time English is all we have to try to understand it and try to form anything larger or more meaningful and true with anybody else, which is yet another paradox.” One of the beautiful things about writing is the author’s ability to use language, an inherently bias form of communication, to tell a story. No matter the subject, there are innumerable words that can be put into innumerable orders. The author chooses specific words in a specific order. Nabokov executes this beautifully. Maybe it is possible for a 12 year old girl to be aware of her sexuality and its power, thus incriminating her in her own rape. Maybe that is ridiculous. I side with Edgar. Either way, Nabokov has constructed Humbert’s argument so that the reader is forced to examine the construction of this argument. We are forced to examine the words and the order. Never have I thought so much about language! And how weird it is. Juxtaposing Lolita with the Literary Theory further highlights Language as a Symbol. How is it that these marks force us to question rape and morality? It is in no way a direct experience. However, I can’t help but feel some sort of emotional stress from these marks and lines. This is not a very well constructed argument, sorry.

It's all Relative

Humbert the Pedophile is quite clearly a detestable rapist, but why did Nabokov choose him as the vehicle for this story? When you get past the discomfort of the actual story itself, Lolita paints a portrait of a man suffering from the dilemma of his morals versus the morals of society around him.

The underlying idea is moral relativism. Morality is subjective to the cultural, social, or even personal background you are from. We are quick to dismiss Humbert’s desires as taboo and wrong, but who are we to judge? There is no universal moral standard that we all naturally follow from birth. Our unique environments impart to us moral values, and no set of values is more right than another. When we start banning books and censoring based on personal moral standards of right and wrong, wholesome and obscene, we are imposing our morality on others. Nabokov is in no way supporting pedophilia. Lolita is an extreme example used to illustrate the point that right and wrong are in the eye of the beholder.

The Forces of Nature

There are two ideas that are continually changing shape in my mind while I read Lolita. One is Human Nature. Two is Societal Nature. Both are multi-faceted, and I understand that I will never understand them completely. 

[I'll try to keep this post relevant and not make it too much of a ramble.]

Human Nature

While the degree varies from person to person, I think most everyone can agree that Humans need (crave, want..) interaction with other humans (intellectually, emotional, physically...). There is also the basic desire/need to feel wanted and the feeling of wanting someone/something. I think it can be argued that on these basic ideas that Humbert's and Lolita's relationship is simply a Humanistic one -- a form of wanting and being wanted. Then the idea of sexual needs as a basic need for the continuation of a species -- and again part of that desire to have an interaction with another person. Humbert and Lolita's sexual desire works on these two levels. HH even talks about how he should have taken Lo to Mexico until they could marry in the states and then he could impregnate her. But then again, biology had already begun its next phase with Lolita -- so whether she was ready for sexual encounters or birth is irrelevant, because the biological nature of maturation was making her perceive men in a different manner. 

Societal Nature 

Society and Human Nature have a difficult relationship. On the one hand, we only have Society because of the more intricate facets of Human nature, but at the same time, Society suffocates and confines some of the raw facets of Human nature. While there is this involuntary need for procreation, there is also is a definition in Society of what is appropriate in sexual matters. Taboos form and laws are set in place. In this regard, HH and Lo's relationship is wrong. People look at this novel in many lights and (whether you find some readers ignorant or not) find its basic story horrifying. But we look at the novel in such a light because of the way our society has shaped us. 

Society and Human Nature

Society can be manipulated to make Human Nature actions reasonable. 
Evidence 1) The Bible. Specifically Genesis 19:30-38 (KJ version)
" And Lot went up out of Zoar, and dwelt in the mountain, and his two daughters with him; for he feared to dwell in Zoar; and he dwelt in a cave, he and his two daughters. And the firstborn said unto the younger, Our father is old, and there is not a man in the earth to come in unto us after the manner of all the earth: Come, let us make our father drink wine, and we will lie with him, that we may preserve seed of our father. And they made their father drink wine that night, and the firstborn went it, and lay with her father; and he perceived not when she lay down nor when she arose. And it came to pass on the morrow, that the firstborn said unto the younger, Behold, I lay yesternight with my father: let us make him drink wine this night also; and go thou in, and lie with him, that we may preserve seed of our father. And they made their father drink wine that night also: and the younger arose, and lay with him; and he perceived not when she lay down, nor when she arose. Thus were both the daughters of Lot with child by their father." 
This passage can be explained as the daughters thinking they must have sex with their father for procreation, but seeing as how the Bible was written by literate men (in a time when most everyone else was illiterate) it can be argued that they were fitting certain desires into Societal acceptance. 

But then there are the complexities of Human Nature that seem entangled in Society. In a memoir by Kathryn Harrison (The Kiss) she writes about a 4year affair with her father. 
[ http://www.kathrynharrison.com/thekiss.htm ]. Just reading the reviews shows how life can complicate both Human and Society. 

Then there is Maya Angelou's I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, in which she describes her step-father raping her. And in Sue William Silverman's novel (Because I Remember Terror, Father, I Remember You) she writes of her incestuous father. Or Ralph Ellison's novel (Invisible Man) where the daughter is impregnated by the father. Why do we find these stories so grotesque? Is it because they are portrayed in so hideous a manner?

And what about Oedipus. (Granted, he gouged out his eyes and his mother committed suicide when they found out they were mother and son). But what does their reaction say? Was it adhering to Societal conventions?

Then why do we have such a contradiction in feelings towards Lolita? Is it because Society tells us to hate the subject matter, yet on a most basic level, we can relate to the feelings shared by HH (and those of Lo)?

Maybe it's just too much of complicated mess and each case deserves to be seen for what it was and can't be placed in a tidy container. I mean maybe the idea of incest and what it is and means to use is just inherently part of us; to put it one way- we are all just offspring of incest, seeing as how Adam and Eve could be looked upon as Brother and Sister. 

http://tinyurl.com/35hq2p  [incest in popular culture- wiki entry]

Humbert the Unreliable Narrator

I think we can all agree that it's hard to distinguish "reality" from "fiction" in Lolita. As many people have pointed out, Lo herself seems to have initiated some of the sexual interaction between her and Humbert; however, as others validly claim, Humbert isn't exactly unbiased. He's trying to manipulate the reader because, even if he weren't trying to justify his actions, that's just who he is. We see his penchant for manipulation throughout the novel as he talks about toying with his psychiatrists and how he loves games and stratagems. We are his pawns.

Second, even if Humbert were doing everything within his power to remain as neutral as possible in his account, his character is too mentally unstable to make sound judgments about the world. Is it just me, or did it seem that everywhere he and Lo went there were just more pedophiles? Cue was almost jailed because he "liked little girls" and Gaston Godin was "caressed by the young--oh, having a grand time and fooling everybody." Then there are the seemingly countless (I certainly can't remember how many) number of men who eye Lo with a "lecherous grin."


This rampant pedophilia disturbed me, so I looked up some stats. Convicted child molesters (some of which I'm sure are women) make up roughly .08% of the U.S. population. If we buffer that number with a generous .02% for uncaught/acquitted child molesters, that's still only 1% of the population. (Of course this says nothing about people who have attraction to children but don't ever act upon it, but I'm sure that's still less common than the way Humbert depicts it.) Nabokov probably didn't look up the stats, but still, Humbert is delusional and paranoid. Lolita might have been a pretty little girl, but I don't think she was a deliberate temptress. Humbert found her attractive, perhaps saw her as a seductress because he was seduced by her, and then impressed upon other people his own feelings about her.

Maybe. I'm still making my mind up about Lo, but this is one of the possibilities.

Re: Clint

I can agree with Elizabeth about it being normal for a preteen girl to want the attention of an older man; to have some sort of crush on him and everything. So it's considered 'normal' behavior to sit on his lap and everything. But we also have to consider that though this is 'normal', the recipient of this behavior (Humbert) is NOT normal. In any other situation where the man isn't a pedophile, there might be laughs and jokes and the preteen girl would be embarrassed and life would continue. Since it's such a normal thing I don't think we can blame Lolita for the way it turned out. After all, it was Humbert who took it to the next level. The only reason Lolita continued to go as far as she did seduction-wise, is because she got a response out of Humbert. This is what she thought she wanted so it was exciting to her to think that an older man could have interest in her. It's still his fault no matter how you spin it. I don't put any blame on Lolita for 'seducing' Humbert. It was his fault in all ways though he was getting exactly what he wanted. You can bet it wasn't what Lolita really wanted, even if for a moment she thought she did.

Re: Clint

"Humbert was the ultimate asshole, that's all there is to it no matter how he tries to spin it."

I don't know, I don't think this is entirely true.  Humbert is an asshole, yes, of course, but that's NOT all there is to it.  Lolita is a mischievous twelve-year-old girl, and though she seems to have this preternatural sexual know-how, she doesn't really know anything.  She can see that she has this power over Humbert, though, and plays with that power as much as possible. This is a pretty classic move on the part of preteen girls, at least from a child-psychology perspective.  'Normal' examples of this would be Lolita sitting on Humbert's lap, or Lolita vying for his attention, maybe even feeling competitive with her mother for his approval.  Lolita doesn't know what she has on her hands quite yet (i.e., her sexuality) but she can see that it has this overwhelming effect on Humbert (and on other men, we find out, as she grows older.)  So she tries to push those boundaries as far as she can.  Unfortunately, things go way too far, and Humbert is definitely the adult in this situation and thus responsible... but Lolita was a little too deliberately tempting for me to consider her entirely innocent in this situation.


So this whole 'plot doesn't matter' business is really getting to my head. Maybe I'm just apart of the masses (the simple-minded folk) but I prefer to enjoy the plot of a book I'm reading. Honestly, I really enjoy the plot of Lolita, and as fucked up as the subject matter is, Nabokov is a really good story teller. It can drag on at times, but all the twists and turns and surprises (whoa! Charlotte just discovered Hum's secret! wait! she just got hit by a car!) are enjoyable to me. 

We have heard from Krzys and read in Eagleton and others that content is just a vehicle for style. Maybe not outright, but but I keep getting the strong impression that content and plot don't really matter. This makes me sad. It also makes me feel like those Russians Eagleton talked about at the beginning of L.T. (I think Formalists, but I don't have my book at hand to double check) were correct in their theories, which, to me, seemed a little too outlandish. 

Don't get me wrong, I can appreciate good style and close reading and all that, but I feel like if we discount plot all together that we are doing something wrong. Obviously plot is not the number one most important thing that a work of literature has to offer, something that I learned very quickly in this class, but I do think it counts for something. But then again, according to Nabokov I am just a lowly 'bad' reader and I don't know what I'm talking about. I can just see him reading this, rolling out of his chair laughing at my naive stupidity. What an asshole. I think I'm going to go read Janet Evanovich just to spite him.

Re: Humbert is an Asshole

I really liked Edgar's post. I remember reading that many people feel like what happens between Lolita and HH is, in many ways, Lolita's own fault. Even after reading the book, I don't understand that. Like Edgar said, we're only seeing things through HH's point of view, he can manipulate us however he wants. Interestingly enough, he doesn't deny that he raped her ("You know, where you raped me"), but he does seem to try and justify his obsession with nymphets throughout the book.

Even if you assume that HH was being truthful, I find it hard to believe that Lolita would be a willing participant, much less that she would have initiated the sex. As I read the book, I couldn't help wondering if Nabokov was pointing fun at Stockholm Syndrome. Stockholm Syndrome is the idea that abductees can begin to commiserate with their captors and even "switch to their side." Maybe Nabokov was using Lolita's supposed apathy to her situation to continue to make fun of psychoanalysis.

I cheated a little and read some of what Eagleton had to say about Psychoanalysis, and it has made me appreciate Nabokov's pointed satire even more. By having the pompous, idiotic, blowhard HH reference Freudian Psychology throughout the book in often ludicrous ways, Nabokov perfectly illustrates some of the ridiculous theories one can come up with if you're always looking for a symbol. The best example Nabokov's mockery is Humbert's constant blaming of his relationship with Annabel as the source of his pedophilia, as if anyone who had a relationship cut tragically short as a child would seek to fulfill that relationship later in life.

Humbert was the ultimate asshole, that's all there is to it no matter how he tries to spin it.

Re: Humbert is an Asshole

I have to agree with Edgar that Humbert is, indeed an asshole. I think that because it is written, or rather the way Humbert describes everything, the reader tends to not really be so much disgusted with Humbert, but rather he invokes interest. As Krzys said in lecture on Thursday, Humbert is writing down his life and thinking about his actions right before he is about to die so his writing uses luminous language that compels sympathy. The reader does feel bad for Humbert and sees him as the protagonist even though he rapes little girls. The reader feels this way because, as Edgar said, he is telling the story so he is free to manipulate is, and he is also manipulating the reader with his fancy prose style that draws you in.

I too didn't think of Humbert and Lo's first night together as rape untill Lolita mentions it herself. I even had to go back and read that part in the book to make sure what I thought happened even happened. The way Humbert tells it, he says that Lolita kind of initiates sex, even though Humbert so longs for it, but this too could also be a manipulation. But I think if Lo did initiate sex, it does add to her whole mischievous characterization as she was plotting to leaving Humbert ever since that night. What Humbert does is wrong, and also that he kept repeating his offenses and would give Lolita gifts, money, and freedom to do so is wrong.

Yes, his prose style is fancy, but ultimately after you read the book and you think about Humbert you tend not to like him. He is a pedifile, rapist who descibes women who arent 12 year old nyphlets as "old, fat cows." Humbert... not so much a great guy.

Humbert is an asshole

So having nearly finished Lolita, I now feel comfortable enough to talk about it. My point is pretty simple, Humbert is an asshole. Duh, Edgar, he rapes a child. Well, it seems that some of fellow students have been swayed by Humbert's fancy prose style and have started to question if Humbert is only partially to blame.

Miku thinks Lo may be a willing participant and Meredith didn't even consider labeling what happens between HH and Lo as rape until Lo says, "You know, where you raped me." Lets step back a bit. When reading Lolita, you are reading what Nabokov decided the character Humbert would decide to tell you. Having that in mind, is Humbert even telling the truth? Usually one wouldn't question the narrator's integrity, but we are dealing with a child rapist here who rationalizes his actions. If we are to consider Humbert as a human, then we must consider that humans lie frequently and so does Humbert.

As for Lo's supposed wickedness, are we ever truly to know what she was like? We only ever see Humbert's view. Lo seducing Humbert is almost laughable to me. When I was her age, I knew little to nothing about sex but as hell pretended to ("then the baby comes out the butt"), and whatever I pretended to know came from friends who pretended to know. Of course, this was before the internet came around to take all our innocence away. I blame it all on the piss poor sex "education" I got from school. So what could Lo possibly know? Little to nothing outside of what goes where I wager. I'm sure she knows exactly how to seduce a grown man. Why would she be so nonchalant about what Humbert does to her? I would think that her relationship with Humbert feels normal to her since it is the only relationship she has for a while. She doesn't know any other way until she grows and then ends up to resent Humbert. Also, women who are raped can develop complexities about sex and relationships. This could explain Lo's errant behavior.

Humbert says his want is only natural. No human want is unnatural. Murderers act on natural urges of hate. I'm sure that justifies such acts. Humbert says that sex between father and daughter were accepted in some dignified cultures of the past. That must mean slavery is fine considering it was accepted in cultures of the past.

Humbert also states he tried to keep Lo's innocence intact. This is a very fatherly thing to do and paints him in a good light except for the fact that Humbert gets off on young little girls. Its a completely selfish act. He doesn't want to protect her from the world; he just wants her to stay the same so he can get off.

Don't fall for Humbert's fancy prose style, he is an asshole. Never listen to what a guy says, just pay attention to what he does. Humbert says all these nice things but rapes his stepdaughter. I rest my case.

Lolita.. again.

As we’ve been reading this and going over it in class, it just gets more strange to me how “Un-weird” all this seems to be. In Humbert’s mind, what he is doing is morally wrong but it seems like he either can’t or will not try to top himself. There have been times when he held back from what he wanted to do, but only to postpone them. Something Miku said in class the other day really opened my eyes. She mentioned that Lolita acts just like a 12 year old girl who has had nothing done to her. This makes it hard to put all the blame on HH. HH claims to have been seduced by Lolita during their first encounter, and the way she continues to act throughout their journey proves that she does nothing to stop it, and possibly enjoys it, to an extent. Although Lolita does cry and make rude remarks towards the “disgusting old mad”, she doesn’t let those words turn into actions. I just think it’s odd how Nabokov can turn such a thing around onto a 12 year old.
The way the writer always reminds us that we’re reading a book, is just another amazing thing about this story. Right when I feel like I cannot handle the way this “relationship” is going on, he adds in his “famous parentheses” and pulls me back out. I feel like I just keep talking about the same things in my blogs, just in different ways, but I really just am amazed by Nabokov’s way of writing, and making us follow HH’s thoughts. There seems to be nothing wrong with what HH and Lolita are doing, only because Nabokov creatively makes us believe so.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Re: Sam's Post and Lepidopterology

I think Sam hit the nail on the head. This book is an exercise of the imagination. I, too, am guilty of imagining with reality. Nabokov wants us to imagine with the reality he gives to us through Humbert. Instead of reiterating Sam’s post, I decided delve into Nabokov’s hobby of lepidopterology and include some interesting facts about butterflies and Nabokov.

He named his own species of butterfly! Carterocphalus canopuncttus.
Butterflies are noted for their unusual life cycle.
“The diverse patterns formed by their brightly coloured wings and their erratic yet graceful flight have made butterfly watching a hobby.”
“Butterflies exhibit polymorphism, mimicry and aposematism.”
“Some butterflies have evolved symbiotic and parasitic relationships with social insects such as ants.”
“…a few species are pests, because they can damage domestic crops and trees in their larval stage.”
“Unlike many insects, butterflies do not experience a nymph period…”

But. Nabokov doesn’t advocate grandiose symbolism. So it probably doesn’t mean anything. Just thought that these are interesting facts to know! Also, in my butterfly research, I found the poetry vs. science/precision vs. passion context:
“In Speak, Memory, Nabokov reports that he ‘discovered in nature the nonutilitarian delights that [he] sought in art. Both were a form of magic, both were a game of enchantment and deception,’ Note also: ‘Coincidence of pattern is one of the wonders of nature. The wonders of nature were beginning to impress me at that early age [8].’
In nearly every interview Nabokov reiterated this theme. He told the BBC, for example, that ‘all art is deception and so is nature; all is deception in that good cheat, from the insect that mimics a leaf to the popular enticements of procreation.’ When asked for a more specific tie between lepidopterology and his writing, Nabokov replied, ‘I think that in a work of art there is a kind of merging between the two things, between the precision of poetry and the excitement of pure science.’”

Re: Lolita the demon

I also feel like a lot of the disturbing things that happened in Lolita were just as much Lo's fault as H.H.'s. Humbert even states that the first time he had Lolita it was she who seduced him. I can't find the exact quote at the moment, but the first time I fully considered what was happening as rape, as opposed to just an extremely bizarre relationship, was when Lolita was asking about the name of the hotel where they had sex and she says something like, "You know, where you raped me." Of course Humbert mentions that Lolita cries at night and that she obviously finds him repulsive for the most part, but at the same time his graceful narration makes it all seem like a love affair with two participants. 

Nymphets do not occur in polar regions.

So I went into Lolita more than a little afraid of what I would find inside. I like to think sex with 12 year olds is not acceptable to almost anyone, and I wasn't looking forward to reading about it. I will write about my changing attitude toward Humbert throughout (as far as I have read, anyhow, which is just past page 200) the book because I think all of us have probably considered the weight of the subject matter. Mostly, though, I think one's personal reactions to a book ARE important, expecially in a work likely to evoke strong reactions.

Like I said, I went into it with malice already on my mind, so of course it was there. His description of his first love, Annabel, moved me very slightly, but mostly I remained surly, partiularly his descriptions of any woman over the age of 14. And even more so as he went on to describe nymphets in general--the notion that some percentage of the population of pubescent girls are somehow evil and deserve creepy thoughts and desires and "ask" for them! Humbert had that against him, but his general writing (Humbert's, not Nabokov's, if that's possible) also came across as pretentious at best, unsettling at worst. At best, it has a nice tone, but he mentioned how attractive he is about six times and seems to dismiss a lot of things as below him. At worst, he writes about lust for children (and later, the touching of them) as though it is beauitful--thouroughly disturbing! My revulsion hit a peak when he was first infatuated with Dolly, creepily doing anything to be near her undectected. When he got off on her sitting with her legs on his lap, I was oddly... not repulsed, and even less so when he mentioned how glad he was he didn't have to defile her to get off (pleased is much too strong, though).

His decision to marry her mother... didn't really affect me at all, nor did the vivid killing day-dreams. I think I had softened up a bit by this point, actually. When she told him that she was sending Dolly to a boarding school, I thought to myself "oh no!" I rooted for a child molester/rapist/pedophile! What?! I feel like being at such odds with the narrator and protagonist was eventually hindering my ability to get through it and so I accepted what few charms he had to offer--his occasional deep emotion for Lolita, his wit. By the second time they'd had sex, I was almost accepting this relationship as some kind of legitimate, which was also unsettling to me, my own feelings. As they traveled throughout the country, my opinion mostly moved to curiosity as to how this would play out, how long such a secret could be kept. I knew from the start that there was not brutal rape, but I vowed not to be "okay" with the happenings anyway. As I read, though, I found myself not hating Humbert, even rooting for him occasionally. Lolita's blase attitude to what was going on didn't help either. I reminded myself, though, that all I had was Humbert and he was certainly an unreliable narrator. I cannot know for sure what was actually going on at any given time.

Now that Humbert and Lolita have settled and his only sin (besides the continual rape and paying her for sex and kisses, which I have somehow just started taking for granted) is being much too overprotective a father (father?!), I've certainly settled with them into a comfortable, if not grotesque, pattern. I look forward to stretching the limits of my ethics as I read further.

Lolita, Take Two

What struck me as most interesting about Tuesday's lecture was when Krzys mentioned the New York Times critic who said the first time she read Lolita she thought it was one of the funniest books she had read and the second time she read it, she thought it one of the saddest. I suppose this struck a chord with me because right now I'm going through those emotions in reverse.

I first stumbled across Lolita on my older sister's book shelf about five years ago. When I was fourteen, I had been thoroughly disturbed by H.H.'s actions and Lo's lost innocence. I found the book compelling yet depressing. Now, however, since I've started reading it again, my current reactions contrast completely with my prior ones. I still find the text just as irresistible, but now I can't help but be amused by the word play, such as when he describes her (Dolores Haze) as "dolorous and hazy," and more than once my room mate has caught me giggling uncontrollably from the wry narration. She asked me what the book was about, and when I told her, she replied with, "And that's funny?"

Clint was right. I find myself now disturbed that I am not disturbed, especially since I used to be.

Azar Nafisi said that "Humbert appears to us both as narrator and seducer--not just of Lolita but also of us, his readers[.]" So am I being seduced?


Today while talking with a friend, I learned a very interesting fact about Vladimir Nabokov. I mentioned that I was reading Lolita and was then surprised to hear that my friend has a fairly extensive knowledge of the author. Apparently, Nabokov suffered (I don’t think suffered is quite the right word, because the disease doesn’t sound too unpleasant or terrible, but it works) from synesthesia. Synesthesia is a neurological condition in which stimulation of one sensory pathway leads to an automatic, involuntary stimulation of another sensory pathway. There are numerous types of synesthesia, but all subsets have an instinctual association of two senses. For example, numbers, letters, and even music are often perceived as a particular color. Days of the week, months, or years may be associated with specific personalities. Any of the senses may become personified. Or when a person who has synesthesia thinks of groups of numbers, they may see the numbers in grouped patterns. I didn’t even know that such a thing existed and after doing a little research on the topic, I think it’s fascinating and somehow seems fitting that Nabokov was diagnosed with this disorder.

After learning about Nabokov’s synesthesia I started looking for examples in Lolita. This could be reading way too far into the condition, but on almost every page Nabokov does mention color and physical sensation. Of course, any good writer is going to incorporate all of his sensory perceptions into his or her work; however, Nabokov does do it very frequently. At the beginning of chapter fourteen Nabokov writes, “The afternoon drifted on and on, in ripe silence, and the sappy tall trees seemed to be in the know; and desire, even stronger than before, began to afflict me again.” Nabokov uses a lot of personification in his writing. Just in the following chapter, he writes, “As we sat in the darkness of the veranda (a rude wind had put out her red candles)…” Again, personification and color are utilized. I realize that probably the vast majority of Nabokov’s writing is not affected by his diagnoses; however, after reading some of his work, a good case could be made for justifying the affect that synesthesia had on his writing style.

Please Pay Attention to the Man behind the Curtain

I had a lightbulb moment of "Ah!" while reading Lolita, and found that Humbert Humbert asked us to imagine him, much the way Nafisi asked us to imagine them. This got me thinking about why the narrator of the books would ask such a thing of its reader.

I don't know about you, but whenever I read, I automatically imagine the settings, characters, everything down to the smells and noises. So when the narrator asks me to imagine I say to them "I already have imagined you!"

So why do they directly ask the reader to "imagine." Do they ask for those readers that do not imagine? Are they asking it of everyone, regardless of their imagination? Or are they asking those readers (who like myself) are already in the full bloom of imagination?

I've pondered the answers to all this lovely questions, and I continue to lean towards the last question as the audience the narrator was speaking to. Nabokov (as we have all come to learn) was for 'Good Readers.' So a person with no imagination and people as a generality can all learn the art of 'good readership.' They all share the possiblity of being shaped into 'good little readers.' But those with a blooming imagination already have preconceived notions-- yes yes, they may be more open towards art and all the forms it can shrink and expand, but their ability to automatically enter into another world, limits them as readers. We (imaginers) go into a novel armed with our cabinets full of colors, shapes, voices, smells, feelings (touch - not emotional), etc. We solve the visual puzzle with each page turn. We solve OUR personal visual puzzle of the novel. We do not let the characters speak and present themselves. And that, (in this pieced together post) is one of the main reasons I think Nafisi, Nabokov, and everyother author/narrator-asks, demands, pleads, and begs for us to "IMAGINE them." Imagine them not as they may be, but Imagine them as they ARE.


One last, and random thought about Lolita. While reading it, I snorted out loud at Humbert's line "She tabooed my pin." [In fact, this might be the moment I realized I'll forever be a Nabokov fan]

This is written when Charolette Haze has read H.H.'s journal and he is going to calm her with a drink.

1) Pin in the quote is a play on the word Pen. H.H.'s journal was nothing, it meant absolutely nothing when it was just H.H. and the black bound journal. But, once its subject matter had been previewed by another's eyes, the thoughts contained in it were up for scrutiny. And seeing how the subject matter was his Love for a 12yr old girl- a Love that society was against- it made this Love and these feelings societially taboo. So....Mama Haze, 'tabooed his pi(e)n' by reading it.

2) Pin (we later find out) is the name H.H. has given to his choice drink- pineapple juice and gin. When he is fixing C.Haze a drink, he makes Whiskey and Soda. However he makes the same drink for himself (whiskey and soda), thus hinting to the fact that thru her anger and outrage, C.Haze had 'tabooed [his] pin' as it would not be appropriate to drink a drink that is a defined character trait in H.H.

Too much

In looking at our culture's reaction to pedophilia and hebephilia (Humbert) , it's interesting to see the the double ended spectrum and how society reacts to it. There is a show on NBC called "To Catch a Predator" videotaping the police entrapping child sex offenders. There is something deeply subversive and a bit sickening to me about the whole situation. Our culture portrays these men as irredeemable and soulless, when Nabokov said "We are sad eyed dogs." In reality, the recidivism rate is upwards of 70% which leads me to believe that perhaps this is a sickness. But, these individuals had a choice and they acted upon it. One cannot refute the link of sex with violence and how truly tramuatizing the act is, particularly to the receiving partner. To a child of 11 while the act would be understood, it would be shameful and scary. This book is almost too much for me to take. I realize that there are "girleens and nymphets" but it seems that they still must have some shred of innocence to cling to. Sometimes "fudge sundaes and frilly frocks" simply aren't enough.

"The notion of symbol itself has always been hopeful."

One of the most interesting things discussed at Tuesday's lecture was Nabokov's opinion of symbolism:

For the most part, I agree - it's very high-school-English-course to say, "The red dress represents passion," and "the book is a symbol of knowledge," and so on and so on.  It is elementary, I afgree, and probably an overused, trite crutch of shitty writers.  But I noticed while reading Lolita (pre-lecture) a point at which Nabokov wrote a very skilled, very beautiful, very complex, but nonetheless symbolic scene right before Lolita seduces Humbert for the first time, but after both parties have made allusions to the event.

"When the dessert was plunked down - a huge wedge of cherry (the wet, juicy red fruit is an embarrassingly obvious, overt reference to Lolita's naïve sexuality) pie for the young lady and vanilla ice cream (again, thick, opaque white ice cream is a fairly unmistakable symbol of Humbert's sex drive) for her protector - most of which she expeditiously added to her pie (Lolita taking and consuming his ice cream takes the whole thing one giant, uncomfortable step further)..." (122)

I noticed this while reading and marked the page intending to read it again, because I thought the symbolism was so well-done.  It didn't follow a lame, trite, x=y formula, even though the presence of such sensual, dripping fruit could have very easily rendered the scene hackneyed and predictable.  So it was surprising to me to hear that Nabokov was so critical of the concept in general.  Obviously this vivid description of the meal has significance of its own aside from its lurid similarity to the body parts involved in the preceding scene... but it still makes me wonder.  Maybe he criticized others' unskilled attempts at it but considered it acceptable for his own use?  I guess that's what the title of this post means, but I found this fact useful, especially after falling in love with the passage.

You can always count on a murderer for a fancy prose style

After reading the first chapter of Lolita aloud in class, I went back and reread it a few more times and had a couple of thoughts:
One of the first things I realized while reading it aloud was all the alliteration Nabokov uses, "the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap , at three, on the teeth". And also that all his sentences are relatively short. The professor said that Nabokov doesn't like symbolic thinking in literature. So his words are very straightforward, but this doesn't make them any less beautiful. He gets to the point without having to hide it in the symbolism of a color representing the way a character is feeling. It's a brave thing to do I think, putting everything out there just as it is. He isn't hiding anything from the readers, just like Humbert Humbert isn't trying to hide what he has done from the 'ladies and gentleman of the jury'.
I also question what was meant by the sentence "You can always count on a murderer for a fancy prose style". HH says this after saying "about as many years before Lolita was born as my age was that summer". This sentence isn't very clear. So is he trying to say that murderers will use fancy prose to get around an answer to something? But HH is about to explain absolutely everything. He uses a fancy prose style to tell us his whole story. When I think of 'murderers' in general, I don't see them as using fancy prose style. So this kind of confused me.
I also realized that I didn't know what seraphs are. I looked it up via the OED and found out that they are a high ranking form of angel that hover over god's throne and are "specially distinguished by fervour of love". So is HH saying that these divine creatures with all this love for god, would be envious of HH's love? And is he talking about his love with Annabel, or with Lolita?
I really love the way that Nabokov writes. It's so simple yet so beautiful. Or maybe I should say I love the way that Humbert writes? Because this is all really written by Humbert. He is the murderer with the fancy prose style, not Nabokov. I'm interested to read another story by Nabokov to see if he always writes in this way, or if he was just giving Humbert a more complex character in writing his story this way.

Re: Favorite part of Tuesday's lecture and interesting stuff

I also thought it was interesting to learn that the forward by a John Ray, PhD, was fictional. Here it the real start of Nabokov's jabs at psychology of the day, by criticizing his book in a nonsensical, Freudian way. We also see more feelings toward the field when Humbert repeatedly speaks of magic and fate and imagination rather than psychiatry. As Krzys mentioned in lecture, Humbert voluntarily and on numerous occasions places himself in a sanitarium and taunts the staff and their analysis methods.

It was also interesting to learn that Nabokov studied butterflies, one because it is an unusual subject of study and two because I began to see how lolita is seen by Humbert as a sort of butterfly, but a butterfly that evolves in reverse. Humbert is so hell-bent on keeping Lolita near, and making sure that she remains his personal "nymphlet" so she will remain a beautiful innocent twelve year old girl. But she does end up evolving with the more time she spends with Humbert, and she becomes resentful and deceptive towards him. I also have the annotated version of Lolita and in chapter 35 of part 2, when Humbert confronts Quilty, Quilty calls him self "Maeterlinick-Schmetterling" Schmetterling is German for Butterfly, and Maeterlinick was a Belgian playwright. I just thought that was interesting that he threw that reference into the novel and the purpose for which it serves.

John Ray

One of the most interesting things Krzys brought up during his lecture Tuesday was our discussion of the forward written by the fictional John Ray (Although Nabokov’s study of butterflies was a close second). I had read it on my time through the book, but honestly given it little thought since. After Krzys told us that it was written by Nabokov, it really took on a whole new meaning, and now Nabokov’s fingerprints seem painfully obvious. What a clever way for Nabokov to show his readers how not to read Lolita, and once you realize that Nabokov is parodying readers like John Ray, the forward is probably more effective than if Nabokov had written it as himself. John Ray focuses on many parts of the novel that, once you’ve read it, you realize are very unimportant. He spends half a page doing “where are they now?”s for many of the novel’s characters, when that really isn’t the point of the novel at all. He then bluntly analyzes the book from a psychological perspective, and quite humorously muses on the possibility of all the novel’s conflicts being avoided if only Humbert had seen “a competent psychopathologist”. Finally he relates to us the important moral lesson that we should all take from Lolita: That we as “parents, social workers, educators [should] apply ourselves with still greater vigilance and vision to the task of bringing up and better generation in a safer world.” Personally, I don’t think anything could be farther off.
To Quote Krzys, “John Ray views Lolita as a ‘case history’ rather than art.” While I would hope that most of us wouldn’t take it to the excruciating extreme that Ray does, the idea of trying to psychoanalyze Humbert is a tempting one, but a trap that Nabokov is warning us to avoid. We should learn from Ray’s mistakes and not focus on Lolita’s plot, use psychology to empathize with Humbert, or try to take a socially applicable moral lesson from the story. Instead, we should focus on it as a work of art, and focus just on the language of Lolita: the imagery, the structure, and the sound Nabokov chooses. So now that John Ray has shown us how to read Lolita badly, I’m interesting in delving into how to read Lolita well, because about all I can do now is stand in awe.


A few weeks ago, we were talking about the elitist view of literature. Some works are created not for the masses, but the educated minority. At the time, I was unsure of my beliefs on this. Who is one author to say that his work is not intended for you? Then again, an artist can compose for whoever he wants.
I realized, almost every profession is like this. I was reading one of my friend's blog criticisms on the current economy. He said it was a matter of the government making the taxpayers finance a bailout. To anyone who has looked at where the money is coming from (Fed balance sheet, etc), this idea (to date) is untrue. What kind of economics background do you need to understand the fundamentals of the recession, something that is effecting every American and the majority of the global economy?
Our world is becoming more and more specialized. People have realized that general practice pays less than a unique job. More people are going to college, more people are pursuing degrees higher than bachelors to even think about entering the workforce. Is literature just following this trend? I have always been under the impression that literature and the arts is for everyone to enjoy. It requires just as much specialized understanding as the economy or biology. One of the differences is who much emphasis is spent on literature in grade school. I have taken one economics course in grade school, but a literature or English course every year. Is that why I thought it was intended for everyone because it is being taught to everyone?

Favorite part of Tuesday's lecture

My favorite part of Tuesday's lecture was learning that the person that wrote the forward at the beginning of Lolita was made up. That was the very last thing on my mind. It never occurred to me that something like this could be done. I must say that a big part of Lolita that I did not realize I had missed till the lecture, was Nabokov's intense criticism of Freudian Psychology. When reading the forward, I had the mindset that the forward is always in support of the book, so I didn't catch the cynicism. The way Nabokov puts at the beginning of the book, a forward that is in opposition of the true meaning of the book, so that we may see what not to do, is very similar to the Roger Ebert criticism that was included with Blue Velvet. I think the reason I was able to get the irony of the Blue Velvet criticism was because I watched the entire movie before watching the interview, and I was already in search mode. But it never came across my mind that the Forward of a book could be so layered.
I also found Nabocov's view of psychology and art as two extremes interesting. I had always seen psychology and art as two separate entities that were as comparable as apples were to dogs. This I feel stems back to a point Dr. Nafisi had made during her lecture, that in the past poetry and science were seen as part of one another, but in today's world, we see them almost as opposites. When you really think about it, Nabokov does have a point. There are times when one can analyze a piece to pieces. Art is to be appreciated, not analyzed, and when you do the latter, you are in danger of destroying it's essence.

Lolita the demon

As I was thinking about moments when I felt disturbed while reading Lolita, I realized that most of them had to do with Lo herself, not actually Humbert. Kelly mentioned that Humbert uses terms relating to demons to describe her, and now that I think about it I can see why. Most people would expect a young girl who has been abused to be fragile, broken, depressed, and traumatized. However, Lolita rarely came off that way to me. In many cases it seemed that Lolita was toying with Humbert because she knew how obsessed he was with her and it was almost as if he had an uncontrollable disease. There are times in the book when Humbert describes Lo’s emptiness and unresponsiveness to his touches, and later on when he finally finds her he does talk about how he ruined her. I know she was severely damaged by the years of abuse, but I can’t help but remember that at first, Humbert tried to satisfy his longing while preserving her innocence, and it was Lolita who tempted him to the point of no return. Of course, as an adult he should have known better and there’s no denying he was a sick, disgusting man. However, the way Lolita’s presented in the book makes her seem like a willing participant, not simply a victim, in this crime. I guess that’s another reason why I wasn’t as disgusted by Humbert as I should have been.


When we read Lolita aloud as a class, I couldn’t believe how it sounded. Lo. Lee.Ta. really made us sound kind of like a cult... After we learned that Lolita is about incantations, I could hear it while I was reading it, instead of just looking at it on a page. Not sure if that makes any sense to you all, but it really was a strange sensation. In class, Krzys said that this novel is mean to work on our ears as well as our hearts, which is an amazing thing for a book to do. I had never thought of it that way, but it is so totally true. More than anything I’ve ever read, Lolita had soaked into my feelings instead of just my head. I felt what I read, I heard it, and this was more than just a book. Like the Nafisi said “the writer needs the precision of the poet and the passion of the scientist”, Nabokov really makes you feel the passion he wrote with and I precisely felt the things put out there for us to feel. I’m not sure what it is about his wonderful use of language that forces us to feel this book more than just read it, but it seriously amazes me.
Clint said in his last blog something about how we were disturbed about how we felt, but really, (as he pointed out) we were disturbed at how UN-disturbing this novel was. I didn’t realize it until he said that, but that is exactly how I felt, I thought I should feel sickened by this story, but because of the way Nabokov has written it, I wasn’t..
This is a short blog entry, but I just am still so fascinated by the use of language in Lolita that I don’t know what else to write about. Nabokov truly is a mastermind.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Limits of the imagination

I've been mauling over this for a while. A few weeks, actually. I guess it was all started by this class and its emphasis on the imagination and how it makes a good reader. "I wonder if you can imagine us.." and such other passages from our readings (I found one such passage in Lolita but I forgot to mark it) mention the imagination. How great is the imagination of a person? Of course it would vary from person to person, but sometimes I get the idea people believe their imagination is grand.

I think that most people's imaginations are almost inept. I was arguing with someone I know about something like this. She said she felt that she much rather imagine things than be shown them. I find that understandable. An exercise of the mind can be just as pleasurable as the exercise of the body. But exactly what does the imagination create? Does it really create a vision or does it create a false experience of what we believe we are creating in our minds? I don't really know which one is acting when I'm reading a book but I know which one is acting when I'm creating something.

I love to draw. Drawing is my first love. Sometimes I'll think of something great to draw (or so I think), and I'll eagerly get whatever instruments I have nearby to put it to paper. Then, the actual drawing of what I envision. Truth be told, it never is like what I envision it. No matter how many times I redraw and refine, no drawing I ever make will be what I envisioned. It can come out approximately close sometimes. And rarely, it'll come out even better. The drawing will impress me. I can count the number of times that has happened with my hands, and I've worked with my imagination for tens of thousands of hours. It is my opinion, that an artist who can draw what he envisioned is the supreme master of his craft.

I'm finding it hard to articulate what my point is. Maybe its that artists have the most exercised imaginations. Artists of all sorts of course. Musicians, writers, directors, actors and even particularly clever scientists or chef. They use their imaginations for their craft and I find it hard to believe many of them achieve what they wish for. Sometimes, I remember what someone once wrote or told me. "Originality is splicing things up beyond recognition." Sometimes, I think no one has any real imagination.

Another point I think I'm trying to make is that the imagination we use when reading a book is a limited one. One that is not actually used to create something concrete. Maybe if I drew the room in which most of Reading Lolita in Tehran I would feel better when the author says "I wonder if you can imagine us" because then I wouldn't feel hesitant to say, I guess.

Im sorry this post is rambling and unorganized. Sometimes, my imagination fails me.

Re Healthy Sexuality

Nabokov does a surprisingly great job of taking dark subject matter and making it entertaining. Pedophiles and molesters are one thing Americans have not come desensitized to. I remember going on a hot date in high school to go see The Hills Have Eyes. There is a rape scene and I could not even watch the whole thing. I felt sick to my stomach. Why then, while reading a book about equally disgusting subject matter, did I never have such a strong reaction? As mentioned by others, I can see the reason behind Nabokov's "Readings for Writers". We are not supposed to read within the constraints of society, we are supposed to just read without passing judgment. While the act of rape or molestation is inherently horrifying (not just a societal ideal/learned amount of horrifying), the way Nabokov wrote it made the subject matter seem less so.

While reading, I thought the book was both funny and tragic. Humbert's plight was not about pedophile once he started being with Lolita. He was a scorned lover. Like Lolita seducing Humbert, she ran the shots. His obsession gave him the lower hand. He seemed to be the tortured one, while she was good at manipulation. My sympathy was with Humbert.

Re: Re: Healthy Sexuality and a little more

I also agree with Rachael and Miku's thoughts about Lolita. I was expecting something disturbing but I somehow got something amazing and awesome to read. I especially like what Miku said: "Making something good seem beautiful is easy; turning an ugly truth into a beautiful work of art is an amazing accomplishment." How very true. 

Also, while reading Lolita I was reminded of that article we read that discussed how authors could make their works wonderful but adding alliteration and assonance and such. At the time of reading that article I thought that was a bunch of crap, mainly because literary devices like that often make a work seem silly or unrealistic. Lolita is the first thing I have read that is absolutely beautiful and doesn't sound phony. For example, the very first paragraph is full of alliteration:

"Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta."

I also really enjoy how he refers to the gun as "chum" and all the clever plays-on-words that he uses with names and places. 

Nabokov is simply a genius. 

Re: Healthy Sexuality

I completely share Rachael’s thoughts about Lolita. When I found out the subject of Lolita, I thought there was no way I would like it. I mean, the continuous rape of a child? That’s horrible, disgusting, and one of the darkest aspects of our society. However, as soon as I started reading I was immediately entranced by it. I expected Lolita to contain graphic description of sexual acts, but instead even the most revolting scenes were described in such a beautiful, passionate way that I began to see things through Humbert’s eyes. I almost forgot that she was a child and that he was an adult abusing her. Sometimes I felt like I was reading a love story, not the story of a pedophile. I dove into Lolita expecting to despise it, but I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. Making something good seem beautiful is easy; turning an ugly truth into a beautiful work of art is an amazing accomplishment. Kudos to Nabokov!

My take on Lolita

I love this Book a lot. It is true that the whole topic is strange, immoral, and even creepy to an extent, but what I really admire about this book is its reality. I love the way Nabokov gives HH a real soul. I have found myself many times reading an account in a work of literature, and thinking " that is not possible, no one would ever do that!" Not all works are meant to be replicas of reality, but if felt that Lolita went deeper than reality. It went to the true deep honest feelings, where regardless of its morality, the objective is to tell the truth and only the truth. I so much adore the part at the beginning of Lolita when Valeria leaves HH for another man. His reaction to me was amazing because you could feel it, and you know he was not hiding anything from you or himself.

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"I sat with arms folded, on one hip on the window sill, dying of hate and boredom. At last both were out of the quivering apartment-the vibration of the door I had slammed after them still rang in my every nerve, a poor substitute for the backhand slap with which I ought to have hit her across the cheekbone according to the rules of the movies."

His pain, helplessness, and sheer frustration can be felt right from the get go. I guess what I am trying to say is although in society, we see some of HH feelings, like the way he feels when describing Lolita, as abnormal, the way he reacts to his everyday life seems so natural. When you read a work of literature, there is always this bookish, fabricated after taste that many posses, and through some sort of skill which I stand in admiration of, Nabokov was able to sieve this flaw out of the entire book.

I also love the Idea of HH's little notebook. The fact that he feels a need to write down what is happening, but writes it in a way that only he can read it, and in the end, he destroys it. The Idea of keeping a diary is something I still can not fully understand. Why write thoughts so secret that you will rather die than let anyone know about it, in a place where with a little patience can be easily found. I tried keeping a diary once, but even though it had a lock, I never put any of my deepest darkest secrets in them. It always felt like I was writing to someone, that eventually someone would end up reading it.

Its weird, but HH's honesty with us, made me think of the observations we right down for this class. Having to be honest with yourself regardless the outcome is something I think is difficult, and it requires a keen eye and strength. It is hard to be honest about one's self, but to be able to create another person, and be honest for that person, requires great skill (or so it seems), and for that, Nobokov deserves praise.

Nabokov is awesome

As is the case with most novels, a loyal connection is formed between the narrator and reader; however, with Lolita I was doubtful if I would feel the usual bond between the narrator and myself. Despite the fact that the narrator is a pedophile, Nabokov’s beautifully crafted language manages to instill a sense of connection and remorse by the reader towards the criminal.

It seems like it should be obvious that pedophilia is almost a sort of mental disorder that an individual has no control over, yet that still has never really inspired much sympathy from me. Because of Nabokov’s use of words, I am viewing Humbert’s addiction to young girls as I have never looked at pedophilia before. Humbert comes across as extremely intelligent and somehow rational. Justifying himself to the reader from his point of view works very well. It is very clear that Humbert has a problem and instead of feeling outraged and disgusted with Humbert, I feel pity and sorrow for the man.

When Humbert speaks of his “nymphets,” this never bothered me the way that it normally would. Within the first few pages, Nabokov manages to somehow make the taboo subject of sex with prepubescent girls surprisingly acceptable. The emphasis of the novel seems to be on amazingly well-written language rather than the criminal act of pedophilia and that is an awesome accomplishment. I do not think that most authors possess the skills necessary to turn one of the most frowned upon, socially unacceptable acts into an uneventful, everyday subject. I am thoroughly impressed with Nabokov’s skill.

Ladies and Gentlemen of the Jury

For me, the technique that added the most meaning, and made Lolita both interesting and morally challenging to read was Humbert's narration, and the way Nabokov breaks the 4th wall. Humbert is not only an unreliable narrator, but a downright manipulative one. From the first page, he assumes the role of an accused man pleading his case, and stops regularly to try and justify his actions to his audience. He purposefully and blatantly tries to persuade us to empathize with him, and that elegant bastard does a good job too.

So as I sat down to write my blog, I started to think, why did Nabokov choose this format? What effect did he create by this choice? Humbert doesn't attempt to conceal that he is telling his story in a persuasive manner, but the horrifying realities of his actions ensure that we will never allow ourselves to truly agree with him. We readers are not stupid enough for that, Nabokov knows this, so then what is the point? I would argue that by adding this element to Lolita, Nabokov makes the novel both more difficult and more rewarding. Since we as readers are forced to put up with wiley Humbert, we must struggle to maintain our own moral beleifs (like say, that raping children is bad) against a constant onslaught of verbose rationalizations. The narrator blatantly tells us what to think, but it is constructed in such a way that the thoughts he tries to force feed us (in a spoon of breathtaking imagery) must be fought off to maintain our own moral decency. In this way, Nabokov forces us to think outside the novel and to formulate our own opinions about Humbert, since the opinion presented is unsatisfactory. And this technique is just part of what makes Lolita such an valuable and thought-provoking work.

Hopefully that makes sense, I'm looking forward diving further into the marinas trench of moral questions that Lolita raises tomorrow morning.

Just reading Lolita.

I am in the midst of reading Lolita because in my rush to get home I forgot my book, but I am enjoying it thus far. The language Nabokov uses beautifully illustrates Humbert's thoughts and makes his obsessions more understandable.

In my personal observations so far, obviously I have enjoyed reading it because the language and writing style is so playful, with his puns, forshawowing and irony and use of insults at most of the female characters , et j'adore le Français dans le livre, I feel it put my five hour French class to use. His writing and I suppose the subject matter reminds me of a more traditional, less vulgar Chuck Palaniuk.

Nabokov definatly is right with his rules in "Good Readers and Good Writers" for this novel. while reading Lolita, I don't try and relate to the narrarator , nor does it come naturally to do so. So I guess with that he is able to make people 'good readers'with his 'good writing.'

Let Me Fondle Your Details

I agree wholeheartedly Lolita is an eloquent and intoxicating work of literature. The annotations are longer than the novel. Nabokov impresses the reader with his genius without coming off pretentious. However, the selfish reader in me is tempted to ask “What am I getting from this? Why would I spend Spring Break 2K9 *Woot Woot* reading this eloquent and intoxicating story about a man and a 12 year old girl? Did I do it for his mastery of language (impressively his second language)?”

In Nazar Afisi’s lecture, she instructed readers not to open books to “reaffirm prejudice,” to not look to books to know ourselves. However, my selfishness doesn’t totally stem from wanting to know more about myself. I want to know Why this book?

I remember Nabokov giving the writer three roles – storyteller, teacher, enchanter. In Lolita, I can easily see where he is the storyteller and enchanter. However, I don’t see where he is teaching. Is he teaching us how to effectively use language? That is a copout. To further investigate this question, I reread “Good Readers and Good Writers”.

“If one begins with a ready-made generalization, one begins at the wrong end and travels away from the book before one has started to understand it.” This is overwhelmingly essential in the reading of Lolita. Because of Reading Lolita in Tehran, we knew the premise. The “Introduction” even attempts to force a prejudice that Humbert is a pedophile on us before we begin.

“We should always remember that the work of art is invariably the creation of a new world, so that the first thing we should do is to study that new world as closely as possible, approaching it as something brand new, having no obvious connection with the worlds we already know.” So we should leave our world where Humbert is a pedophile, and enter the world where Lolita is the seductress? This book is an extreme exercise in imagination.

Afisi discussed Imagination extensively in her speech. The magic of Imagination, according to Afisi, is its ability to transcend the limits of time and space. Imagination is a passport to time travel; it plays to our insatiable and sensual urge to know. In imagination, the stranger becomes the intimate stranger. She quoted Nabokov, “Curiosity is insubordination in its purest form.” It is our duty as readers to enter this Imagination Land. I have not yet “read” the book on Nabokov’s terms, because I have yet to reread it. But after rereading GRGW, it seems one of the important lessons to glean from Lolita is to use my Imagination.

I didn’t write down the exact quote, so I Googled up a real quote from Nafisi on empathy and imagination. “I believe in empathy. I believe in the kind of empathy that is created through imagination and through intimate, personal relationships. I am a writer and a teacher, so much of my time is spent interpreting stories and connecting to other individuals. It is the urge to know more about ourselves and others that creates empathy. Through imagination and our desire for rapport, we transcend our limitations, freshen our eyes, and are able to look at ourselves and the world through a new and alternative lens.”


When I was reading Lolita, it stood out to me how often Humbert uses various forms of the "demon" when describing Lo. While the meaning I was familiar with fit(ish), I suspected more, so I took it to the OED. Lo and behold!- the first entry for the word:

    1. a. In ancient Greek mythology (= {delta}{alpha}{giacu}{mu}{omega}{nu}): A supernatural being of a nature intermediate between that of gods and men; an inferior divinity, spirit, genius (including the souls or ghosts of deceased persons, esp. deified heroes). Often written dæmon for distinction from sense 2.

And then in the examples:

1680 H. MORE Apocal. Apoc. 252 Dæmons according to the Greek idiom, signify either Angels, or the Souls of men, any Spirits out of Terrestrial bodies, the Souls of Saints, and Spirits of Angels.


1846 GROTE Greece I. ii. (1862) I. 58 In Homer, there is scarcely any distinction between gods and dæmons.

So who'd-a-thunk-it? Usually I have my doubts, but I'm pretty positive Nabokov knew what he was doing.