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.