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.”