Wednesday, July 22, 2015

This hermit hates pain and suffering ... yet, he reads Lolita?

It is a fictional world that Nabokov has created, yes.  But, what a tragedy it is.

I am so tempted to ditch the book and watch a Disney movie in which people live happily ever after.  But then, real life is not fairy tales!  While we don't encounter and experience the likes of Humbert Humbert--thankfully-- every day we fight monsters, small and big, weak and strong, and bad to worse to malicious  Such is life!  Humbert Humbert is a metaphor, representing all things evil and representing us humans too.

It is not easy to read how H.H. is slowly laying out his plan, his trap.  I suppose this is also why in real life people choose to turn away from any discussion that is about all things unpleasant. Not all among us are wired to deal with the messiness that we know exists.  I  am such a wuss that I can't even visit with a sick person--my legs weaken and I worry that I will faint.  My stomach practically revolts when I watch or read the horrors that Nicholas Kristof presents, because the suffering there is way beyond my thresholds.  But, just as I am pushing myself to read Lolita, I force myself to visit with the sick friend or relative, and follow Kristof's journeys.  I understand that life is not only about me, and as much as a hermit I am, life includes humanity.

I wondered what the New York Times review said about the book soon after its publication.  Google helped out, as always; in this review from August 17, 1958, I find the following paragraph:
 The author, that is, is writing about all lust. He has afflicted poor Humbert with a special and taboo variety for a couple of contradictory reasons. In the first place, its illicit nature will both shock the reader into paying attention and prevent sentimentally false sympathy from distorting his judgment. Contrariwise, I believe, Mr. Nabokov is slyly exploiting the American emphasis on the attraction of youth and the importance devoted to the “teen-ager” in order to promote an unconscious identification with Humbert’s agonies. Both techniques are entirely valid. But neither, I hope, will obscure the purpose of the device: namely, to underline the essential, inefficient, painstaking and pain-giving selfishness of all passion, all greed—of all urges, whatever they may be, that insist on being satisfied without regard to the effect their satisfaction has upon the outside world. Humbert is all of us.
Nabokov made it clear that he didn't write the novel with any moral in mind.  But, we readers use literature to make sense of the world, and to articulate an understanding of the good and the bad.  We do make use of them to develop our own moral guides.  The paragraph that I quoted sums it up really well.

Caption at the source:
Vladimir Nabokov dictating from notecards as his wife, Véra, transcribed his words in Ithaca, N.Y., in 1958

I shudder when I think about what Nabokov's H.H. will do in the pages to come!  And who knows what horror Kristof will narrate next!  We will press on, right?


Anne in Salem said...

"We readers use literature to make sense of the world and to articulate an understanding of the good and the bad."

Some of us use literature to escape from the horrible reality outside the pages of our books. Hard to imagine terrorism when Elizabeth Bennett is fashioning a witty retort to Mr Darcy.

Does fixating on the bad things in the world solve anything or help in any way?

Sriram Khé said...

Yes, imagining the English countryside where Ms. Bennett prepares to verbally spar with Mr. Darcy could make even terrorists drop their horrific plans.
But then I think that the highly intelligent and intellectual Unabomber would have read quite a few of not-depressing literature too ... yet, a terrorist he was.

It is not a fixation on all things bad. In my daily life in this paradise, I think and worry that I live in my own bubble. Reading such seriously depressing literature is, also, one of the ways I try to understand this world, which I know even intuitively is not all rainbows and unicorns and Elizabeth Bennetts ;)

Ramesh said...

I refuse to read this post !

Sriram Khé said...

Make sure you read the latest post at the blog then ;)

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