Monday, May 14, 2018

Let's talk about unicorns and rainbows

The local newspaper, which had been ailing for a while and now seems to be in a critical condition, reported that a middle-aged man of some local standing now faces charges of allegedly molesting a teenage girl who was known to him.

Meanwhile, there are people--especially undergraduate students--who think that it is inappropriate to teach Lolita.  As if there is nothing that we can possibly learn and understand about humans by reading and discussing Lolita.

It is not an easy text to read.  I know. I have attempted that twice.  The last time was three summers ago.  As I noted then, "my spirit is too weak to continue on with Lolita."  That book, and the real world too, is not for wusses like me.

A literature professor writes about teaching Lolita even though her students complained about it, even though she has been teaching it since 2008.
I was not surprised by the vehemence of your response to the book, but by the suggestion that we should perhaps not read it at all. That by assigning Lolita I am perpetuating trauma and may even be perpetuating rape culture. This last suggestion runs so counter to my own beliefs about what literature does that I found it hard to parry your challenges.
It is almost as if students want literature professors to only teach Aesop's Fables!
Professors need to assign, and students need to read, difficult books. The challenges we face are not new. Our students are not “coddled” (a discourse which I abhor). But we need to read and discuss and come to our own conclusions. Even if that conclusion is that Nabokov contributed to a “Lolita myth” that has at times had horrific resonance in our culture.
Indeed!

Nabokov wrote about the difficulty in getting his book published.
Their refusal to buy the book was based not on my treatment of the theme but on the theme itself, for there are at least three themes which are utterly taboo as far as most American publishers are concerned.  The two others are: a Negro-White marriage which is a complete and glorious success resulting in lots of children and grandchildren; and the total atheist who lives a happy and useful life, and dies in his sleep at the age of 106.
As I noted then:
It was only in 1967 that the US Supreme Court invalidated laws that prohibited interracial marriage.   As far as atheists, Nabokov was not exaggerating by any means; this country might even be ready to elect as president a bisexual Black woman who is a Muslim before the electorate ever warms up to an atheist!
I don't understand the demand that higher education not include such challenging and difficult topics.  If we don't, then all that remains is preparing automatons for the work place, with a curriculum that is based on graphic novels.  Oh wait, we already do that!

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