Friday, December 25, 2015

Nabokov was on a butterfly collecting trip in the summer of '48 when he started to write his masterpiece, Lolita. And I am not surprised. Nabokov was as privileged and white and male as Humbert Humbert, the deranged middle-aged protagonist narrating the book. And both clearly expressed themselves through cruel acts of appropriation and exploitation.

Whether chasing butterflies like the author, or nymphets (eroticised little girls) like his character, both acted out their desires by invoking and projecting onto reality a warped fantasy world – Nabokov called it "the meadow-world of childhood."

The end result was always the same. Either dead and pinned to a board close-fitted with glass for eternity or to a bed shackled for life by the demons of sexual trauma, the objects of these mens' personal preoccupations did not fare well in these encounters. Powerful white men, Nabokov and Humbert had the privilege of cultivating their unique selves at the expense of others.

Arguably, this "natural right" is what allowed Nabokov to write his classic and express his individual genius without reproach being any sort of barrier to his success. It takes a lot of privilege (a lot of sexual privilege) and cultural capital and a context of white supremacy and patriarchy to be able to reject uniformity, like he did, by praising in high speech the child molester.

No matter how hard I try, I just can't imagine a poor man, a black man, a brown man, a trans man or a differently abled man being permitted or encouraged or championed for dedicating himself to the task of composing more than 300 pages of intricate, evocative word play to sympathetically render a man physically and philosophically devoted to pedophilia.

It reminds me of millennial-golden-girl Lena Dunham and her offhand confessions of sexually breaching the boundaries of her little sister's body in her memoir, “Not That Kind of Girl,” a New York Times Bestseller (a fact that makes my soul exit my body and plead for death). Again, not a negligible cruelty. And again, not something I can imagine anyone but an influential white person from a wealthy (Nabokov), aristocratic (Marquis de Sade) or urban creative class (Dunham) background being rewarded for.

Only in a world shaped by power systems that center cis white male heteronormative sexuality can a story like Lolita be transformed into a gripping iconic cultural touchstone – celebrated at once for being entertaining and transgressive.

This quibble aside, I am quite enjoying the book!

No comments:

Post a Comment