Lolita, Nabokov and the Love of Language


“Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo-lee-ta.” (Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov)

If beauty were a word, the word would be, “Lolita.” In the opening sentence of his seminal novel, Nabokov employs language to the point where words transcend social signification and reach the intangible; the realm where spirit overcomes reality and meaning glides, like an endless river. The rabble, that is the reader, stumbles beneath the force of Nabokov’s offering and yields to the musicality of his text. Sensuously alliterative, we are putty in the hands of the language that is derived from the psyche of a wordsmith, whom we proclaim a genius, but are afraid to like.

For many years I resisted my compulsion to read Lolita, as though reading a novel containing themes of child abuse would somehow legitimise the crime. Having succumbed to my compulsion, I carry no regrets. Reading Lolita may not have improved my moral fortitude (neither has it damaged it), but it has enriched my appreciation of the art of writing.

As his protagonist, Humbert Humbert manipulates his child lover, Nabokov manipulates the reader with displays of brilliant wordplay. This shields us from the reality of the truth that we are reading a novel about the abuse and exploitation of a child by an adult man. Lolita shows that beauty is nearer to ugliness than genius to the ordinary and that pleasure often yields the price of spiritual self-flagellation.

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The soul of The Poet


Hope by Emily Bronte

Hope was but a timid friend;

        She sat without the grated den,

Watching how my fate would tend,

       Even as selfish-hearted men.

 

She was cruel in her fear;

       Through the bars, one dreary day,

I looked out to see her there,

       And she turned her face away!

 

Like a false guard, false watch keeping,

       Still in strife, she whispered peace;

She would sing while I was weeping;

       If I listened, she would cease.

 

False she was, and unrelenting;

       When my last joys strewed the ground,

Even sorrow saw, repenting,

       Those sad relics scattered round;

 

Hope, whose whisper would have given

       Balm to my frenzied pain,

Stretched her wings, and soared to heaven,

       Went, and ne’er returned again!

Emily Bronte’s poem provides a glimpse into the soul of the poet. She casts herself in the role of an outsider, experiencing existence, like a flower, threatened by a fateful wind. Hope is not, “A timid friend,” but a creature of two faces; one promising to sooth her pain, the other rebutting her distressed advances, like a jaded existential psychiatrist.

The soul of the poet is a fragile entity. It is created by the spirit of observation, only to be destroyed by inevitability. However, when the soul marks reality’s soil, culminating in strokes of a pen upon paper, it helps shape the texture of the universe.

After Emily Bronte, other souls visited the physical realm. To how many of these have we humble, flesh and blood women and men gained access? The soul of the poet exists eternally.

Consciously Poetic


A few days ago I finished editing my first poetry collection. This somewhat daunting experience has prompted me to evaluate my relationship with the form.
For many years my mental health and writing were interconnected; my moods and states of mind dictating the nature of the poems I produced. Frequently, distressing thoughts would drive me to lift a pen and pour onto paper the contents of my tormented psyche. I wrote for myself, as a means of expression and never contemplated sharing my pain. Thus, the content of my poems was paramount and form as irrelevant, to my world, as the pursuit of happiness.
Years later, I summoned the courage to submit a poem to a poetry competition. Having studied poetry at degree level and for my own pleasure, I was only too aware of my own literary ineptitude. My submission, however, seemed worthy in its employment of alliteration and metaphor and existed as a signifier of my state of being, at that time. Although I did not win the competition, my poem was published in an anthology and I was to see my name in print for the first time.
At that time, my poems acceptance for publication affirmed that I had some form of literary ability; maybe I was not the mental elf that my lack of self-confidence had betrayed me into believing.
When editing my poetry collection, I once again experienced nags of self-doubt. I can write…but…so what…half the world believe themselves potential writers or celebrities. The world is deluded, am I? A publisher had accepted my collection for publication. Nevertheless, publishers make mistakes!
Now that my poetry exists beyond the confines of my laptop, I can tell myself, with a reasonable level of conviction, that reactions to literature are subjective. Undoubtedly, some readers will dislike and criticise my work. However, there will be others for whom it is meaningful. Like the individual, a poem can be pulled apart, but will always remain a unity in-itself.

Was Virginia Woolf a Feminist?


In the year 2013, a hundred years after her birth, Virginia Woolf remains one of the most misunderstood and influential writers in the British canonical tradition. Generations have deconstructed her essays and novels, in an attempt to better understand her feminist aesthetics and many have questioned the ambiguity of the ideology encoded in her work.
For me, her feminist credentials are not explicit in her texts, but are affirmed in the recorded details of her life. Her involvement in the suffrage movement, estrangement from the traditional heterosexual archetype and frequent retreats into mental distress, highlight her rejection of patriarchal authority. One could argue, however, that more interesting than her endorsement of feminist ideas is an exploration of the extent to which her feminism was a conscious political decision to challenge the prevailing social (patriarchal) order. Was her feminism really given to textual primacy of her aestheticism? Arguably, it is the aesthetics of her texts which live on, but Woolf’s feminism which makes her seem more real.

I Am…Louise


Inspiration has left me, I am a shell of my former nut. Lost for topics I would like to discuss, I have decided to write about the only subject in which I profess to be an expert, myself!
Born in 1968, a year in which chaos threatened to enter the love shack of 1960’s ideology, I was always a problem; a problem to my Mother who, has always loved me with the ferocity of a lioness, a problem to the world, which seeks to compartmentalise even those, like me, who resist and defy labelling but mostly, a problem to myself. I survived my acute shyness and intangible fear of life and grew-up to be a student of philosophy, English and mental flight. My world of fear was replaced by a voice which rang out loud and clear. However, after two years of studying for a degree, my voice broke.
I spent the next twenty years of my life as a patient, a user of services, a label without a name. I was mad and secretly blamed myself for my inability to survive life and retreat into psychosis. During this time, my consultant psychiatrist whom, I was subsequently to perceive as my sworn enemy and the embodiment of evil(!), made a statement which has always remained in my memory. He said, “You will always be Louise.” To many, this statement might seem trite but anyone who has been unfortunate enough to be affected by mental health issues and the savage fists of the mental health system, will understand its meaningful intent.
Silenced and sentenced to the periphery of life, I have, finally, found my voice. It speaks in the truths that I write. I wrote my first novel, not only as therapy but because I had always wanted to be a published writer, I wrote to affirm my identity and re-claim my life. I know that The General Paralysis of Sanity will make me neither rich nor famous but it has begun a process, writing is now my life. I am…Louise and welcome you all to join me in my discoveries.

Fantastical Elements: Mainstreaming Subversion


The western world, 2013 may be caught in a web of depression and economic austerity but popular culture is dominated by escapist genres and narratives, embracing elements of fantasy. Formerly designated to sub-cultural interest groups, fantastical fiction and film have become part of the mainstream. This development has not occurred overnight and, I would suggest, has rather evolved as a reactive process to changes in the nature of social reality.
Arguably infrastructural changes are reflected in the superstructure of a society. Popular culture, like ideology, is a facet of the superstructure and is not an autonomous movement; not only is it shaped by the superstructure but it, also, helps shape the superstructure. The relationship is one of reciprocity; in my world one way causation is mythical!
I wish not to resort to a vulgar form of Marxism and would, thus, centralise the role of the individual as the human agent of change and the producer of cultural meaning.
We as writers, readers and viewers have embraced an alternate cultural universe in which vampires and zombies, spirits and wizards represent our hidden desires, supressed by our empirical roles as women and men interacting with and surviving the turmoil of the life process. Thus, the ascension of sub-genre fiction, film, etc should be applauded by the educated masses and accepted by the establishment as a counteraction to outmoded cultural snobbery and a positive consequence of the new cultural world order.

Please Experience, “Death in Venice” (and taste me!)


The modern literary trend is to produce gargantuan, door stops of novels. However, I do not believe that big is always best. Writing a novella is possibly even more challenging; the form requiring literary brevity which is often at odds with encapsulating heterogeneity of vision. One of the finest examples of a novella, whose vision reaches far beyond the density of its text is Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice.
Written in 1912, Death in Venice depicts a middle-aged man’s gradual descent into madness and unreason. Aschenbach journeys to Venice in an attempt to relieve his writer’s block. During his stay he observes a beautiful young boy with whom he gradually becomes obsessed. Whilst many readers have questioned the nature of Aschenbach’s obsession, for me, it is largely symbolic. The boy (Tadzio) exists as a emblem of the unattainable, he is everything that Aschenbach is not; young impossibly handsome and unrestrained in his grasp of life and relationships. In contrast, Aschenbach represents the intellect and the constraints of reason.
The relationship between the two characters alludes to the opposition of the Apollonian and Dionysian principles, first proposed by Nietzche in The Birth of Tragedy. When forces collide, devastation ensues. In this instance, tragedy surfaces in Aschenbach’s decline. Initially, the decline is spiritual; his mind is disturbed by feelings, which one imagines, to be alien to this most ascetic of characters. Ultimately, however, his decline becomes physically transcribed. Mann describes how Aschenbach surrenders to cholera, which he courts, almost as though it were the youth, himself. Aschenbach’s desire for Tadzio alludes to the Platonic ideal of love, that of an older man for a boy, whose exploitation of purity demands penetrating despoilment. An image which continues to resonate in homoerotic literature and ideas.
Thomas Mann critiques modern bourgeois life. For in Aschenbach, he creates a character who represents the artist as someone who is detached from the life process, a chronicler of aestheticism, rather than a participant, which he emphasises in connecting artistic detachment with the eventual stagnation of the imagination. Thus, it is only Aschenbach’s preoccupation with something which is concrete and therefore, “real” in its (his) relationship to the social whole, which rids him of his writer’s block. “Solitude gives birth to the original in us, beauty unfamiliar and perilous-to poetry,” Writes Mann and subsequently reveals that solitude can, also, lead to death; a Death in Venice which, in contradiction to the book’s title, offers more insights into life, every time one read it.