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Jack’s Naughty Bits: Vladamir Nabokov, Lolita

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Jack's Naughty Bits


It

is true: in one week’s time you’ll be able to watch the new film version of Lolita

on the squared screen of your living room boobtube. But what, really, is the point? The

first time Lolita was made into a film, the French promotion poster challenged,

How could they dare make a film of Lolita?, but perhaps not even the French realized that

Kubrick was foolhardy not so much for depicting pedophilia on celluloid as for attempting

to render, in the lipogrammatic language of the cinema, the coral reef beauty and

complexity of Nabokov’s idiom. He enlisted Nabakov’s help with the script, but still — good fucking luck! The world has known few stylists

such as Nabokov, and few characters as dependent as Humbert Humbert on the verbal

alacrity of their makers. Humbert’s rarified discourse and aesthete’s discernment twist the

very knife of perversion. He is all the more compelling, and thus all the more monstrous,

because he employs the language of an oenophile to describe the decanting of a particularly

immature vintage.


    

To me the scandal — the actual crime — of Lolita is our need to render visual

the nuanced eroticism of a consummately bookish book. Every shift in the technological

age from the mind to the eye involves a rewriting of our visceral response. Watching

Lolita, we will feel pleasure’s feather duster, but only passively — forced, like Alex

in Clockwork Orange, to ogle and be aroused, even if it’s disturbing. With the book

Lolita, however, we remain active, complicit, constructing images from our own

repertoire of fantasy props. As such, we have no choice but to take responsibility for our

engagement.


    

Yet this engagement should not only be troubled and troubling, but instructive. For

if we always give in to the easy fix of visual stimuli, our sensual minds, like any muscle

left unexercised, will atrophy. I thus argue for the written Lolita, as I would argue

for erotic reading in general, as part of a sexual fitness regimen. It’s guaranteed to incite a

few cartwheels in the brainstem.



* * *



From Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov



With perfect simplicity, the impudent child extended her legs across my lap.

By this time I was in a state of excitement bordering on insanity, but I also had the cunning

of the insane. Sitting there, on the sofa, I managed to attune, by a series of stealthy

movements, my masked lust to her guileless limbs . . . All the while keeping my maniac’s

inner eye on my distant golden goal, I cautiously increased the magic friction that was

doing away, in an illusional, if not factual, sense, with the physically irremovable, but

psychologically very friable texture of the material divide between the weight of two

sunburned legs, resting athwart in my lap, and the hidden tumor of my unspeakable

passion . . . Every movement she made, every shuffle and ripple, helped me to conceal and

to improve the secret system of tactile correspondence between beast and beauty — between

my gagged, bursting beast and the beauty of her dimpled body in its innocent cotton frock.


    

Under my glancing finger tips I felt the minute hairs bristle ever so slightly along

her shins. I lost myself in the pungent but healthy heat which like summer haze held about

her. Let her stay, let her stay . . . The nerves of pleasure had been laid bare. The least

pressure would suffice to set all paradise loose . . . My happy hand crept up her sunny leg

as far as the shadow of decency allowed . . . Because of her very perfunctory underthings,

there seemed to be nothing to prevent my muscular thumb from reaching the hot hollow of

her groin . . . She wriggled, and squirmed, and threw her head back . . . and my moaning

mouth, gentlemen of the jury, almost reached her bare neck, while I crushed out against her

left buttock the last throb of the longest ecstasy man or monster had ever known.



© Vera and Dimitri Nabokov