9 May 2010

Lolita – “the only convincing love story of our century”

What is rotten in our society that we can refer to confessions of a pedophile as a love story? Aside our personal moral compasses that most of the time aren’t aligned with each other, but there are certain universal moral values that we should all agree on, no questions asked. One, if the only such thing is child abuse, it’s a no, no matter the circumstances.

“Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul.” Humbert Humbert writes a story about his love for a certain nymph, as he refers to her, a child, really. Morally wrong, tainted in his very core, unsettling, this character still manages to get under our skin. Humbert is an ultimate anti – hero, a child molester and yet he even makes us feel compassion for his strange obsession.
Humbert is showing us how easy it is to overlook that which we swear we would stop if only we knew about it.

Lolita never gets old. I have read Lolita so many times that I know most parts by heart. It is one of those novels you can keep coming back to year after year and every time you read it, you find new things in it. It will not take you to a pleasant world of imagination, or teach you valuable lessons; it is confusing and somewhat difficult to read. It is claustrophobic at most, and tense, queasy and very discomforting, yet you can not put it down. You keep reading hoping for a solution, hoping for something that would finally make characters conform to moral social norms, hoping for a simple resolution, but it never arrives.
Rather, it leaves you mangled in disturbing emotions and questions, the biggest being that one of love. What, indeed, is love?
Nabokov wrote a comedy – tragedy novel, and subtly mocked our idea of love and our bourgeois virtues. He is constantly teasing our sense of morale and our own perversions and dark desires. Lolita is the funniest and the saddest book you will ever read.

It takes you entire novel to realize that the main heroine is dead at the very beginning, just like her child. Nabokov has been playing a game with us, we realize that we know his characters, they live just down the block.
So it’s love? Only because he let her go to school and occasional visits from a friend? Only because he is an elegant sadist? Very classy, well mannered, cultured. Humbert is subtle and sophisticated. He is good with words, and let’s not forget it is he who is telling the story. Why should we even trust him?
Only because this girl hasn’t been locked in a basement for ten years, he must have loved her? What if Joseph Fritzl was so good with words? What if he wrote a novel? Yet another great love story of our time.
Even when Humbert describes killing Lolita’s mother he does it with such poise, you start to believe the babbling woman deserved it.
After all, he did it for love…

So often we confuse all kinds of strange feelings for love, and someone usually pays for it. We like to comfort ourselves with the idea that love is something mysterious and magical, but I like Fromm’s down to earth approach to the whole idea. Love is not magic, we live in alienated society, therefore we seek refuge in romantic love. I would add, that, as our civilization developed we started exchanging more and more security for more and more freedom – most were not ready for the high jump. From quite a prude society of “right” values to sharp left. With no adaptation period, people were left alienated in society where everything is allowed and each man is for himself. Not in the sense of survival anymore, but emotional one.
Monogamy is not in human nature, it’s evolutionary and nowadays cultural norm. A shelter.
Fromm also states that love is something that not everyone can achieve, it doesn’t come naturally, it’s a skill and needs to be developed. True love, for him, is represented through humility, courage, discipline and faith. But to be able to love another, one must first love oneself. Loving self has nothing to do with being egocentric as most of us today are. Loving yourself is according to Fromm caring, respecting, knowing and taking care of yourself.
I wonder why Fromm never married? Love requires work but it is highly rewarding, he stated in the end.

Nabokov explained us the exact same thing, but in a different way. We undeservingly refer to a range of other emotions as love. The joke is on us.
Not only did Humbert not love Lolita, but he denied her of possibility of loving. “My immortal, dead love”. But really, what’s love got to do with it?

1 comment:

  1. Agree 100%. I only recently read the novel as I was curious, as I heard many people say they read it at a young age and fantasize about an older man (Seriously?) or that you find yourself thinking it was Lolitas fault but upon first reading I immediately sensed what was going on. I loved the novel but have literally no clue how ANYONE can view it as a love story....