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From Disgust to Desire: Transcending Normative Ideals Through Oscillation in Lolita

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dc.contributor.advisor Bennett, Ashly Born, Henrik 2013-07-18T16:37:24Z 2013-07-18T16:37:24Z 2013
dc.description.abstract The narrative of Lolita is designed to incite an oscillation in the reader between feelings of desire and disgust. Humbert conveys his desire for Dolores, the 12‐year‐old girl‐child, and invites the reader to share in his utopian fantasy. At the same time, Humbert recounts his desire through motifs that strike both us – the readers – and him as disgusting: The invocation of the predator‐prey dynamic, and characterization of Dolores as a demoniac, bewitching creature prove disgusting. An analysis of Lolita’s narrative structure suggests that Nabokov narrates Humbert’s desire. His narration shrouds what transpires in radical ambiguity, arousing the reader’s desire for textual mastery. The narrative structure is designed to make us complicit in the disgusting, and thus demonstrates how entangled desire and disgust really are. Nabokov impresses on the reader how disgust intermingled with desire creates proximity to the object of disgust and can make ethical judgment of deviant desire problematic. Nabokov demonstrates how disgust reinforces the designation of certain desires as deviant, and sustains ideals of normality. Humbert’s and Nabokov’s views on the power of disgust diverge: Humbert strives to divest disgust of its power to reinforce taboos. He argues that beneath the veneer of socially sanctioned normalcy sexual desires, we are all sexually deviant. While Nabokov also acknowledges that the norms of sexuality to which we are held are narrow and idealistic, he does not suggest draining disgust of its power to uphold these norms. Instead, Nabokov urges the reader to cultivate a more critical understanding of disgust, how we are complicit in it and how it functions to reproduce social norms. The novel ends with a moment where even Humbert can achieve, through a more critical and nuanced view of disgust, a balance between his own personal, and idealized societal scripts for desire.
dc.description.sponsorship Haverford College. Department of English
dc.language.iso eng
dc.subject.lcsh Nabokov, Vladimir Vladimirovich, 1899-1977. Lolita
dc.subject.lcsh Nabokov, Vladimir Vladimirovich, 1899-1977 -- Criticism and interpretation
dc.subject.lcsh Readers -- Attitudes
dc.title From Disgust to Desire: Transcending Normative Ideals Through Oscillation in Lolita
dc.type Thesis
dc.rights.access Haverford users only

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