Meta-fictional and Meta-referential Paradigms in Lolita

Lolita's beautiful form contains 'a world of total evil' as Humbert recognises her image is twisted, torn and worshipped in scintillating language: 'Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta'. Dolores is deconstructed into sensuous syllables as her body and subjectivity are raped by her sick stepfather:

I was a pentapod monster but I loved you.

Humbert's pentapod-penis recognises the morality he confesses and avoids: ‘life is a joke’ if his abuse of Lolita ‘does not matter a jot’. Lolita is a female image emptied of meaning through male enchantment with, or fixation upon, form:

What I had madly possessed was not she, but my own creation, another, fanciful Lolita —perhaps, more real than Lolita; overlapping, encasing her; floating between me and her, and having no will, no consciousness—indeed, no life of her own.

Humbert's imagination transforms the image, not the girl, into his 'mad' possession without ‘life of her own’. This Lolita-image as his 'solipsised' object cannot own or meet subjective needs. Lolita's image 'floats' in his intermediate ‘fanciful’ film between fantasy and actuality. Humbert's ‘love-lust’ relationship with Lolita contains sexual enslavement represented in shifting ambiguities of tone, mixing romance and tragedy, eulogy, tenderness and disgust, as Nabokov generates an intentional dissonance between our aesthetic and moral response.

Nabokov's deconstruction of Humbert's sick imagination through the magic of Lolita's moving images illuminates a self-reflexivity that forces us to question the status of the reality conceived by an unravelling ideology of self able to sustain years of incestuous child rape. Nabokov’s direct inclusion of Sally Horner’s real abduction reinforces John Ray’s fictional foreword containing psychological instructions to read Lolita for ‘ethical impact’ and institutional reform that is contradicted by Nabokov’s ironic afterword deconstructing Ray's psycho-social perspective. Both become unreliable authors reframing Lolita as object and image. Nabokov the teacher mocks ‘teachers of literature’ seeking ‘meaning' while he disrupts the boundaries between fiction and fact to propose a pure ‘aesthetic bliss’ reversing Tolstoy's morality of art. The foreword-afterword combination reforms Lolita's image into a deeper cultural challenge. In Nabokov's psycho-cultural diagnosis of consumer evils Humbert-the-lover satiates his selfishness in a self-world constructed from exquisite but inhuman forms: ‘You can always count on a murderer for a fancy prose style’.

The ethical-aesthetics challenge is intentionally unresolved in Lolita as a textual-object because Nabokov engages and entangles our imagination in Humbert through Lolita's image. Lolita's spectrum of critical debate therefore revolves around two representational paradigms. Moralists believe Lolita-as-image is a living Other with a referential value beyond the text, while metafictionalists believe the fiction-making process of Lolita-as-sign dramatises a metareferential exploration of how images are created, distorted and abused. Nabokov plays Linda Hutcheon’s ‘erotic games’ with these representational paradigms to test and entangle us in his fictional reality. Nabokov's story of Lolita constructs a character and plot that Humbert metafictionally deconstructs. Lolita is both representational character and solipsised invention because Nabokov totally mediates our experience through Humbert’s story of her to create a volatile relationship between female-object and male-subject that intersects with, disrupts and deconstructs the narrative-of-self we bring to the reading process. Critics therefore reformulate Charlotte’s invented love of Humbert through ‘the image she had set up’: to Martin Amis Lolita is ‘a study in tyranny’; to Michelle Meek revisions of Lolita into ‘feminist fables’ are ironic errors. Nabokov's deconstructions question if everyone shares Humbert’s aesthetic solipsism. Through Humbert's imaginative process of cinematic self-projection relationships transform into fictions where 'mirage and reality merge in love'. To moralists Humbert cannot love. To metafictional aesthetes love signifies another fiction. Nabokov sparks our responses between these paradigms. Humbert agonises over Lolita’s escape but when he relocates her, pregnant and married, he realises ‘I simply did not know a thing about my darling’s mind’. The ‘my’ extends his possession but continuously subverts connection as Humbert’s loses not love but his aesthetic sex-object. Lolita cannot love Humbert. Nabokov’s imaginative deconstruction reproduces Nietzsche’s claim that ‘truths are illusions we have forgotten are illusions’: Nabokovian metafictions become pure truth.

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