Friday, 30 November 2012

Paedophilic Pastimes

“There are more things that frighten us than injure us… and we suffer more in imagination than in reality.”  

Over the last two days, I re-read, after years, a book that, I now realise, I picked up too early for my own good. Vladimir Nabokov wrote, in 1955, a book that was highly commended, and highly controversial. The title of the book- named for its subliminal protagonist- has since gained a stereotype and a cult status like, perhaps, no other publication has ever gained.
The book deals with issues that are far more complex than they're made to seem. Of course, Nabokov has displayed aptly through his work, his uncanny ability to latch on to the mind of his protagonist so strongly, that all other themes than those that he talks about, are lost to the reader until he or she puts down the book, and the frightening realisations come flooding to him in an uncomfortable and stubbornly overpowering wave.
Based, it is ventured, on the story of the kidnapping of 11 year-old Florence Horner by mechanic Frank La Salle who, it is said, raped her repeatedly while she was under his 'custody', 'Lolita' deals with the iffy- and taboo- concept of helpless paedophilia.
A lifelong attraction to young girls, who he calls 'nymphets' culminates, for Humbert Humbert, in a strong emotional and physical attraction towards the daughter of his landlady. Dolores Haze, all of twelve years old. Cranky. Wilful. Irresistible.
Shan't tell you what happens next, it's no fun if I do. Well, maybe fun isn't the best choice of vocabulary.
Either way, Nabokov, in his unique style, his uncanny ability to draw out shades of personality that transcend the usual black-and-white- even with reference to subjects that are disconcerting in their very societal presence, and his knack for the descriptive, flowing, effortless 'erotica' (although I dislike the term when used for this particular book), raised very potent questions about lifestyles that may or may not be widespread, and definitely don't go down well with a majority of the population.
What defines paedophilia? Is inculcating someone into the act of sex- which they will inadvertently discover anyway- when they don't know any better, and have no opposition: a sin? Is an unusual (yes, that is what it is, after all. Just unusual. I suppose.) attraction cause for psychiatric remedy? Or worse, for a lifetime of self-induced guilt and repentance? All I know is, our hero feels none. No guilt, no repentance. If anything, just a sorrowful desire that all women aren't like the ones he desires. If I recall correctly, 'childlike innocence' is the term he uses. Or perhaps, he uses both words at different instances.
The book made me think. Long and hard, about things that I had never really considered actively before. Look for answers to questions that I hadn't bothered to raise. It made me look at the psychology of attraction in a way that I hadn't looked at it before- definitely not the first time I read the book.
Who decides what attraction is good, and what is bad? Humbert Humbert is a despicable man for what he did to that child. But is he? Or is he merely lost in a world of people that do not understand what he does- that desire is what it is. Nothing more, and nothing less. Why Lolita, particularly? Why does the desire for possession morph so quickly into an all-consuming vacuum, that eventually overpowers any desire one has felt before, or is likely to feel?
Oddly, and for the first time, I felt impulsive, unadulterated hatred towards a character in any piece of literature. In my head, there is nothing, nothing that validates what he did. Not even a natural bent of mind. Never before, have I been so profoundly affected by the degree of disgust I feel towards a fictitious man. Given, Nabokov has provided his reader with a strong psychological cause for the behaviour that he has spoken of, and normally, I would consider it. This time, it's different. This time, there's no room for open-mindedness. So, though I see and appreciate Nabokov's skill of developing for his character, great many dimensions, I find that I cannot agree with any. The voice in my head, telling me that there are things that I will never agree with, is too loud. And for good reason.
In some respects, Lolita seemed to occupy a place in my mind very close to Robert Browning's Porphyria's Lover. If you haven't read the poem, read it. If you haven't read the book, read that, first. And if you've read both, you know what I mean by the parallel.
Until then, I'm not here to impose my judgement. I'm just giving you insight into a piece of literature that may rush you to create your own.


Hina said...

What makes a person feel important? What makes a child feel important? If so many of us can confuse/use/abuse our prettiness and charm as things that we need to put out in the world to attract people, why is a child any different? This is why I hate shades of gray (not the stupid S&M book)... sometimes black and white would have made life so much easier...

Faizan Ansari said...

This really really made me think. We throw a lot of cracks around about the conventional connotations of pedophilia, and now you've actually gone and broken it down. Though the 'coercion' argument still stands, no?
Also, bring out the scoreboard, this has made me go read the poem, at least.

AneeshaSpeaks said...

True. The lines between attention-seeking and conscious seduction is very blurry. Especially now that the themes we refer to, are so blurry in themselves.
Black and white would have ruled the day. I can't say I would've been happier if people were black and white- that's a matter of judgement. But their actions- especially those that affect those around them- need to be seen a little more harshly. Otherwise, we're throwing around baseless punishments for lifestyle choices, and not the implications of those choices on your environment. Which, all in all, is unfair.

AneeshaSpeaks said...

The coercion argument only applies when, well, it applies. The worst part about this situation, is that forcing yourself on somebody who isn't sure what it is you're forcing on them, doesn't count as 'forcing' them, per se. You know?
The poem, for some reason, in my head, is so closely related to the book. Go read it. Trust me, it'll make you think till your head starts to spin.

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