The Selfsubversive Nature Of Foreword Of Lolita English Literature Essay
The composition of Lolita finished at the spring of 1954. According to its author, Vladimir Nabokov said “once or twice I was on the point of burning the unfinished draft.” But he stopped by the thought that “the ghost of the destroyed book would haunt my filed for the rest of my life.” Fortunately, Lolita survived, or readers and critics would miss how many interesting and valuable topics. The reason why Nabokov wanted to destroy his draft he seemed to explain less. However, being almost established completely on the text, Lolita is a great challenge to imagination. But it is an undeniable truth that no matter in what aspect, this novel entitles the honor of being a classic works. And its obstructed publication pained a dramatic color for its specialty. Interestingly, from being banned book originally to popular book presently, Lolita’s contradictory development possesses the paradoxical meanings of the novel itself. Although, Nabokov declares in On a Book Entitled Lolita that “I am neither a reader nor a writer of didactic fiction, and, despite John Ray’s assertion, Lolita has no moral in tow, For me a work of fiction exists only insofar as it affords me what I shall bluntly call aesthetic bliss” (Nabokov 332), those discussion on Lolita’s morality by reader or critics are not all nonsense. That is to say, Lolita’s esthetic and moral meanings are not antithetical totally. Thus, why not following Nabokov to see how he makes text self-subversive and deconstructive, isn’t it also an interesting way of reading?
The foreword of Lolita should not be seen as an independent part of novel. Actually, this part not only is the beginning of the novel, but also foretells the features of the novel. Based on the definition: “A preface or foreword is written either by the author, explaining his purpose of writing the book and how it is written, or by somebody else making an introduction to the book and giving his own comments” (The Contemporary Chinese Dictionary [Chinese-English Edition] 2166).However, being an artistic creation, the foreword of Lolita is written by John Ray, who is, according to Nabokov, his “impersonation of suave John Ray” (Nabokov 329). As an indispensible part of the novel it foretells some controversial focuses of novel itself, such as its truthfulness and significance. Here comes the first question: why they are controversial. It is because that the foreword as well as the novel possesses many uncertainties and contradictoriness which lead to its self-subversive nature. This “self-subversive” is the soul of deconstruction, it focuses its readers on a world of experience already narrated by a decentered and indeterminate profusion of information, stories, yet a world still dominated by a discredited discourse of Ray. M.H. Abrams’s words points out directly: “no text is capable of representing determinately, far less of demonstrating the ‘truth’ about any subject” (M.H. Abrams 203). Hence, through analyzing and decomposing the uncertainty of the foreword of Lolita in deconstructive perspective, perhaps a rigorous reading activity is more meaningful than seeking meaning itself.
For the benefit of analyzing, its six paragraphs is divided into three parts and each of them respectively subverts the Ray‘s credibility, Lolita’s actuality and scientific meaning. Part one is the first paragraph. Here, Ray appears as editor of the original manuscript of Lolita. However, his entitlement to do so is not decided by Humbert himself for at that time Humbert has passed away. But Humbert’s lawyer Mr. Clark chooses Ray to edit the draft. So, in order to show his competence to do this task, Ray gives out such a proud “fact” that his book Do the Senses make Sense? Just have been awarded the Poling Prize and if not this manuscript had “been permitted to come under my reading lamp"(Nabokov 3), Humbert’s crime motive may still be a mystery. Obviously, Ray intends to use this information as an evidence to prove his ability. However, despite the strange “Poling Prize”, his awarded work “Do the Senses make Sense?” is also confusing for the paradoxical meanings of “sense” which can mean both “feeling” and “reason”. No matter which one is more appropriate for this title or may be both of them are all right, Ray’s attitude toward “sense” is vague anyhow. If Ray fails to make a clear standpoint of “sense” (to make sure he stands by reason or feeling), it is untainted with doubt whether he is in fact giving an unbiased reports and all his comments even his entitlement will by in question. For on one hand, how such a person could be trusted to make a sound, persuasive and objective foreword? On the other hand, there is a detail can not be neglected is that Mr. Clark is Ray’s good friend and relation. Therefore, in a great degree, Ray’s entitlement to be the editor for Humbert’s manuscript does not contribute to his academic influence but to his closed association with Mr. Clark. Taken these two together, Ray’s entitlement or credibility is dubious. Originally, those two evidences are used by Ray to increase his reliability. Ironically, both of them disrupt this kind of trustfulness and lead to his incredibility. It is not Ray’s failure to prove his ability but a textual trap set up by Nabokov. In surface, Ray’s words are reasonable and trustful; in deep, just his words betray himself. Thus, from credibility to unreliability, the first pair of binary opposition comes out. Is it necessary to expose this kind of binary opposition in text? The answer is positive—with the dissolution of the binary opposition, the “deep structure” or the underlying universal meaning of structuralism disappears (Zhu Gang 202). Yet, the presence of unreliability is not to deny the credibility but to dilute monism. The following parts will expose the other two pairs of binary oppositions
Part two contains paragraph two to paragraph four. In this part, Ray lists many “facts” to make it seemingly real that Humbert’s story is not a fanciful invention but an actual event. In one way, Ray takes advantage of the realism of newspaper report to use it as evidence: “References to ‘H.H.’’s crime may be looked up by the inquisitive in the daily papers for September-October 1952.” (Nabokov 3) However, the name of that “daily paper” is not mentioned, which makes the realness of story remains a complete mystery for the absence of persuasive material evidence. Moreover, as for human testimony, Ray refers to a man called “Mr. ‘Windnuller’ ” who is a residence from “ ‘Ramsdale’ ” that is the main setting of the story. Here both “Windnuller” and “Ramsdale” are added quotation mark in the text, which implies that “Windnuller” only serve as a substitutive name in the light of “the long shadow of this sorry and sordid business should not reach the community to which he is proud to belong.” (Nabokov 4) It sounds reasonable and it seems real that there indeed has been a community where once lived a man named Humbert whose doings may destroy the good reputation of that community. What’s more, this “Mr. Windnuller” agrees to offer a few details about the “destinies of ‘real’ people beyond the ‘true’ story” (Nabokov 4). Here, the quotation marks of “ ‘real’ ” and “ ‘true’ ” was added by Ray itself. According to the definition: quotation marks; pair of punctuation marks used to indicate the beginning and the end of a quotation, in which the exact phraseology of another text is directly cited, and also occasionally used to highlight the addressed object or words of special meaning” (The Contemporary Chinese Dictionary [Chinese-English Edition] 2291). Obviously, the “real” and “true” here have the special meanings, probably the opposite meanings. Since Ray himself has denied the truth of “real people beyond the true story”, why simultaneously, he stains himself to provide a human testimony to emphasize the authenticity of the story itself? It is really just for the consideration of “old-fashioned” reader? Whatever it is, how much trouble the desire to dramatize such descriptive detail can cause. Ray’s arduous but fruitless work takes a reversed effect. Not only does Ray fails in proving the authenticity of Lolita, but places the truthfulness of people and story of Lolita in question and uncertainty. Besides, on the purpose of explaining the universality of Humbert’s case, Ray mentions Dr. Blanche Schwaramann who makes a “conservative” estimate that “at least 12 percent of American adult males enjoy yearly, in one way or another, the special experience ‘H.H.’ describes with such despair” (Nabokov 4) . Here, the use of statistics may take an authoritative effect, but the phrase “conservative estimate” destroys this sense of authority, for a given statistics should be affirmative or at least, its uncertainty should not be exposed. In addition, Dr. Blanche Schwaramann is only a “verbal communication”. Thus, all he says becomes a bubble. Taken together, the unidentified “Mr. ‘Windnuller’ ” and indiscernible “Dr. Blanche Schwaramann” as well as the arbitrary “daily paper” bring out the second pair of binary opposition: Lolita’s authenticity/fictionality.
Part three is the last two paragraphs. This part is about Ray’s evaluation on Lolita. Actually, in the previous part, Ray has suggested his tendency. For the implicit description of situation and emotion in Lolita, Ray admits that its artistic creation make it different from the cliché of conventional pornography. Well, as for those “aphrodisiac scenes”, they are “the most strictly functional ones in the development of a tragic tale tending unswervingly to nothing less than a moral apotheosis” (Nabokov 4). Ray uses the word “moral apotheosis” to confirm the ethical value of Lolita. And yet, in part three Ray’s attitude towards Lolita’s nature becomes ambiguous, he comments that “a great work of art is of course always original, and thus by its very nature should come as a more or less shocking surprise” (Nabokov 5). In this sense, Ray uses “a great word of art” to describe Lolita. Thus, the central judgment is indecisive. Otherwise stated, Ray fails to pin down the value of Lolita, just as he says in the following paragraph that:
As a case history, ‘Lolita’ will become, no doubt, a classic in psychiatric circles. As a work of art, it transcends its expiatory aspects; and still more important to us than scientific significance and literary worth, is the ethical important the book should have on the serious reader…” (Nabokov 5)
It is ambivalent that whether its value is scientific or literary or ethical or all of them. On one hand, Ray intends to prove the authenticity of the story to generate its scientific or ethical value; on the other hand, the inner contradiction of these evidences exposes their absence and unmasks the presence of fiction and artistic meaning of the novel. This is ambiguity just like those adjectives used to describe Humber. In passive way, he is “horrible”, “abject”, “cunning” and “abnormal”; in positive way, he is a magician so attractive that make reader absorbed in book while detesting its author. In the mechanical certainty of binary thought, when Ray confirms one aspect he should have negative another one. However, Ray does not deny any of them. Although at the end of the foreword, Ray emphasizes the moral worth of Lolita, do not ignore the fact that Ray’s credibility and the story’s realness is still in question. And the most obvious cause of failure comes when there is a gross disparity between the claims to competence of the Ray himself and the shoddiness of his presented story and it is hastened to explain that whether Ray’s final summary in the foreword is to be taken seriously or ironically. Therefore, how such a controversial story can undertake the responsibility of moral education? At last, the third pair of binary opposition is scientific /artistic (or didactic and artistic) worth.
Hence, three pairs of binary opposition are exposed: Ray’s credibility/unreliability, novel’s authenticity/fictionality and scientific/artistic worth. In each of them, the former originally plays the functional role as “being center”. It both allows for and limits the “presence” of the later. The “center” dominates the structure of text. But according to Derrida the structure is “a metaphor for any ‘presence’ with a center” (Zhu Gang 202) and “any such presence is a function of signification, actualized by language. Language, in this deconstructive discourse, is a system of difference in its extreme form” (Zhu Gang 202). That is to say, no signifier has a fixed signified meaning, since this signified is no more than a network of differences. The ultimate meaning or the center can never be arrived. Since the rhetorical nature of language makes text always deconstructing itself. Thus, it is impossible to pin down the fixed meaning of this foreword. In face of such kind of text, reading should be coordinate with the self-subversion of text. In this foreword, Ray becomes the signifier of the text. It is possible to ask such native question as what Ray’s (or Nabokov’s) motives may have been in manipulating language in this way: is he fooling himself, or is he represented as fooling himself as well as fooling reader into believing that those three pairs of binary opposition are easy to be unit? In these three pairs of binary oppositions, the seeming signification of the former actually contains all nonpresent meanings which differ from the present meanings. And those “absent” meanings are unnoticeable. Until the present meaning finishes the self-subversion, the absent meaning is exposed. Actually, credibility, authenticity and scientific worth are never “present” to us in their own identity. On the other hand, neither can these identifying features be said to be strictly “absent”. All of them are a kind of “nominal” presence. But, it does not mean they are meaningless, only by the introduction of the “nominal” presence, the absence can appear. More importantly, the process of introduction finishes the self-subversion and deconstruction. The consequence, according to Derrida, is that we can never have a determinate, or decidable, present meaning; he asserts, however, that the differential play of language does produce illusory “effects” of determinable meanings. However, in the binary opposition in the Western metaphysical tradition, Deconstructive criticism is not opposing the one with the other, simply because all the elements in the structure are complimentary rather than mutually exclusive.
In this foreword as well as the whole novel when reading is dramatized, not as an emotive reaction to what language does, but as an emotive reaction to the impossibility of knowing what it might up to be. Its self-subversive nature or deconstruction, just as Paul de Man said “is not something we have added to the text but it constituted the text in the first place” and “by reading the text as we did, we only trying to come closer to being as rigorous as a reader as the author had to be in order to write the sentence in the first place” (Paul de Man 362). Thus, it encourages misreading. And the opinion of this paper could be viewed as a kind of misreading which is decided by “indeterminables” of “decentered” text. Meanwhile, the rhetoric of language, metaphor, false and decisiveness of context as well as the contradiction and self-subversive nature of text are all radically lead to misreading. Perhaps, one of the attractions of Lolita is its ambiguity. This ambiguity possesses multiple intentions and provides multiple potentialities of misreading. And its ability to make readers feel unease and cannot help re-reading it again and again. Here, Booth’s evaluation on Lolita maybe enlightening: perhaps our life is morally ambiguous; this book makes it seem even more so—it throws us even more off balance, presumably, than we were before—and hence its very lack of clarity is a virtue. (Booth 372) In the end, use Lolita’s translators Yu Xiaodan’s comments as and ending just like a charming person, such an enchanted book will never fail to be discussed again and again for its multiple views of reading.
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