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Nabokov Studies 5 (1998/1999) PHILIPP SCHWEIGHAUSER (Basel) Metafiction, Transcendence, and Death in Nabokov's Lolita Alfred Appel's "Lolita: The Springboard of Parody" (1967) and his introduction to The Annotated Lolita (first published in 1970) have set the tone for many aspiring critics of the novel. Appel highlights Lolita's metafictional elements and labels it an "involuted work":1 An involuted work turns in upon itself, is self-referential, conscious of its status as a fiction, and "allégorique de lui-même"— allegorical of itself, to use Mallarmé's description of one of his poems. An ideally involuted sentence would simply read, "I am a sentence" [...] (The Annotated Lolita, xxiiif.) Both John Ray Jr.'s fictional foreword and Nabokov's afterword "On a book entitled Lolita" strongly discourage a referential reading and lend support to Appel's proposals. While John Ray mocks the "old-fashioned readers who wish to follow the destinies of the "real" people beyond the "true" story" (4), Nabokov declares that "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" (134). Later critics who wished to stress the novel's referential aspects (e.g. Lolita's suffering as a human being) often had to define themselves explicitly against Appel's readings.2 Feminist critic Linda Kauffman (1989) attempts to steer a middle course: I should like to propose a dialogic reading, one that is both feminist and intertextual; one that releases the female body both from its anesthesia and from Humbert's solipsism while simultaneously highlighting textual artifice. (137f.) Kauffman then makes an interesting assertion concerning the relationship between the novel's intertextual references and the violence done to Lolita: "That the novel is an exercise in intertextuality [...] does not mitigate the 1. "Involution" is also the term used by John Fletcher in his chapter on metafiction in Novel and Reader (1980: 33-50). 2. Cf. Merrill 1979, Alexandrov 1991. 100 Nabokov Studies honor of Lolita's treatment. Instead, it reinforces it" (138). Unfortunately, though, Kauffman abandons this line of inquiry after a few references to Poe, Dickens and James in favour of a straightforwardly referential reading: "In Lolita, the incestuous father's jealousy, tyranny, voracity, and possessiveness are both verisimilar and clinically verifiable" (149). I would indeed argue that there is an intimate relationship between Lolita's suffering, and the novel's status as metafiction. Now this is a paradoxical statement. If Lolita is a metafictional novel that severs all links with reality and comments on the process of fiction-making instead,3 then it seems highly irrelevant and maybe even somewhat naive to inquire into the suffering one of its characters inflicts on another. In metafiction, "death" may be "but a question of style" (Bend Sinister, 220), as the nanator of Nabokov's Bend Sinister suggests in the face of the main protagonist's demise.4 In the case oÃ- Lolita, however, I would argue with Alfred Appel that the novel is "a parody of death with real suffering in it" (The Annotated Lolita, 378 n. 119/1). In one sense, Lolita's parodie, intertextual, self-reflexive, anti-realist and anti-representational stance diverts from and to a certain extent even negates the ethical dimension a reading of the novel as realist fiction might focus on. On the other hand, my discussion will suggest, it is precisely these metafictional elements which contribute to and reinforce the sinister implications of Humbert's discourse. Take Humbert's solipsism for instance. The self-reflexiveness and selfconsciousness of the text reproduces the fictional character Humbert's almost exclusive concern with himself on the extradiegetic level of nanation.5 At first 3. For Raymond Federman (1975), the primary purpose of metafiction (his term is surfiction) is "to unmask its own fictionality, to expose the metaphor of its own fraudulence, and not to pretend any longer to pass for reality, for truth, or for beauty" (8). Rüdiger Imhof (1986) argues in a similar vein that "[a] metafiction is a kind of self-reflexive nanative that nanates about nanating" (9) and that "metafiction thematises only its own mechanisms and does not aspire...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1548-9965
Print ISSN
1080-1219
Pages
pp. 99-116
Launched on MUSE
2010-10-13
Open Access
No
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