High Modernism

Grand Schemes to Improve the Human Condition

Short Reviews: March 2020

I did not read enough this month. I will blame it on COVID related chaos.

Vladamir Nabokov, Lolita: What is there to say about this book? I mostly wondered whether Nabokov has anything to teach his reader. Obviously the book has some themes: acting and its associate corruptions, Americana, desire, doubles. But none of these led to a particularly profound statement as far as I am concerned.

So much of the book seems to be an exercise in extreme virtuosity. Nabokov shows us that not only can he write well, but he can also write brilliantly in a foreign language; not only can he make a pedophile sympathetic, but he can also put you within that pedophile’s mind. Not only can he write a story of pedophilia without vulgar language, but he can also turn the story into a love story. And he can do all of this while riffing on tropes of Russian and Gothic literature.

Don’t get me wrong: I really enjoyed this book. I’m actually very sympathetic to just writing a book to demonstrate how smart you are. Virtuosity is exciting and worth appreciating. Yet I worry that Nabokov, and other writers of the late 20th century were a bit too clever for their own good, so clever that they forewent some of the intellectual heavy liftings of their predecessors.

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Short Reviews: March 2020