Nabokov’s Do-It-Yourself Didacticism: Hypertext in Lolita and Pale Fire

May 2nd, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

Abstract: Lolita and Pale Fire are two of Nabokov’s most morally challenging novels and in an – likely vain – attempt to distinguish himself from the narrator and thus, the moral difficulty in the text, Nabokov distances himself from the text by employing hypertextual tropes including hyperlinks and transclusion, that is layering of one text within another. In both texts, Nabokov uses these tropes in order to subvert the usual cause and effect model that influences one’s idea of morality, in particular the proclamation of death far before the cause and motive, thereby complicating the issue of morality in the text and bypassing a straightforward didactic reading. Pale Fire’s hypertextuality is well documented as the discourse between Shade’s poem, Kinbote’s commentary and meta-commentary, and Nabokov’s select few hints to reader as to how to read the novel. In Lolita, Nabokov uses the framing device of John Ray Jr.’s foreword, Nabokov’s afterword, and hypertextual layering within the text to dislocate the spatio-temporal aspects of the text, revealing the novel’s conclusion in a fictional foreword. Nabokov uses this hypertextuality not only to subvert cause and effect but also to make the texts irresolvable and thus add ambiguity and plurality into the text. For example, recent discourse on Lolita highlights that the reader does not know Lolita’s true name. If one cannot even resolve the most basic signifiers in the text, such as a central character’s name, then it becomes more difficult to make profound moral judgements regarding the text without effort and consideration. Thus, although Nabokov uses hypertext to distance himself from didacticism, he empowers the reader to choose his or her own moral position in relation to these difficult texts.

Simon Rowberry, ”Nabokov’s Do-It-Yourself Didacticism: Hypertext in Lolita and Pale Fire.” Nabokov and Morality. May 2011. University of Strathclyde