spark in the artist-reader

When Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita was published in 1955 it was both reviled and praised as a great work of literature. What was it that made Nabokov want to write about an educated middle-aged man who becomes obsessed with a beautiful twelve-year-old girl? the reviewer asks. Nabokov replies that he was reminded of a news story he read in which a caged chimpanzee was given drawing utensils that he used to produce the bars of his cage on paper. He likened the cage to Humbart’s obsession for Lolita. Nabokov claims that he had no thought of affecting the emotions of a reader, not even the mind, but rather that he wished to cause a “spark in the artist-reader.” Literary critic Lionel Trilling agrees that he was indeed shocked, but that the book also struck his emotions quite forcefully.

The artist-reader: I like that. It implies that we readers have a duty, a responsibility, to rise to the occasion while reading, to read as artists. It has an elitist tone that would not go over well amongst the politically-correct, but I like it anyway.

Openculture hosts the video, which you can watch here:


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