turn my Lolita inside out…

September 26, 2016

a-lolita

My only grudge against nature was that I could not turn my Lolita inside out and apply voracious lips to her young matrix, her unknown heart, her nacreous liver, the sea-grapes of her lungs, her comely twin kidneys.

Vladimir Nabokov
Lolita

Andy Warhol - Querelle

Diary 25th April

Last night talk about beginnings. The opening passages of novels. Mention of Joyce’s “Ulysses”.

‘Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed. A yellow dressinggown, ungirdled, was sustained gently behind him on the mild morning air. He held the bowl aloft and intoned:

Introibo ad altare Dei

Joyce’s mockery of the Roman Catholic mass: the bowl a stand-in for the chalice of wine which, in the mass, becomes the blood of Christ; the stairhead becomes the alter steps. Buck, of course, serves as priest…According to Joyce the novel opens on Thursday, 16th June 1904 at 8.30 AM. The 16th of June is the feast day of St. John Francis Regis, a saint much venerated in southern France. Since it’s a feast day for a confessor the appropriate vestments for the mass are white and gold. However Joyce mentions a yellow gown, and priestly vestment would be cloth of gold, not dull yellow. In the middle ages heretics were made to wear yellow.

Mention of the razor – sign of the slaughterer, the priest as butcher. While ungirdled suggests violation of the priestly vow of chastity. “Introibo ad altare Dei” – from psalm 43:4 – ‘I will go up to God’s alter’ used as the opening prayer of the mass…This mocking invocation of God is a reminder of the opening of Homer’s “Odyssey” with its invocation of the muse…

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From Joyce to Nabokov. ‘Lolita, light of my life…’

‘Lo-lee-ta’ the middle syllable alludes to the poem ‘Annabel Lee’ by Edgar Allan Poe. Poe the lover of young girls, a tragic, frustrated figure. Annabel Lee is variously invoked over the course of the novel; both she and Lolita die, the later figuratively as well as literally with regard to her fading nymphic qualities…Ah, those childbrides can never survive.

Lola, a diminutive of Dolores, is also the name of the young cabaret entertainer who enchants a middle-aged professor in the German film ‘The blue angel’…Dolores derived from the Latin, “dolor”: sorrow, pain, traditionally an allusion to the Virgin Mary, our mother of sorrows, and hence an invocation of the less than spiritual poem of Algernon Swinburne, “Dolores”.

And so it goes on, allusion and invocation, layer upon layer. The seemingly simple made complex…just like life.

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I’ve said things to upset a lot of people over time. I’m okay with that. I used to worry about how I was perceived by others, but then one day I decided I didn’t really care that much. So now I just say things I feel like saying and to hell with the rest of the crap.

If nothing else it’s more honest.

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My sense of wonder at the hyperreality of love is echoed by day-to-day commonplaces, the banal backdrop to our lives…We are like characters from Pushkin or Boris Pasternak. Yes, yes, I see you as my Lara. Obsessed, as I am, with images of you in your bath…

We are as alike as two drops of water.

Your nakedness echoing Eve’s innocence in Paradise Lost, when she recounts first catching sight of her own reflection in water:

Not distant far from thence a murmuring sound
Of waters issued from a cave and spread
Into a liquid plain, then stood unmoved
Pure as the expanse of heaven; I thither went
With unexperienced thought . . .
…..
As I bent down to look, just opposite,
A shape within the watery gleam appeared
Bending to look on me, I started back,
It started back, but pleased I soon returned.

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And our deranged minds become “bien ranges” once more…

ThereseDreamingBalthus1933

I recall certain moments, let us call them icebergs in paradise, when after having had my fill of her – after fabulous, insane exertions that left me limp and azure-barred – I would gather her in my arms with, at last, a mute moan of human tenderness (her skin glistening in the neon light coming from the paved court through the slits in the blind, her soot-black lashes matted, her grave gray eyes more vacant than ever – for all the world a little patient still in the confusion of a drug after a major operation) – and the tenderness would deepen to shame and despair, and I would lull and rock my lone light Lolita in my marble arms, and moan in her warm hair, and caress her at random and mutely ask her blessing, and at the peak of this human agonized selfless tenderness (with my soul actually hanging around her naked body and ready to repent), all at once, ironically, horribly, lust would swell again–and ‘oh, no,’ Lolita would say with a sigh to heaven, and the next moment the tenderness and the azure–all would be shattered.”

Vladimir Nabokov
Lolita

Moan in her warm hair…

August 1, 2015

old&young

I recall certain moments, let us call them icebergs in paradise, when after having had my fill of her –after fabulous, insane exertions that left me limp and azure-barred–I would gather her in my arms with, at last, a mute moan of human tenderness (her skin glistening in the neon light coming from the paved court through the slits in the blind, her soot-black lashes matted, her grave gray eyes more vacant than ever–for all the world a little patient still in the confusion of a drug after a major operation)–and the tenderness would deepen to shame and despair, and I would lull and rock my lone light Lolita in my marble arms, and moan in her warm hair, and caress her at random and mutely ask her blessing, and at the peak of this human agonized selfless tenderness (with my soul actually hanging around her naked body and ready to repent), all at once, ironically, horribly, lust would swell again–and ‘oh, no,’ Lolita would say with a sigh to heaven, and the next moment the tenderness and the azure–all would be shattered.

Vladimir Nabokov
Lolita

Photos for you…

April 8, 2015

Photosforyou

I looked, and looked…

July 30, 2014

girlwithballons

“I looked and looked at her, and I knew, as clearly as I know that I will die, that I loved her more than anything I had ever seen or imagined on earth.”

(Vladimir Nabokov)
Lolita

Fancy a party? You could join the Mad Hatter, the Dormouse and March Hare – who no doubt will offer you wine, then tell you there isn’t any – just as they did to poor sweet Alice…

“Then it wasn’t very civil of you to offer it,” she says to them, prior to an argument about whose behaviour is worse!

Ah, I was going to write something about Lewis Carroll on the anniversary of his birthday (at the end of January) but forgot, or was doing something else – impossibly intoxicated, probably, who can now say? Anyway, having seen this cool but very disturbing picture (see HERE) I thought straight away of Alice, you know? With the Queen angrily shouting: “Off with her head!”

I first encountered Alice at five years of age. I have a particularly vivid memory of that time. I was ill, with a soaring temperature, and a bed had been made up for me in the living room, for ease of access during the day. The doctors wanted me in hospital, but then decided the risk of moving me was too great. I would live or die in that living room. And as a concession to the seriousness of the situation, my father would read to me (an event almost unheard of under normal circumstances) from “Treasure Island” or “Coral Island”, both books I loved; and then, one evening, he commenced reading Alice in Wonderland to me…

What can I say about it? Already afflicted by high temperatures, I was feverish to say the least, at times delirious, and Carroll’s prose was confining…yes, confining: claustrophobic, a trap in which there was little or no room to move. The story was like the worse possible nightmare you could have.

One night after listening to Alice’s adventures down the rabbit hole I had a dream where, confronted by an eighteenth century footman in full panoply (I mean, of course, livery), I declined to surrender my brand new grey overcoat to his care. I did not trust him. Something about the eyes, and that powdered wig was deeply disturbing to me. That same night, apparently, I tiptoed to my parents bedroom where I opened the wardrobe and tried to hang-up my glass of water on a coat hanger – my mother’s dresses were soaked by the resulting spillage, of course. Totally oblivious, I was bundled up and rushed back to bed – and all the while, I’d believed I was secreting my overcoat in a place where that damned footman would never find it!

Needless to add, that for many years after, Carroll’s Alice filled me with unaccountable dread. Not until my early teens and the chance discovery of the HUNTING OF THE SNARK, did I find courage enough to return and finally face Alice and her claustrophobic wonderland.

Enough of these personal anecdotes. Let’s get back to Carroll, a.k.a Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, one of the first post modernists – his influence on James Joyce is all too apparent: FINEGANS WAKE is literally awash with allusions to Carroll’s works. And Nabokov – yes, certainly, there are a number of references to Carroll/Dodgson’s work in LOLITA, despite Nabokov’s claim: “some odd scruple prevented me from alluding in LOLITA to his wretched perversion and to those ambiguous photographs he took in dim rooms. He got away with it, as so many other Victorians got away with pederasty and nympholepsy. His were sad scrawny little nymphets, bedraggled and half-undressed, or rather semi-undraped, as if participating in some dusty and dreadful charade.”

Well, to give but one example, look at chapter 29: the line “A breeze from wonderland” is most obviously a reference to Alice, and there are many others. Nabokov, for whatever reason, wasn’t being honest with us.

He translated Alice into Russian while in Berlin (1923). With his usual modesty he recalled “it wasn’t the first translation, but it was the best…”

References to Alice also occur in other Nabokov works: THE REAL LIFE OF SEBASTIAN KNIGHT and in ADA, for example. In fact, Sebastian Knight’s book shelf contains copies of ALICE IN WONDERLAND, side-by-side with ULYSSES. Certainly no coincidence.

One might also argue that allusion to Carroll in LOLITA continues through photography: it’s Quilty’s hobby, after all; he makes those unspeakable films, too, of nymphets.

Tim Burton’s film of Alice reminds us of the continuing life in Carroll’s creations (though I’m not sure if people still give Alice books as gifts to children – I’d have thought not?).

For my part I remember well the 1966 television adaptation directed by Jonathan Miller which cast Leo McKern as the Ugly Duchess, Michael Redgrave as the Caterpillar and, unforgettably, Malcolm Muggeridge and John Gielgud as the Gryphon and the Mock Turtle. Delightful. I seem to recall viewing a film adaptation, too, Czech I believe it was, which showed off Alice’s black cotton knickers at every possible opportunity…not quite the thing, really. Too Freudian, too blatant. My Victorian Granny would have had apoplexy at sight of it…and I feel certain Dodgson would have been very disapproving, too.

Returning to his books, are they really for children? They are complicated books, aren’t they? Full of “abstruse philosophical ideas and learned vocabulary”. For sure, the ideas and logic (or non-logic) in the books, as well as many of the allusions, “sail right over children’s heads. Probably not one reader in 10,000 now recognises what any of the many poems are parodying.” The appeal to kids, I’d guess, is the totally “disrespectful attitude to anything resembling authority”. Alice, for her time, was a child with attitude. A Victorian punk.

But what of Dodgson? Was he a “wretched” pervert? Did he get away with it?

We can never know with full certainty. I’m sure that in our world he’d be on a sex offenders register by now – especially after photographing so many of his young “friends” in the nude, even if he did have their parents’ permission to do so. Obviously, he must have had doubts about his actions. If not, why did he destroy all the “nude” studies and their negatives? The three or four nude photographs (all hand coloured) that have survived (copies given to the parents of the young models) are totally sexless, not particularly notable as photographs or works of art, yet disturbing just the same. That Dodgson was in “love” with Alice Liddell, I feel is a certainty. The modern argument that his affection for Alice was a cover for his affair with her mother is, for me, unconvincing. I’m not even sure if Dodgson was capable of a “sexual” relationship, in the modern sense of the world. Other than the questionable photographs, his behaviour with his young “friends” was always beyond reproach; they in their turn regarded him with nothing but respect and admiration.

So, living as we do in the age of Guantánamo Bay, of widespread use of CCTV, of identity cards and bludgeoning police powers, with a corresponding decline in individual rights and freedoms, the Queen of Hearts’ instruction: “Sentence first – verdict afterwards” perhaps seems less evidently nonsensical today in comparison to 100 years ago? It may be these books still have something to teach us…?

Hell! I’ve done it again! It was Lewis Carroll’s birthday on the 27th January and I forgot to mention him (or get him a present!). So a belated but happy 177th birthday, Mr. Dodgson with many happy returns. I shall down a bottle of Orpale Grand Cru Champagne 1998 in honour of the occasion (obviously following the government’s Drink Awareness Guidelines in the process, needless to say!).

Thoughts of Lewis Carroll bring to mind Edgar A Poe and his child bride – it’s his bicentennial year after all (another forgotten birthday). Obviously Poe was much in the mind of Nabokov when he wrote “Lolita”:

“Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of my tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta.”

Lo-lee-ta with the middle syllable alluding to “Annabel Lee” by our Edgar Poe – in fact one finds references to Poe on a good fifteen or sixteen occasions in the novel’s opening.

“She was a child and I was a child,
In this kingdom of the sea,
But we loved with a love that was more than love –
I and my Annabel Lee –

(Annabel Lee by E A Poe)

Paul Bowles described “Lolita” as one of the best travel books he’d ever read on America.

Anyway happy birthday to Poe and Dodgson both, better late than never…or nevermore!