My favourite clients are faithful to me. One I particularly like has even agreed to appear in one of my texts – anonymously of course. So I’m calling him NN. Those aren’t initials. NN never told me his last name, nor what his profession is so I can’t google him. But I’m certain he is in the arts. At some point his face will be staring back at me in a magazine, and I’ll pass over it with discretion. NN is highly educated, sad but funny, and wastefully good-looking – tall, thin, slightly feminine, a heartthrob. Why would someone like NN spend money on sex with me? NN chooses me because I fit his predatory pattern, his kiddie pattern. And I’m only half as tall as he is. And I’m good at playing kiddie for him. Although of course I’m aware that I’m only a substitute.
Lying with him recently, as he whispered on my neck and asked what kind of text I wanted him to appear in, I said in a book review! He – question mark, I – said that which unites us, our age play, my role as Lolita gave me the idea. I wanted to write a eulogy to Lolita from a somewhat child-friendly perspective.
Lolita – the novel
2018 marked the 60th anniversary of the first American edition. The publication with G.P. Putnam’s Sons signified a breakthrough for Vladimir Nabokov’s work, finished in 1953 and suppressed in France and England. In a matter of weeks Lolita soared to first place on U.S. bestseller lists and held it for months. Within three weeks more than 100,000 copies were sold. The novel is quite possibly based on a true story, which, however, as crimes go is certainly not the only case of its kind. The specifics have already been discussed in this newspaper.
The publication of Lolita coincided with a decisive moment in legal history. In the U.S. the pornographic standard in art was no longer the opinion of the “common man off the street,” but rather that of people with specialised expertise. Judges could no longer ban an artwork using their own discretion. They now required justification including assessments by experts.
I like the language, this addictive tone that holds the scales between cynical laconicism and quaffable kitsch. And I appropriated many of the affectations with which the author imbued his main character.
Surprise: NN doesn’t like the book at all. To my dismay he reacts with a strange smile. Then, hesitantly, “Nabokov doesn’t know what that is, a Lolita.” Seeing that I am now truly speechless, he explains, “The infinitely stupid Humbert-Nabokov thinks a Lolita is a ready-to-use cum bucket like you.”
Lolita – reality
Well, an objective problem occurred to me. Is it even possible to penetrate a 12 to 14-year-old without severely damaging her health? Several times a day? I myself am a woman who cannot be fisted, and I know how unpleasant a penis that is too big feels. But here I am an exception. Some of my colleagues already had affairs with older boys when they were in 7th grade. I never did. I was panic-stricken about sex until I went to university and fell in love with all the lanky philosophy students, who cited Marx and smelled a little… But as long as sex isn’t physically off limits, which I am ready to accept in Lolita’s case, I had no doubt about Nabokov’s objectivity. Until NN showed up, the expert.
For NN, Humbert’s “nymphean love” misses the essence of its fetishized object. Lolita, the immortal demon, dressed as a female child, is for him nothing more than an adult seductress in a very juvenile body. What about Lolita tempts him is purely external – her narrow pelvis, her thin legs he juxtaposes with the college students, the coffins of heavy female flesh.
NN’s thesis: Humbert is in reality not a nymphet-lover. He rather despises nymphets because their nature is foreign to him.
And what is the nature of a nymphet, of a Lolita? NN doesn’t want to lay any definitional hands on something characterized by its indefinability because it is constantly in a state of flux, a transitional state. Even though Nabokov fancies having spiked such a butterfly with his image of Lolita. A nymphet: a little or pre-pubescent girl who acts like a woman towards men, who because of this one may not treat like a woman because in doing so, in using her as a ready-made woman, you ruin her. The nymphet’s intention to please is diffuse. She doesn’t really know what this triggers in a man’s body. She wants to find out but in the next instant she doesn’t, being instead interested in something entirely different. Nymphets do not systematically pursue a particular goal. They play. They play with adults and assume that adults are only playing.
The sexuality of children and adults are two opposing spheres, one of which is rich, creative and narcissistic, the other plagued by complexes, shameful and utterly unoriginal.
The paedophile-genius is a type, and NN fits the description. It certainly makes NN nervous when I call him a genius. He hates the concept. Yet I think it fits. Genius means “protective spirit.” A genius protects one from making mistakes. The paedophilic genius does not make the mistake of demanding satisfaction. There are such people, who like NN make children fall in love with them in droves, who then chase after him, haunt him in his flat, as NN sometimes tells. The nymphet and paedophile-genius attract one another. Here the issue is that the paedophile-genius cannot be a real man with manly desires and the typical temporary erection-induced dementia. Instead he must be self-possessed and feminized, a safe test object for the effects of feminine allure. And at the same time he has a secret that arouses curiosity. He is not like the little girl’s boring inattentive parents. NN says that mothers bring their daughters to him themselves for tutoring or to keep them busy for an afternoon – he is such a harmless, sophisticated man. I have myself observed pubescent girls sitting with their parents in the same restaurant as we, darting flirting glances at him. One morning after a night with him at the Soho House I witnessed an infant-school child lift up her mini-skirt in the elevator, beaming at NN to the shock of her hipster parents.
NN is a sufferer. But he is also a paedophile-genius. One who does not lay his hands on children. A paedophile-genius must know how to deal with such small, endlessly capricious beings. He must also know how to make them crazy about him, namely, only by following their volatile, moody inclinations, and never, never ever his own. The nymphet can never be faced with them. Only her will matters. The paedophile-genius is a slave, a dancing bear, a keyed-up little princess’s plaything.
If a brute resorts to violence because he is lacking genius, the nymphet is ruined. She is no longer an nymphet, a coquette mini-person, rather the opposite: a person who knows what’s what. Disillusioned and disinterested. A victim, traumatized, incommunicative.
Though Nabokov noticed himself how unknowledgeable he was in such matters. To fill space he writes copiously about the halfpenny hotels where his road movie takes place. In a novel that describes the very consistency of paper napkins in high detail, there isn’t one description of consummating coitus! Not even their first time. There is always a flood of details and then a brief metaphor for something that was presumably sex: “the operation,” “séance,” “fulfilling morning duties” – in the confidence that the reader, informed of the furniture in the hotel room, will be able to imagine the rest. The chickens come home to roost when an author writes about something he has no perspective on. Mistakes are inevitable.
And yet Lolita, despite its serious flaws, is world literature. It ushered a new historical phenomenon into literature, which made it a paragon. The idea in Lolita – the nymphet didn’t get her way – was too intellectually divorced from reality. Lolita represents entire generations of middle-class children who are no longer sheltered. No longer out of sight in bourgeois households and boarding schools. That lower class children are abused and ill-treated was always the case. The virtuous citizenry, however, which for centuries sought nothing more than to marry off their daughters in the virginal state of fairy tale-believing naïveté, was eroding under the pressure of the modern working world. Lolita’s mother is not single without reason, and the character studies of Charlotte Haze are the strongest passages in the book. Lolita’s mother is anything but a loving mother hen. She hates her daughter, sees in her a rival and initially drives her to ensnare Humbert. That the mother is already dead at this “triumph” and Humbert prudently keeps it a secret is an infamous prank. The whole milieu around them is aptly observed: relatives, teachers, counsellors, doctors and classmates’ parents are interested in it all, not only Lolita’s fate.
And something else is properly portrayed: some children are ravishingly talented seducers. They are not necessarily the prettiest ones. They are those who figure out that they gain the attention of certain adults with a particular kind of saucy behaviour. Children are forced to guess adults’ needs. Adult attention is necessary for survival from the first second of life onward. One first secures it by crying, then either through disobedience or through excellence: top grades, household diligence, their amusing qualities, or through an apparent interest in the parent’s hobbies, such as fly-fishing. And the adults misunderstand time and again, thinking the child really cares about fly-fishing or the subject material; they don’t notice that it’s only about the attention. Why do children torture themselves at painful ballet lessons, why do they practice piano for hours on end, why do they want to win the maths Olympics? It is always conditioned by the attention of the parents. Without this conditioning we do not grow into society. The mechanism that makes of a little girl a Lolita is the same. The dictum “I love you when you give me reason to do so” teaches children that they most certainly cannot be loved simply for who they are. And therein, not in paedophilia, lies the abuse.