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Sokol, B.J. (1986). Lolita and Kleinian psychoanalysis. Free Associations, 1(4):7-21.

(1986). Free Associations, 1(4):7-21

Lolita and Kleinian psychoanalysis

B. J. Sokol, Ph.D.

Vladimir Nabokov was a strenuous critic of psychoanalysis in his fiction, his criticism, and his autobiography, which seems a mixture of both.1 He was also always a scornful and diligent student of those who falsely pretend to knowledge. It would be fascinating to learn how much Nabokov really knew of the complex subject-matter of Freudian and post-Freudian thought. Lolita seems to hold a key to the surprising conclusion that his knowledge was detailed and extensive.

The narrator of Lolita, Humbert Humbert, confides in, laments with, thrusts himself at, and even croons to his audience in the most unreliable manner imaginable. But first a parody ‘objective’ preface by one John Ray Jr, PhD provides an induction, by contrast, to the tones of the novel. John Ray blandly presents a reductive, statistical, ‘suave’2 view of Humbert, placing him in a broad category of deviation. According to Dr Ray, who cites his colleague Dr Blanche Schwarzmann, each year a ‘conservative’ 12% of ‘adult American males’ like Humbert enjoy paedophile delights (6).

Not the content but the tone of John Ray's pronouncement reveals at the outset the main source of Humbert's besetting fear. Due to Humbert's cherished self-image, that of a sophisticated European aesthete, he recoils against a certain kind of ‘openness’ about sexuality. America is a consumer society and Ray discusses libido as a commodity with its own economics. This perspective leaves Humbert terrified that he will be viewed not as a tragic figure, nor even as moral leper, but as a common sensual consumer. Above all, Humbert wants to be special.

This fear explains Humbert's notorious unreliability.

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