Tag Archives: Popular Culture

The Choice of a Hand

In an interview with Alfred Appel Jr., collected in Strong Opinions, Nabokov talks about his affection for slapstick films. In particular, he recalls a scene from Laurel and Hardy‘s A Chump at Oxford:

There is a film in which they are at Oxford. In one scene the two of them are sitting on a park bench in a labyrinthine garden and the subsequent happenings conform to the labyrinth. A casual villain puts his hand through the back of the bench and Laurel, who is clasping his hands in an idiotic reverie, mistakes the stranger’s hand for one of his own hands, with all kinds of complications because his own hand is also there. He has to choose. The choice of a hand.

Here is a clip of that scene:


What strikes me about this scene, and Nabokov’s description of it, is how perfectly it dramatizes (in a screwball way) the problem of fate across the whole breadth of Nabokov’s work, but particularly in the novels in English. In all of these works, the characters struggle with the tension between fate and human agency. A particular point of anxiety is the troubling notion that what seems like one’s own doing may in fact be the work of some unseen author who is simply playing a game. We see this in John Shade’s revelation about “a game of worlds,” in Humbert Humbert’s interactions with McFate, in the ghostly influences of Transparent Things, and in Vadim’s sense that he is but a character in some greater author’s work (in LATH!). In the Laurel and Hardy clip, then, we see a third hand literally penetrating into the plane of the unsuspecting characters, manipulating them by making them think that the unseen agent’s hand is actually their own. Much like Nabokov’s characters, Laurel and Hardy become most unnerved when they realize the reality of the interaction but cannot locate the source.

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I am a serious person!

Publicists seem to think that having their clients go out in public with Lolita is a good thing. Two recent sightings:

Snoop Dogg on a plane


Bradley Cooper in a park in Paris

(h/t to Sergey Karpukhin for posting the Snoop photo to the Nabokov listserv)

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Red Meat — Lolita

Perhaps the cleverest of the “Lolita” songs. Not particularly relevant to Nabokov’s novel, except that it, like many other Lolita songs (including the MC Lars song below), contains the “come back home” plea, a lament for Lolita lost.

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MC Lars – Lolita

Next year I will be teaching a seminar course on Lolita. As part of my preparation for talking about the book’s effect on popular culture, I have been using Spotify to listen to songs with “Lolita” in the title. There are an enormous number of them (well over 100 when I stopped looking). I find it fascinating to examine the various narratives, and narrative perspectives, these songs display. Some of the songwriters clearly know Nabokov’s book, while others seem wholly unaware of the source but have nevertheless inherited a set of associations (mostly spurious) that can be traced back to the novel. So to begin, here is a tongue-in-cheek (I hope) song by MC Lars, that mostly tracks with Humbert Humbert’s perspective, both in the sense that it is written after the loss of “Lolita” and in some of the justifications and evasions the speaker employs. Enjoy!

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