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  • kjoannerixon

Lolita Podcast

I listen to a lot of podcasts and don't usually archive them here, half because I'm too lazy and half because almost all the podcasts I listen to, like You're Wrong About and 5-4, are episodic in format. I'm not about to shelve 200 episodes of an ongoing podcast! Lolita Podcast is getting written up here, though, because it's more longform nonfiction than talk show. Comedian Jamie Loftus does an extremely deep dive into literary and cultural critique of Nabokov's LOLITA, both the book itself and film adaptations of it, as well as cultural reactions (there's a whole segment on "non-sexual nymphet fashion" tumblrs which is extremely 20-teens).

This series is intense; every episode has a trigger warning for child sex abuse, and many of the guests on the show talk about their own experiences of abuse, including, for some of them, literally being given the book LOLITA by their abuser as an example of an ideal romance. It's a lot.

But it hooked me, and I listened to all eleven episodes over the course of just a few days, because it's thoughtful literary criticism of what I started to think might be the most misunderstood, misinterpreted book of all time. The number of people quoted in this podcast who think LOLITA is genuinely a love story is fucking upsetting. And the question of why it's possible to misinterpret the book, and why people do misinterpret it, is fascinating to me.

Something I think a lot about, as a writer, is the gap between what I put on the page and what the reader reads. I used to think those were the same thing: I would put words down, someone else picked them up, they were the same words the whole time. But the more I write, and the more I hear feedback on my writing, the more it becomes clear to me that the reason writing is a delicate art is that readers bring their own bullshit to the work. As the writer you can't control that. It's like playing a piano as a stranger is taking a tuner to the strings.

Lolita Podcast makes an air-tight argument that LOLITA is meant to be read as a portrait of a monster, a child sex abuser, not as a sympathetic portrait of a man in love. And Nabokov is without a doubt an extremely good writer. And still, the reader reads what the reader reads. But I guess if writing were easy, everyone would do it.


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