ASSOCIATION : Manifestations – Colloque 2013 – NORMAN

Colloque International : « Vladimir Nabokov et la France »

Les Chercheurs enchantés : Société Française Vladimir Nabokov

Paris, 30 mai-1er juin 2013

NORMAN, Will – University of Kent, UK
A Taste for Freedom: Lolita and the Existentialist Road-Trip

    This paper reads Nabokov’s Lolita alongside a lesser-known road-trip, undertaken by the French writer and philosopher Simone de Beauvoir. Through the 1940s and early 1950s Nabokov undertook almost annual summer tours of the United States, travelling west first in search of butterflies and later taking notes for and eventually composing Lolita. De Beauvoir travelled to the United States in 1947, visiting her friend Richard Wright in New York before touring the West and South by car and Greyhound. Her journey is described in the extraordinary travelogue L’Amérique au jour le jour, a phenomenology of the intellectual road-trip which shares many of the concerns of Lolita, including questions about freedom, authenticity and responsibility, against the backdrop of the rise of domestic mass tourism in the United States. My interest here will be first in the way both Humbert Humbert and Beauvoir use their position as European aliens to subvert and interrogate the ideological assumptions behind the American road narrative and the discourses of freedom associated with it, but I will also address intriguing moments in their work when American mass culture and the commodified landscape they pass through fall into strange harmony with the French cultural traditions they have come from. Comparing their treatment of tourist attractions, neon lights and Hollywood movies, I will argue that Lolita and L’Amérique au jour le jour emerge as unexpected companions, offering an estranged and ambivalent transatlantic vision of the US at the high point of its culture industry.

Will Norman is a lecturer in American literature at the University of Kent, with research interests in modernist and transatlantic studies. He completed his doctorate, on Nabokov and time, at the University of Oxford in 2008 and has recently published a monograph, Nabokov, History and the Texture of Time with Routledge. His current research project examines émigré responses to American mass culture in the mid-twentieth century in literature, art and cultural criticism. An article evolving from this project, on the crime writer Raymond Chandler, will be published in Modernism/modernity in January 2013.