[ilds] Artistic Freedom

Charles Sligh Charles-Sligh at utc.edu
Tue Aug 18 18:48:26 PDT 2009

My appreciation goes out to Sumantra and Bruce for their detailed, 
thoughtful conversation.
>     My reaction to /Lolita/ is based on the subject matter.  An
>     American locale has absolutely nothing to do with it.  I'm queasy
>     about the topic, uncomfortable, as I am with De Sade's
>     /Justine./  Pedophilia and sadism — I have problems with those
>     two.  Being queasy is not a rejection of the novel; it's an
>     admission of my own limitations. 
That is a brave admission of the limits of your "negative capability," 
Bruce.  I can respect this choice.

Lawrence Durrell and Algernon Charles Swinburne were provocative writers 
who self-consciously aligned themselves with De Sade, so I have spent 
some time pondering these limits. 

Durrell said that "it was necessary" for de Sade to "go as far as he 
did" (/Conversations/ 87).   And I have always been fascinated by the 
precise targeting implied by the epigraph to /Justine/:

>         There are two positions available to us -
>         either crime which renders us happy, or
>         the noose, which prevents us from being
>         unhappy.  I ask whether there can be any
>         hesitation, lovely Thérèse, and where will
>         your little mind find an argument able to
>         combat that one?
>         D.A.F. DE SADE: /Justine/

We readers are "lovely Thérèse," right?  Literature is not really 
working if our "little minds" do not hesitate at the limits--some would 
say. . . . 
You can guess where I would turn in order to test the point. 

For the advocacy of the devil--no hope for me, after all!--why mark out 
some artistic "crimes" as /outré/ (say, predation in Nabokov's /Lolita/, 
rape in Cendrars' /Moravagine/, or anti-Semitism in Celine) and pass 
more readily over other heinous acts (the murder of infants and children 
and political cleansing in, say, /Macbeth, Richard III/, /King Lear/, 
and /Hamlet/)?

Again, I can respect your uneasiness because I know how rigorously you 
distinguish between the "virtual world" of your imagination while you 
read Conrad and the so-called "real world." 

Finding a work of literature that tests our ability to make that 
distinction promises interesting results.  I often find myself weeping 
while reading to my students David Copperfield's account of being beaten 
as a child or lost on the roads.  That is the strangeness--David and his 
world are fiction, a tissue of lies, not real--words words words--but 
man they can make me hurt.

Again, no hope for me--but my best to you--


Charles L. Sligh
Assistant Professor
Department of English
University of Tennessee at Chattanooga
charles-sligh at utc.edu

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