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Durham University

Department of English Studies

Event Archive

This is an archive of past events within the Department of English Studies. Please see our current events for forthcoming activities.

Some of our public events are recorded and are available as podcasts via our Research English At Durham blog.

Late Summer Lectures: Mirrors of Madness: Emotional Blindness, Narcissistic Doubling and Paranoia in Nabokov's Lolita (1955) and Pale Fire (1962)

28th August 2012, 17:30 to 19:00, Alington House, Durham, Sabine Ursula Mercer (Department of English Studies)

The Late Summer Lectures (LSLS) is a series organised in Durham and Newcastle to foster interest in the Arts and Humanities. For more information on the LSLS, please visit our Facebook Page:

The same lecture will also be presented at the Literary and Philosophical Society in Newcastle, the following day.

One recent way of looking at Modernism has been through the concept of paranoia and how it influenced early Modernist writers (Paranoid Modernism 2001). In this paper, I suggest that during the 1950s – the heyday of psychoanalytic therapy – the representation of paranoid minds in literature reflected a problem endemic in Western societies: delusion in fiction questioned the ontological basis of reality and mirrored the cultural obsession that gave rise to Freud and therapy. Building on David Trotter’s idea of a connection between the increase in professionalization and paranoia, I argue that Nabokov’s portrayal of narcissistic and paranoid minds implicitly critiques the tendency in Modernism to professionalize artists as well as art criticism: Humbert’s stylization of himself as a poet supplies a moral plane for his narcissistic obsession with ‘nymphets’ and, by turning himself into the victim of female demons, he seeks to exonerate his guilt; Kinbote superimposes his overweening escapist fantasy onto a dead man’s poem, which reduces any reality inside the text to paradoxical world(s); Zembla becomes a surrogate world for the outsider in America. An ironic gap opens up between life and artistic productivity, which questions the relationship between morality and aestheticism.

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