'Obnoxious preoccupation with sex organs': the ethics and aesthetics of representing sex

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Drawing upon anthropological and historical studies of constraints governing the depiction of intercourse, Jajdelska explores the ethics and esthetics of Nabokov’s representations of sex. While such ethical constraints survive despite changes in norms which Nabokov both lived through and helped to produce, this chapter claims that aesthetic problems arise from the nature of embodied cognition; a vivid description takes the risk of being an arousing one. Jajdelska argues that Nabokov shows an uncanny intuitive understanding of perceptual processes in his descriptions of sex in Lolita, when it comes to structure and anticipation. Her chapter highlights how Nabokov uses aspects of embodied cognition to create representations which succeed both esthetically, in being vivid, and ethically, in shielding Dolores Haze from the potential for the reader’s arousal.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationNabokov and the Question of Morality
Subtitle of host publicationAesthetics, Metaphysics, and the Ethics of Fiction
EditorsMichael Rodgers, Susan Sweeney
Place of PublicationNew York
Number of pages16
ISBN (Electronic)9781137592217
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sep 2016


  • Nabokov
  • cognition
  • literature
  • sex
  • ethics

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