In 1956, Vladimir Nabokov skewered everything wrong with the 'important' books and movies with a 'message' that plague today

'For me a work of fiction exists only insofar as it affords me what I shall bluntly call aesthetic bliss'

Christopher Hooton
Thursday 05 January 2017 12:23

Look over the Best Picture Academy Award winners so far this millennium and you’ll find a commonality between several of them (Crash, Slumdog Millionaire, The Hurt Locker, 12 Years a Slave, Spotlight); they all contain some sort of message.

This is not always a bad thing, and it is possible for a film to both educate and entertain, but ideology is fast trumping art in what we now so prosaically refer to as simply ‘content’.

It’s become more apparent in the slacktivist age, when films get standing ovations before they screen and receive votes from Academy members who have never even seen them, but arguments about the purpose of art and literature have raged for years.

In an afterword for his classic novel Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov took to task those who are seeking some kind of moral instruction from it, and his words are prescient:

“There are gentle souls who would pronounce Lolita meaningless because it does not teach them anything. I am neither a reader nor a writer of didactic fiction, and, despite John Ray’s [the faux author of the novel’s Foreword] assertion, Lolita has no moral in tow. For me a work of fiction exists only insofar as it affords me what I shall bluntly call aesthetic bliss, that is a sense of being somehow, somewhere, connected with other states of being where art (curiosity, tenderness, kindness, ecstasy) is the norm. There are not many such books. All the rest is either topical trash or what some call the Literature of Ideas, which very often is topical trash corning in huge blocks of plaster that are carefully transmitted from age to age until somebody comes along with a hammer and takes a good crack at Balzac, at Gorki, at Mann.”

And later:

“It is childish to study a work of fiction in order to gain information about a country or about a social class or about the author. And yet one of my very few intimate friends, after reading Lolita, was sincerely worried that I (I!) should be living “among such depressing people” — when the only discomfort I really experienced was to live in my workshop among discarded limbs and unfinished torsos.”

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