Friday, March 20, 2015

The Use of Double Entendre in LOLITA and Shakespeare

I was reading the journal article A Filthy Look at Shakespeare's "Lolita" by Eric Naiman in an effort to study Nabokov's use of hidden meanings within Lolita. For example, upon the first reading one may miss the double-entendre in the following line from Lolita .

"My life was handled by little Lo in an energetic, matter-of-fact manner as if it were an insensate gadget unconnected with me."

It turns out that the French word for the sex organ (vit) is a homonym of the word for life. And if you consider that Lolita was twelve when she handled Humbert's life, the word life could be considered a double double-entendre. 

Rowe's Nabokov's Deceptive World has an entire chapter and an appendix devoted to Nabokov's use of sexual deception (i.e., sexual double entente). For example, Lolita wrote the following in a letter to her mother and Humbert from camp:

I [crossed out and re-written again] I lost my new sweater in the woods.(p. 76) [Nabokov's brackets.]

The reader gains the knowledge on page 98 that "sweater" is a reference to 12-year-old Lolita's virginity. The initial reference is to Lolita's "virgin wool sweater" and the subsequent reference is to Lo's virginity which she lost to Charlie in the woods at camp. 

But that's not all! Nabokov draws the reader's attention to the letter "I" by writing it once, crossing it out and writing it again. It turns out that "I" and "eye" are references to the "female sexual symbol".

Gently I pressed my quivering sting along her rolling salty eyeball. "Good-goody," she said nictating

Nabokov used the same literary technique that was used by Shakespeare which is spelled out in Eric Partridge's book Shakespeare's Bawdy. Here's an example of Shakespeare's use of double-entendre in the poem "Venus and Adonis":

‘Fondling,’ she saith, ‘since I have hemm’d thee here  
Within the circuit of this ivory pale,
I’ll be a park, and thou shalt be my deer;  
Feed where thou wilt, on mountain or in dale:  
Graze on my lips, and if those hills be dry,  
Stray lower, where the pleasant fountains lie.  
‘Within this limit is relief enough,  
Sweet bottom-grass and high delightful plain,  
Round rising hillocks, brakes obscure and rough,  
To shelter thee from tempest and from rain:  
Then be my deer, since I am such a park;  
No dog shall rouse thee, though a thousand bark.’  

The bold (pun intended) words are defined below:

park - the female body regarded as a domain where a lover may freely roam
deer - figuratively used of man and woman in reference to sexual activities. Possibly influenced by the homophone, (one's) dear or darling. 
mountain - pleasant eminences: breasts, buttocks, and thighs
dale - valley between breasts
fountain - breasts
bottom-grass - the hair growing in and about the crutch [i.e., pubic hair]
plain - belly 
hillock - buttocks
brakes - pubic hair

Why didn't we learn about Shakespeare's bawdy in high school? According to Partridge, Shakespeare's works were bowdlerized prior to the 1960s. 

And if that isn't interesting enough, what about the fact that Adonis was born of an incestuous relationship between Myrrha, a young nubile girl (i.e, nymphet), and Cinyras, her father. 

Monday, February 23, 2015

Was Michael Jordan Like d'Annunzio, Beethoven and Mozart?

Recently, I was in a hotel on Michael Jordan's birthday and ESPN was running a tribute to the great basketball player. In one of the segments Matt Doherty, Jordan's former teammate at the University of North Carolina, implied that Jordan's greatness was inherited from birth and that no matter how hard another basketball player worked, he couldn't achieve Jordan's stature. Needless to say, I was infuriated by Doherty's comments, because Jordan became a great basketball player through hard work. 

But Doherty is no anomaly in this instance. It is common for commoners to believe that great people were born great. For example, Shenk relates in The Genius in All of Us that people believed that Beethoven and Mozart could see music when they were born. But "[i]n truth, their ability to "see" music came only after years of intensive work-and in Beethoven's case, after horrific abuse. 

Even in fiction great people have to work hard to do well. A protagonist in Nabokov's The Gift was a very hard worker and a focused writer who avoided wasting time:

He worked so feverishly, smoked so much and slept so little that the impression he produced was almost frightening: skinny, nervy, his gaze at once blear and piercing, his hands shaky, his speech jerky and distracted (on the other hand he never suffered from headache and naively boasted of this as a mark of a healthy mind). His capacity for work was monstrous, as was, for that matter, that of most Russian critics of the last century. To his secretary Studentski, a former seminarist from Saratov, he dictated a translation of Schlosser's history and in between, while the latter was taking it down, he himself would go on writing an article for The Contemporary or would read something, making notes in the margins.

And how about Gabriele d'Annunzio who was arguably the greatest Italian poet of all time? Here's an excerpt from Hughes-Hallet biography. It exemplifies how d'Annunzio was a hard worker even as an adolescent:

I was infuriated by Doherty's comments, because it gives the impression that greatness comes from birth and cannot be achieved through hard work, self-confidence, and self-efficacy or through charisma as Cabane summed up in The Charisma Myth.

Saturday, January 3, 2015


Much of social media can be a waste of time for a writer; however, if one is careful and very picky some jewels can be discovered. I would recommend that a writer follow Jon Winokur's Twitter @AdvicetoWriters . The tweets are advice from established writers and can be very inspiring and beneficial. Some example tweets are below:

Saturday, November 15, 2014

The Allure of Nymphets 2nd Edition Books

These are (most of) the books that will be included in the 2nd edition of The Allure of Nymphets. The book will have at least 100 additional pages and it's projected to be released during the early part of the first quarter of 2015. 

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Librettist Da Ponte's 16-Year-Old Mistress and Muse for DON GIOVANNI

I wrote about Don Giovanni (1787) on The Allure of Nymphets blog because, Giovanni is an ephebophile. A lot is known about Mozart, the opera's composer, but outside of opera snobs, Lorenzo Da Ponte, the opera's librettist, may not be as well known . 

Writers may benefit from what was culled from Memoirs Lorenzo Da Ponte concerning Da Ponte's writing process:

  • Like Nabokov, who worked on Eugene Onegin for over 12 hours per day, Da Ponte wrote "for over twelve hours continuous".
  • Balzac often wrote for over 12 hours per day as well, while drinking fifty cups of Turkish coffee; however, Da Ponte preferred "a bottle of Tokay to my right," but he drank coffee as well. 
  • According to Currey's Daily Rituals How Artists Work, Thomas Mann "smoked while writing, but limited himself to twelve cigarettes and two cigars daily"; however, Da Ponte preferred Seville snuff. 
  • And like the writers I referred to in The Allure of Nymphets, 38-year-old Da Ponte was an ephebophile and used his 16-year-old mistress as a source of inspiration while writing Don Giovanni, which shouldn't be surprising when one considers that Giovanni had an "... outstanding passion is the youthful beginner....provided she wears a skirt." 

Saturday, August 23, 2014

An Artist is Above Social Classes

The protagonist in Edmund Wilson's "The Princess with the Golden Hair" which can be found in Memoirs of Hecate County said, "[Artists] didn't worry about their social position because the life that an artist leads is outside all the social positions. The artist makes his own position, which is about the nearest thing you can get to being above the classes."

And when an artist 
like the poet, Lucien Chardon, in Balzac's Lost Illusions doesn't realize this point, he may end up in unfortunate circumstances. 

(The readers of The Allure of Nymphets blog may find it interesting to know that Wilson and Nabokov were friends until they got into a fray over Nabokov's translation of Eugene Onegin.)

Thursday, June 26, 2014

"Nocturnal" an Overachievers Battle with Slumber

I quoted former prestigious Stuyvesant high school principal Teitel who used to tell his incoming freshmen, "Grades [i.e. any creative project.], friends, and sleep—choose two."

After reading Gardner's Creating Minds and Mason Currey's Daily Rituals: How Artists Work, I learned that a number of overachievers like Picasso sleep very little compared to the average person. 

Not only did the Paris Review reveal that Nabokov worked on the translation and commentary of Eugene Onegin: A Novel in Verse for over 17 hours per day, I recently read in Boyd's Vladimir Nabokov: The American Years that Nabokov slept approximately four hours per day. 

Lastly, according to a New York magazine profile, James Franco gets very little sleep and Franco fittingly wrote the poem "Nocturnal" in his poetry book Directing Herbert White about his battle with slumber, which I'm confident that a lot of other overachievers could relate to. 

Sunday, May 25, 2014


Balzac's Lost Illusions contains some advice for writers. I was referred to Balzac's classic by Nassim Taleb who used Lost Illusions to explain the concept of "silent evidence" in The Black Swan.

Here are a few of the prescriptions for writers: of genius had neither brother or sister, father nor mother; the great works that it is their task to create impose upon them what seems like egoism, oblige them to sacrifice everything to their own greatness. If at first the family must suffer from the exalting absorption of a great brain, later it will reap a hundred fold reward for the many and various sacrifices demanded by the first struggles of shacked nobility and share in the fruits of victory...Bernard Palissy, of Louis XI, Fox, Napoleon, Christopher Columbus, Cesar, all those illustrious gamblers who started life crippled with debts, or as poor men, not understood, regarded as mad, bad sons, bad fathers, bad brothers, but who later became the pride of their family, of the country, of the world. (59-60)

He wants the harvest without the toil...

...time is the capital of those whose intelligence is their only fortune...
Now literary success can only be won in solitude, by persevering labour. 
...a taste for luxury, a contempt for our quiet way of life; a love of pleasure and his natural tendency to idleness-the bane of poetic souls. 

Take refuge in some attic and write masterpieces, make yourself powerful in any way you will, and you will soon see the world at your feet...

If the present is cold and bare and poverty-stricken, the blue distant future is rich and splendid; most great men have known the vicissitudes which depress but cannot overwhelm me. Plautus, the great comic Latin poet, was once a miller's lad. Machiavelli wrote The Prince at night, and by day was a common working-man like any one else; and more than all, the great Cervantes, who lost an arm at the battle of Lepanto, and helped to win that famous day, was called a 'base-born, handless dotard' by the scribblers of his day; there was an interval of ten years between the appearance of the first part and the second of his sublime Don Quixote for lack of a publisher. 

He spent his mornings in studying history at the Bibliotheque Sainte-Genevieve. His very first researches made him aware of frightful errors in the memoirs of The Archer of Charles IX. When the library closed, he went back to his damp, chilly room to correct his work, cutting out whole chapters and piecing it together anew. And after dining at Flicoteaux's, he went down to the Passage du Commerce to see the newspapers at Blosse's reading-room, as well as new books and magazines and poetry, so as to keep himself informed of the movements of the day. And when, towards midnight, he returned to his wretched lodgings, he had used neither fuel nor candle-light. His reading in those days made such an enormous change in his ideas, that he revised the volume of flower-sonnets, his beloved Marguerites, working them over to such purpose, that scarce a hundred lines of the original verses were allowed to stand. 

After all, a novel in a drawer is not like a horse in a stable-it does not eat bread. But it won't provide you with any either, and that's a fact. 

"Your story is mine, monsieur, and the story of ten or twelve hundred young fellows besides who come from the country to Paris every year. There are others even worse off than we are. Do you see that theatre?" he continued, indicating the turrets of the Odeon. "There came one day to lodge in one of the houses in the square a man of talent who had fallen into the lowest depths of poverty. He was married, in addition to the misfortunes which we share with him, to a wife whom he loved; and the poorer or the richer, as you will, by two children. He was burdened with debt, but he put his faith in his pen. He took a comedy in five acts to the Odeon; the comedy was accepted, the management arranged to bring it out, the actors learned their parts, the stage manager urged on the rehearsals. Five several bits of luck, five dramas to be performed in real life, and far harder tasks than the writing of a five-act play. The poor author lodged in a garret; you can see the place from here. He drained his last resources to live until the first representation; his wife pawned her clothes, they all lived on dry bread. On the day of the final rehearsal, the household owed fifty francs in the Quarter to the baker, the milkwoman, and the porter. The author had only the strictly necessary clothes—a coat, a shirt, trousers, a waistcoat, and a pair of boots. He felt sure of his success; he kissed his wife. The end of their troubles was at hand. 'At last! There is nothing against us now,' cried he.—'Yes, there is fire,' said his wife; 'look, the Odeon is on fire!'—The Odeon was on fire, monsieur. So do not you complain. You have clothes, you have neither wife nor child, you have a hundred and twenty francs for emergencies in your pocket, and you owe no one a penny.—Well, the piece went through a hundred and fifty representations at the Theatre Louvois. The King allowed the author a pension. 'Genius is patience,' as Buffon said. And patience after all is a man's nearest approach to Nature's processes of creation. What is Art, monsieur, but Nature concentrated?"

"There is no cheap route to greatness," Daniel went on in his kind voice. "The works of Genius are watered with tears. The gift that is in you, like an existence in the physical world, passes through childhood and its maladies. Nature sweeps away sickly or deformed creatures, and Society rejects an imperfectly developed talent. Any man who means to rise above the rest must make ready for a struggle and be undaunted by difficulties. A great writer is a martyr who does not die; that is all.—There is the stamp of genius on your forehead," d'Arthez continued, enveloping Lucien by a glance; "but unless you have within you the will of genius, unless you are gifted with angelic patience, unless, no matter how far the freaks of Fate have set you from your destined goal, you can find the way to your Infinite as the turtles in the Indies find their way to the ocean, you had better give up at once."

The rare talent, already matured by thought and by a critical habit of mind, a talent developed in solitude, not for publication, but for himself alone and for no other, had suddenly opened for the poet from the provinces a door into the most magnificent palaces of imagination. 

Read Goethe's Tasso, the great master's greatest work, and you will see how the poet-hero loved gorgeous stuffs and banquets and triumph and applause. Very well, be Tasso without his folly. Perhaps the world and its pleasures tempt you? Stay with us. Carry all the cravings of vanity into the world of imagination. Transpose folly. Keep virtue for daily wear, and let imagination run riot, instead of doing, as d'Arthez says, thinking high thoughts and living beneath them." (230)

There are a number of other prescriptions for writers in Lost Illusions. If you're a frustrated artist, I recommend the book as an admonishing to keep writing. I propose Kathleen Raine's translation. 

Monday, April 28, 2014

Seth Roberts d. April 26, 2014

I learned today that Seth Roberts, who was a Professor of Psychology at Tsinghua University in Beijing, Emeritus Professor of Psychology at the University of California at Berkeley, a bestselling author, and who could be found in the acknowledgments of books by Nassim Taleb and Tim Ferris, passed away. 

Seth and I met about eight years ago via my blog Behind the Approval Matrix and soon after that he flew to New York to give a talk to my students. Most recently I spoke about Seth during a talk to a group of Brooklyn College students. That portion of the talk was on the importance of not wasting time/how to read more than one book per week. I related a story about when Seth and I went to the Burger Joint in the Le Parker Meridien hotel and how when I was in line ordering the burgers, Seth, after quickly perusing the hip burger joint with his eyes, pulled out a tattered novel and began reading.

During the past year Seth and I spoke almost every Saturday via Skype, because we were co-writing a book on education. He'll be missed.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Robert "Iceberg Slim" Beck's Writing Habits and Thoughts on Writing

Robert "Iceberg Slim" Beck became a famous and bestselling writer in the African-American community after spending over twenty years of his life as a pimp. Subsequently, his novels made him the most notorious pimp in America. His most famous novel is Pimp: The Story of My Life. The autobiographical novel was published in 1967 by Holloway House. 

Ian Whitaker's book Iceberg Slim The Lost Interviews shed some very interesting light on Beck's writing habits. Like Nabokov, Beck would visualize his characters in his head, he wrote for long hours  - sometimes up to 18 hours per day, like Proust he was a recluse, and Beck made a compelling analogy between pimping and writing.


  • He writes his books out in longhand, filling thick notebooks with manuscript. 

  • ... I don't want to pimp. I want to be a good writer. I'm coming out of there. And I'm agonizing now with my writing. I'm seeking to do in sentences what it took me paragraphs to do before, and to do in one word what it took me sentences to do in these books. 

  • Writing books is better than pimping. In fact, it's better than being a doctor or a lawyer. I don't have to go to court, I don't have to go to the hospital to perform an operation. I have no equipment...I don't even need paper; I'll write on the walls. All of my equipment [tapping his head] is in my noggin. And another thing; writing has been a wonderful boon for me, psychologically. The vacuum of ego that existed when I could no longer pimp has been filled most adequately.

  • Beck writes up to 18 hours a day...

Q. You have been described as the best-sellingest black author in America. Why is that?

A. ...I would think it's because I've been able to do what any artist must do if he's to rule the greatest possible audience - and that is to bare his emotional structure to the bone. I've noticed the same phenomenon as a speaker. I've been a success as a speaker because I've dared to do that which the audience, collectively, could not do. That is, I have overridden my inhibitions so I can confess. It springs from the soul, brother. So many people are dying and crying out to confess. But they lack the courage. 

Q. Doesn't every writer play [g]od?

A. Yes. But one can't play [g]od if one is also a father. One of the handicaps, of course, in being a writer is that one has large numbers of children, responsibilities. Ideally, a writer should be alone. Most writers - if they're married - inevitably, the wife will soon consider the writing a rival. And no writer can reach his peak with this kind of intramural opposition.

Q. Recently, you wrote an article about the loneliness of a super-pimp...

A. Ah, the loneliness...yes, the loneliness. Because you see, the only comparison I could make, as a matter of fact, with the loneliness of a writer is the loneliness of a pimp. I'm not talking about a would-be pimp. I'm talking about someone who really understands what pimping is. And by that I mean: no matter what problems I ever had as a pimp, I never got confidential with any woman...p 100

Q. Usually a writer tries to do more than merely entertain. He tries to inform and persuade.

A. Oh yes. I don't try to persuade. I used to be political. When I first started writing. Nothing is worse than to write with a tendency like that. You can't be a true artist. That's what hobbled most of the young black writers that came up in the 60s. In other words, one must - if he's black or any ethnic - if he's aware of the inequities of this society, purge himself, have that catharsis, through his writing, in order to approach the pristine peak that the artist, the true artist, knows. 

Q. Haven't you used the term "Pimping the Page?"

A. But you know why I've never been able to do it? Because of the torturous labor that writing is...If it weren't so gaddam hard man, I could make the analogy [between pimping and selling books]. But it's so hard...

Q. Are you a masochist?
A. I think all writers have to be. I'm talking about the serious writers - like yourself. You know you love it. You love the pain, that lonely pain.

Q. Is there any sadism connected to this?
A. Yeah. We inflict that, we often inflict that upon the audience. You know, two sides of a coin. But invariably, we inflict it upon the people around us, like our wives and our children, when we suffer, you know. 

Q. Would you say you've achieved a balance or homeostasis between your inner and the outer realities?
A. Yes. And I've achieved it through what I call "The Overview". The way I interpret "overview" personally is that I will not permit any traumatic event, person or force to deal my writing and my life a fatal blow. I will not gnaw on personal tragedy like some psychotic canine. When the deed has been done to me, whether advertently or inadvertently, I will simply forget that, I don't conduct vendettas against people, objects or circumstances. 

  • There's a lusting, lusting for that feeling, that sensation, because there is no sensation - even the hell of the writer when he's in the throes of creation, as magnificent as that is - that can compare with the the chemical rush of a speed-ball. 

  • ... I write long-hand and I have my work typed up. And when I'm not in the physical process of working, that is with pen in hand on paper, then I'm seeming to be day-dreaming. But I'm not. I'm reading on the ceiling characters for yet another story. And I hallucinate their voices and try to get the texture of their voices so I can become acquainted with them. That's why I can write so fast. When I get ready to go to the page. I've already had this prior association with them. And great snatches of dialogue have been written on the ceiling already. 

Q. You once were a creature of the night. Do you write at night?
A. Ideally, from 2am to 7 in the morning.

Q. Do you make a lot of money from your books?
A. No. When you say "a lot of money," you know to a pauper a hundred-dollar bill is a fortune. And then a John Paul Getty, a hundred-thousand is a pittance. But I'm not a seeker of fortune. All that I aspire to is to have comforts, and to be cushioned so I can have the most magnificent luxury there is. And that is one of privacy, so that I might write. 

Q. Are you satisfied with your progress as a writer so far?
A. No, because I started late. And given the Biblical actuarial estimate, it seems to me that I've got maybe 10 years. And writing being the unconquerable that it is, I wish that I'd started at your age or even younger, so I would at least have some remote chance of becoming the absolute artist. Because every day, every day, is a reminder of how little I know as a writer. 

MISTY: He was a strange guy who used to write on paper plates, on napkins, on anything. He did longhand on note pads but he would write on paper plates and things like that. 
Q. How easy was if for him to get published?
MISTY: ...He was very let down; it took a minute to get someone to look at Pimp