The wrong end of the stick: self-deception in Nabokov

  • Charles Turner warwick university
Keywords: Nabokov, Self-deception, reframing


The problem of self-deception is often couched in terms of whether it is possible for someone to lie to themselves, whether the lie is an act of masking a truth - either previously known or simultaneously adhered to - and whether the lying is intentional. This philosophy of mind approach relies heavily on the question of whether someone does or does not believe something at any one time, and features scenarios involving hypothetical agents with markedly thin biographies. Here I pursue a different tack. Firstly, Erving Goffman’s Frame Analysis invites us to think less about ‘beliefs’ about states of affairs held by isolated actors than about the reality status of the social interactions we get involved in and the susceptibility of that reality status to multiple shifts in significance and import. Secondly, I read Nabokov’s Lolita partly as a story some of whose substantive content warrants a frame analytic approach, but also as a piece of frame analysis in its own right.