In this talk Imraan Coovadia looks at a type of butterfly Nabokov was particularly interested in, the Kallima genus, and shows that it belonged to a class of “puzzle pictures” which were central to German gestalt psychology during Nabokov’s Berlin period. Coovadia argues that Lolita itself, with the switching perspectives it imposes on the reader and critic alike, can be seen as a kind of “puzzle picture,” and that understanding the novel in this way helps resolve a series of critical disputes about the narrative and Nabokovian style, about the morality and immorality of reading, and about the mechanism by which fiction engages our feelings. Coovadia suggests that, along with Great Expectations, Lolita is the book which most radically investigates the forces of wish fulfillment and projected desire that bring a reader into the text.
Imraan Coovadi, University of Capetown, South Africa, is a writer and literary historian. His publications, include The Institute for Taxi Poetry (2012), Green-Eyed Thieves (2011), Authority and Authorship in V.S. Naipaul (2009), and High Low In-between (2009), which won the University of Johannesburg prize and the Sunday Times Fiction Award. He writes regularly for newspapers, including the Mail and Guardian and the Sunday Independent.