The image of Nabokov ‘plotting’ his novel and his simulation of the consumer of pornography signposts an implicit narratological distinction in which pornographic writing operates primarily at the level of story in order to achieve the direct communication of sexual material with no additional intention. In contrast, the artistry of fiction occurs in the manner in which narrative material (which may or may not be of a sexual / erotic nature) is handled, organised and distributed through the text. Girodias mirrored this interpretation in his instructions to contracted writers. Olympia author Iris Owens stated that novels were requested to be ‘brutally frank’ and writers were discouraged from using parody or any other form of literary self-consciousness which would have had a ‘detumescent effect upon the expectant reader’. Linda Williams reinforces this emphasis upon the direct, visceral response terming pornography a ‘body genre’ which operates to create an intense physical reaction on the part of the viewer or reader. Similarly, Beatrice Faust states that it always aims ‘to record rather than to understand or to interpret’;
‘pornography documents sexual activity. It does not attempt to create fine prose beautiful images or craftsmanship. If written it is full of clichés, when filmed or photographed it neglects exposure and editing and other niceties because the technique only needs to be good enough to yield an unambiguous record. The main priority is recording the action, not the quality of that record, it never rises above reporting.’
Trocchi’s text initially appears to closely correspond with this position. It is structured around what Nabokov would term a ‘crescendo’ of sexual scenes with new variations and combinations’ as Helen moves through a series of international encounters. These scenes are rendered in graphic, occasionally clinical detail. In addition, the novel is built upon the motif of a ‘found’ manuscript; Helen’s written journal. This is presented to the reader alongside several interpolated letters from ‘Major Pierre Javet to his friend, Captain Jacques Dacaeur of the French Garrison at Mascara, Algeria’. This paratextual framing creates the sense that the collated document is less a novel concerning the character Helen than it is evidence highlighting the results of an investigation on the part of the two writers. Javet appears to have scanned the manuscript for markers of ‘real geographical reference’ (p.87) and states that much of the ‘information’ offered by the text has been ‘corroborated’ (p.88). A degree of transparency is attributed to the document as there is assumed to be a line of correspondence existing between signifier and signified. Javet assumes that the various markers and signposts can lead the reader directly to Helen as originary referent. Trocchi appears to be amplifying the explicit nature of his descriptions by superimposing upon the narrative of sexual interactions the teasing possibility of additional contact and connection.
In contrast to this narrative logic of revealing, discovery and unveiling, Lolita ‘transcends the genre of pornography’ as outlined by Nabokov through the deployment of Humbert’s elliptical and transformative narrative voice. We are mercifully spared a ‘detailed account’ his apparent ‘seduction’ by Lolita an omission which Humbert attributes to his lack of concern with ‘so-called sex’, the ‘animality which anybody can imagine’. Instead, his interest lies with ‘fixing’ the ‘perilous magic of nymphets’; a process of identification, which as the early description of a Girl Scout photograph indicated, requires the discerning eye of ‘the artist, the madman or a creature of infinite melancholy’. Away from a consideration of the provocative aspect of Nabokov’s novel, we may question the taboo subject matter of this gaze but in relation to the interpretations of pornographic writing thus far highlighted, we see that Nabokov provides us with more than the objective viewpoint of the reporter. Humbert’s creative observation pinpointing ‘the deadly demon among the wholesome children’ indicates a perspective very much removed from what Trocchi highlights as Helen’s voracious receptivity, her continual anxiety to ‘record everything, to break through the civilised shell of expression’.
Having said this, Trocchi’s polarised position in relation to Nabokov is not entirely unambiguous. Helen’s role as recorder appears to position the text in the tradition of the uncensored confession, similar to the novel’s ur-text, Cleland’s Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure. Cleland’s narrator in the opening ‘First letter, part one’ states that in writing she aims for ‘truth, stark naked truth’ and that she will ‘not so much as take the pains to bestow the strip of a gauze wrapper on it but paint situations as they actually rose to me in nature’. Here it is the ‘truth’, the material recorded which is communicated in an uninhibited way. The statement in Trocchi’s text is similar, however it is Helen, the ‘I’ who is attempting to ‘break through the civilised shell of expression’ as a result of producing the record. It does not seem that Helen wants to create a transgressive document but instead uses the record to evade her own entry into representation It becomes a self-supplement behind which she disappears rather than a means to create an accurate indexical marker of her own identity and actions. Critics such as Clive Bloom, Steven Marcus and Gary Day have read the type of narrative investigations initiated by Javet as indicative of how pornographic writing appears to offer the reader a perspective of objectifying mastery. Helen’s desire for disappearance her intention to ‘sink finally and be absorbed’ by her most ‘archaic part…once the record is complete and the communication made’, problematises this approach. Trocchi shows and then denies the novel’s internal reader the primary object of desire thereby foregrounding what Bloom calls pornography’s ‘sleight of hand’, the manner in which ‘it allows the illusion of power as it fantasises away that power making the reader totally open to the objects they may never posses as it tricks them with their own essence.’