Academic journal article Style

The Self-Deceptive and the Other-Deceptive Narrating Character: The Case of Lolita

Academic journal article Style

The Self-Deceptive and the Other-Deceptive Narrating Character: The Case of Lolita

Article excerpt

Many scholarly debates during the last decades have dealt with the issue of narrator reliability in specific fictional texts. Often these debates have yielded no agreed answer, since the text itself vacillates between two poles (from total reliability to total unreliability) and resists any decisive solution to this issue. (1) Such disagreements, however, are not futile, since they may encourage both a more thorough reading of the text and a greater awareness of what Hans-Georg Gadamer calls the "prejudices" or the "fore-projections" of the reader, or what Wolfgang Iser regards as the reader's "predispositions."

Some of these debates are discussed by Tamar Yacobi. She analyzes the unreliability of narrators as one of five distinct explanatory options proposed in her "communication model" for settling discrepancies and inconsistencies in texts. Unreliability, she claims against Wayne Booth, is not a given quality of certain narrators but a conclusion or a logical solution reached by the reader while reading texts in which the other four hypotheses for solution of discrepancies are not as tenable as the hypothesis that the narrator should not be trusted. Generally adopting her model, I intend to demonstrate that the hypothesis of unreliability does not necessarily entail only one kind of interpretation. In other words, I claim that this hypothesis can be split into significantly different explanations of textual inconsistencies. To support this point, I will offer a distinction between self-deceptive and other-deceptive narrating characters and will argue that some texts constantly cause the reader to hesitate between conflicting interpretations of the narrator as belonging to one of these two types. (2) Such equivocation on the part of the reader is then extended to competing interpretations of the text, in accordance with each type of narrator. The chosen novel for this purpose is Nabokov's Lolita.

1. The Self-Deception Thesis

What is self-deception? This is indeed a difficult question and a very controversial one, and a discussion of it is far beyond the scope of this essay. I will therefore offer a working definition, according to which self-deception is a mental state in which the subject is motivated (as opposed to harboring a conscious intention) to believe in a specific proposition or state of facts This motivation causes the subject to enact certain mental strategies and behavioral patterns that convince him or her of the truth of P, despite his or her exposure to information that tips the scales towards accepting the truth of the proposition (or state of facts) not-P.

The relation between self-deception and deception of others is a familiar topic in current Anglo-American analytical philosophy. Thinkers such as Robert Audi, John Canfield and Don Gustavson, Jeffrey Foss, Patrick Gardiner, David Kipp, Alfred Mele, Stanley Paluch, David Pears, and Robert Solomon have pointed out differences between these two phenomena and considered how they may be connected. For one thing, other-deceivers, if they so wish, are usually capable of demonstrating to the deceived that the statement in whose truth they try to persuade their listener is in fact a lie. Conversely, self-deceivers are unaware that the statement in which they believe is false and therefore are usually unable to reveal the truth. Second, self-deceivers are unaware of the strategies they employ in order to convince themselves of the veracity of the lie, and therefore their state of mind is not a consequence of an intentional act of deception, as opposed to the state of mind of other-deceivers. Third, other-deception often consists in a single act, whereas self-deception is apt to come about in the course of a gradual, prolonged process and to become a behavioral pattern (which is expressed, of course, in a series of discrete acts).

Analytical philosophy, which is concerned with principled conceptual distinctions of this kind, is not interested in an empirical distinction between self-deception and other-deception, that is, in the application of a principled distinction to specific cases. …

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