Letter: Vladimir Nabokov Defines Pornography


In 1964, Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart famously wrote that, while he couldn’t definitively state what makes a work “pornography,” “I know it when I see it.” Had Stewart only consulted with Vladimir Nabokov, whose 1955 novel Lolita was temporarily banned in France and the UK and withstood several reviews that stated or implied that it was pornography, he might have arrived at a more precise definition. In a 1965 letter to his friend Morris Bishop, Nabokov addressed the “irate Paterfamilias” response to the book and offered a characteristically eloquent take on what is and isn’t pornography: “‘Pornography’ is not an image plucked out of context; pornography is an attitude and an intention. The tragic and the obscene exclude each other.” See the typewritten missive after the jump, and visit Letters of Note for the transcription.