Posts Tagged 'Art'

Go Find Your Lolita

Logan Rutherford

This semester I took “The Art of Vladimir Nabokov’ with Professor Sergei Davydov. First of all, Dr. Davydov is not only an inspired teacher, but he’s also one of the funniest professors on campus; if you get the chance, take a course with him. Of course, we read Nabokov’s most infamous novel, Lolita, during the course of our studies. So, I thought that seeing as it is the 50th anniversary of the novel being published in the United States, it might be appropriate to exhort people to (re) read Nabokov’s great work.

It seems that most literate people in the English-speaking world are familiar with the “story” of Lolita. My dictionary yields the following definition of a “Lolita:” ‘noun; a sexually precocious young girl.’ The notion of Lolita being nothing more than highbrow pornography is thus reinforced by the definition. However, any reader of the novel owes it to Nabokov to be more honest than that, and to give Lolita its due.

The frame for the story, which any review will more than likely present, is that Humbert Humbert, a European genius with a sexual penchant for “nymphets,” has come to America and houses with Charlotte Haze because, ostensibly, the rent is cheap and the neighborhood quiet. But the truth is that Humbert is primarily concerned with rakish ruminations involving Charlotte’s daughter, Lolita. Humbert marries Charlotte so as to be closer to Lolita. When Charlotte meets an unfortunate death, Humbert becomes Lolita’s sole guardian, or rather, she becomes his captive.

The book’s title is in a sense ironic because we never really get to know Lolita herself. Lolita the novel is really the story of Humbert Humbert, told through the prism of the character Lolita. There are only flashes of the real Lolita, as opposed to Humbert’s solipsized version. The real Lolita is discernible in her graceful tennis matches; one catches a glimpse in her joyful bicycle rides; her sorrow is painfully palpable when she reflectively discusses her battered childhood with Humbert. But this is one of the reasons why people continue to come back to the novel: we search for Lolita, but somehow she’s always out of reach. Lolita is in no way definitively delineated.

Another reason the novel has such staying power is because of the way Nabokov manipulates the reader. Comfort with the novel is never achieved because Humbert’s love is inextricably linked to the ghastly things he resorts to in order to consummate that love. Humbert is such a cunning narrator that it is easy to forget Lolita’s age. At times, particularly for the first time reader, Humbert is practically absolved of guilt because of his self-deprecation and hysterical use of language. A perfect example of Humbert’s humor dissolving his guilt is found when he describes how he had begun to pay Lolita for sex: “O Reader! Laugh not, as you imagine me, on the very rack of joy noisily emitting dimes and quarters, and great big silver dollars like some sonorous, jingly and wholly demented machine vomiting riches.” Of course, there is nothing funny about this situation, but Humbert makes it seem that way with his style as he is a master puppeteer.

The prose throughout Lolita is not only funny, at times it is wonderfully poetic: “Through the darkness and the tender trees we could see the arabesques of lighted windows which, touched up by the colored inks of sensitive memory, appear to me now like playing cards…” The image of a brush touching things up in mutable memory is both aesthetically inspired and philosophically suggestive: perhaps the most powerful artist of all is Mnemosyne herself. Poetical pearls abound in the novel. The prose poem that is the last paragraph of the novel is wonderful. It is humbling to think that English was not even Nabokov’s mother tongue.

I have now read Lolita six times, and it is always a pleasure. As I continue to evolve as a person, the novel subjectively evolves with me, and there is always something new to be discovered— some unexplored alcove where I find more laughter and even at times, alas, more confusion. Go read this one. Or if not Nabokov, give some other writer unfamiliar to you a fresh chance. In a college environment that leaves us with such little time for free reading, it’s a treat to take a break with an engaging novel. So go ahead and find one.

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What is Happening to the Films of our Childhood?

Ceara Danaher

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Last Friday night, my teammates and I crowded around a hotel television the night before a race, scanning the channels for any show to pique our interest. As we idled past the usual menu of sitcoms and reality shows, a vision of Technicolor glory burst upon us. “The Wizard of Oz!” we cooed. With no further deliberation, a consensus was met.

We eagerly discussed old memories of the movie. It felt like the sudden discovery that, years earlier, we ha all shared a mutual friend. Our reunion was interrupted when our coach’s eight-year-old son walked through the door. “The Wizard of Oz?! I’ve never seen this!”

As Nick settled between us, we exchanged glances. How was it possible that this boy hadn’t experienced one of the staple films of our childhood? Were we so old? Had the movie’s timelessness been lost? Sadly, the movie did not stand up anymore in a technological sense. The Emerald City, we saw to our dismay, was not actually a glittering bastion of green, but little more than a fuzzily painted image on a curved backdrop, mere feet from the actors. Would Nick, ensconced in a youth of Pixar animation, recognize these flaws? We never had.

The Wizard of Oz stood its test. Nick assumed the same slack-jawed position as the rest of us and watched in rapt awe as the witch threw a blaze of fire at the skittish scarecrow.

The Wizard of Oz is not alone in the field of overlooked classic films. As the movies of today grow more advanced, I fear that the films we grew up with are being left behind. Sure, it’s impressive to have the ability to create a lively, tap-dancing penguin on a computer, but what has happened to the good old cartoons of our day? What has happened to drawing, to human handiwork, to adult characters that don’t look like glazed-over, three-dimensional cyborgs?

I am all for the improvement of art through technology. Admittedly, the children’s movies of today are masterpieces of digital animation. But I urge that, in the push forward, we not leave behind the icons of our youth. There is comfort in movies like Peter Pan and The Lion King. There is value in the stories. There is humor in the characters. There are friendships to be forged with these animated beings, and, years later, with the people who worshipped them in the same way that you did. What’s more, when we dismiss the hand-drawn or live-action movies of our past, childhood aspirations are lost. Although kids can dream of becoming animators or actors, it is far more difficult for them to comprehend how to digitally engineer the flipping of little Nemo’s fin. When my childhood friends and I weren’t arguing who sang most like the Little Mermaid (answer: none of us), we imagined being Disney artists when we aged. Computer animators? Not so much.

For generations now, Disney cartoons and The Wizard of Oz have been enchanting children. It worked for our parents, for our siblings, and for us. Why stop at that? The movies of today are well and good— accept them if you like. But don’t forget where we’ve been. As for me, I’ll take old-school movies any day.

A Bold Step for the Music Industry

Melissa Marshall

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This October, Radiohead released their sprawling new album In Rainbows. However, critical attention was less on the discography and more on the distribution method. The digital deities from London not only manipulated electronic rhythms to produce the most inventive music of our generation, but also turned technology — and the record industry — on its head by making their album available as a download only, all at your own price. That’s right: you name the price and then click “download.”

Whether it’s an odd psychological experiment or admirable philanthropy, I still haven’t decided. But this bold move did more than just give a finger to the corporate middleman, placing the power back into the artist’s, and subsequently, listener’s hands — it has also brought attention to the pretentious and unanswerable debate of what art is, who has the right to define it and who has the right to prescribe its worth.

It is a certainty that their distribution tactics will reverberate in the industry for decades, if not change the face of it completely. Already Saul Williams, Nine Inch Nails and Oasis have slated “download only” releases. And herein lies the beauty of their economic upheaval: maybe college students don’t have the right to place a price on art, but conglomerated record industries certainly don’t either. At least Radiohead has now given their distribution techniques the same individuality that their music reflects.

But on the other side of the proverbial coin, do we sacrifice a bit of our humanity for this individualism? As a gigabyte generation, we are becoming more and more isolated. Look at the birth of the iPod: most of us walk around campus with the omnipresent earbuds shoved into either side of our head, completely oblivious to passing classmates. Where once we would go to a local record store, we now turn towards synthetic cybershops to get our cuts. I yearn for the nostalgia of the High Fidelity-esque hole-in-a-wall dive that smelled like Springsteen and played like the Pixies— the fading posters on the walls symbolizing a time when rock n’roll was still rock n’roll.

Still, we have to keep in mind that not all musicians have the luxury or lifestyle to do “name your own price” releases. Despite all the anarchist idealists out there, tambourine men still need their daily bread. And maybe Radiohead are idealists as well, foolish for thinking that people will pay for something that they can easily get for free. I don’t really know— but I still like to believe in the inherent goodness of mankind. That and affordable music. I can definitely believe in affordable music.

Tired of the Tire Sculpture?

Daniel Roberts

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Pretty much since the day I returned to campus this past September I have publicly lamented the presence of what has been nicknamed the “Tire Monster,” the “Trash Sculpture” and even “Tire-rrhea.” The work is Solid State Change, an atrocity to some and an eco-friendly work of beauty to others.

So on October 25, when the artist Deborah Fisher was scheduled to give a lecture on her sculpture, I knew I had to attend. After all, it was only fair to hear her out.

Fisher said very little about the piece’s meaning. Before creating the work, she had been looking at charts of Vermont’s geology, and she did illustrate for us how the shape of the piece vaguely resembles Middlebury’s bedrock. In terms of the piece’s symbolism, and what it attempts to do, she insisted on repeating that it was all about moving towards a greater understanding of the environment and the world around us as whole— investigating the “outside” of ourselves. The question remains: how does a heap of recycled tires accomplish this?

The lecture really took off when we arrived at the Q&A period. One person asked Fisher politely what she felt about the criticism that her piece does not use the space well— that it looks more like trash, and less like art, because it sits heaped against a wall. Why not put it out in a public space, perhaps on a platform? Fisher answered that this would put the work on a pedestal, and this is not what she wants. She elaborated that she would not even like it to be on a bed of gravel or something similar, because this would put it on a stage. And yet, it is a work of art that the College spent a lot of money on— why not put it on a stage?

Biology professor Steve Trombulak posited, “Your choice of material may be appropriate for New York City, but not for rural Vermont. What do you say to that?” Fisher was speechless. I couldn’t help but feel Trombulak’s bold query, though aggressive, was a fair one. After all, Fisher revealed that in New York, she lives directly next door to a tire recycling plant that gave her the materials for free. This has to make one wonder if the choice of tires was not meaningful, but rather convenient. Trombulak added, “I ask this because the work was commissioned for a specific place and you were paid to create this specifically for Middlebury. It’s not like you made this on a whim, brought it to the flea market, and then the board of trustees walked by and said, ‘Ooh, we want to buy that for the College.’” Fisher answered, “It is what it is. It’s 6,000 pounds of garbage that I screwed together all by myself.” Exactly.

Finally, they said they had time for one more question. I cautiously raised my hand and asked, “You label yourself an environmentalist, and you purport to make environmental art, so I just wonder how you reconcile the fact that a very rich college paid you a lot of money to make this sculpture. Doesn’t that contradict the whole environmental mindset and seem to only reinforce commercialism?” Rather than taking offense, Fisher said, “That is the best question anyone asked today.” Then she thought for a moment before agreeing that, indeed, “That’s the question to be asking right now. It’s true, it’s a great point.” Her avoidance of any real answer is no surprise— what could she really say? No single person can decide how art can or should be taken in conceptual terms.

After the lecture, I went to a dinner with Fisher and some other faculty members and students. We ate our meal and discussed other artworks, as well as philosophies on art and life in general. Fisher was a genuinely interesting woman who had numerous compelling things to say about art, and I found myself intrigued.

I would love to say right here that eating dinner with Fisher and speaking to her face-to-face made me change my mind about the sculpture. Yet, the experience did not at all lead me to “see the light.” I respect Fisher as a person, and I understand and admire the College’s efforts to find provocative art for our campus, but the truth remains: this thing is ugly and detracts from the beauty of our lovely school.

The main defense that people kept making at dinner when we discussed the work’s reception was that, “It got people talking.” This phrase was repeated as though the sparking of resentment alone creates merit for something’s existence. I cannot agree. By that regard, the homophobic hate speech scrawled on the walls of Ross Dining Hall was valuable artwork on our campus, because it inspired discussion and debate.

It’s like Fisher said at one point during her lecture: “In a cultural movement that feels like individuals have no power, I believe Solid State Change is one person’s way of making an impact.” It’s true, she did make an impact; she got us talking. Yet there was a physical impact as well— she plopped down some trash onto our otherwise pristine home.