Friday, March 31, 2006

More Lolita Talk

To appreciate a novel as an aesthetic object, we generally look to the text, examining the form and content of the prose. But why should we neglect the aesthetic of the book as a whole? Graphic artists work to create book covers which draw us in and, whether we like it or not, they inspire our first opinions of any new book.

On that note, I found it interesting that there was such variation in cover designs for different printings of Lolita. Looking around the class, each person’s book cover highlighted a different characteristic or interpretation of Lolita. One is a close-up of a woman’s mouth, showing only one half of her slightly parted lips. The sensuality this photograph indicates is obvious, but it is particularly interesting that the mouth does not even seem to belong to a child. The image of Lolita as a wayward and abused child has given way to a picture of a seductress. Before reading the first page, the reader already shifts part of the blame away from Humbert and towards this sultry version of Lolita. This cover also highlights the idea of Lolita as an object of desire. Her smile, which Humbert describes in great detail, is enough to enrapture men of all ages. By focusing on one small fragment of a face, this cover design also implies that we can never really know Lolita beyond Humbert’s perception and description of her.

Another cover displays only the lower portion of a young girl’s legs. The wide skirt, saddle shoes and lacy socks do not fit descriptions of Lolita’s clothing in the book, and seem characteristic of a girl even younger than Lolita. Rather than pointing at the sensuality of the novel, this cover focuses on the youth and innocence of the title character, therefore inspiring the reader to place more blame on Humbert. Each of these cover designs magnify one aspect of Lolita’s character, while neglecting to display any images from the novel itself.

The cover of my edition (which I could not find a picture of) takes a thoroughly different route than the previously discussed images. Instead of abstracting the idea of Lolita, this cover displays her as a person in a situation similar to many in the novel. It shows a girl of twelve or thirteen, wearing clothes that Lolita is described as owning, standing behind a bicycle. The grainy, black and white image resembles a photograph taken mid-century. Although this cover does the best job of actually representing images from the novel, it is by far the least interesting and aesthetically pleasing of the three. It doesn’t inspire the reader to draw any further conclusions from the image, and although it accurately represents the plot of the novel, it does not present Lolita or Lolita as an aesthetic object.


Blogger Dolen said...

I just love that you focused on these covers, Devon. I think my take on it is the way in which it focuses the "gaze" on just one body part. These covers objectify parts of Lolita in a way that dehumanizes her by reproducing male looking that dis-members women as whole, subjective beings. Just as Humbert has attempted to conquer the American landscape, he also views her body as a landscape to be conquered and compartmentalized. This kind of male looking that reduces women to disconnected/disoriented parts can be found in so many parts of visual culture: from paintings to films to advertisements. In these kinds of visual arrangements, the female body is reduced to fetish. Conversely, Humbert's attempts to reassemble Lolita (by attempting to enrich her mind) are yet another kind of ironic game or wordplay as he has so thoroughly disconnected her mind and body.

But I love your analysis too.

7:36 PM  

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