August 29, 2005

Eichmann and Lolita

Here's an anecdote about Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita that I have never heard before (that is, I don't remember reading it in Eichmann in Jerusalem):
As Kubrick was beginning to film, an Israeli guard in a Jerusalem prison gave a copy of "Lolita" to Adolf Eichmann, who was awaiting trial. An indignant Eichmann returned the book two days later, calling it ''a very unwholesome book." The sulphurous halo of Nabokov's novel was still burning brightly in the popular consciousness of 1960 and it seems that Eichmann's guard gave the book to him as an experiment--a sort of litmus test for radical evil: to see whether the real-life villain, he who impassively organized the transport towards certain death of countless innocents, would coldly, or even gleefully, approve the various and vile machinations of Nabokov's creation.
Heh. I'd laugh harder, but this sort of thing persists to this day, depressingly. Yes, it's now "acceptable" for people to enjoy and endorse Lolita without also approving of Humbert Humbert, but that's only because the book has been designated a "classic," and only the most extreme moralists would be unashamed to denounce it. Good for people. But the confusion between the quality of a work of art and its moral character certainly lives on. If film reviews over the past year or so are any indication, apparently no one can enjoy Fahrenheit 9/11 without also endorsing its political views wholesale, and a denunciation of Che Guevara the human being suffices for an appraisal of The Motorcycle Diaries. But that's obviously wrong. Good books can be written about pedophiles. Good movies can be made that contain repugnant views on things. So it goes. Someday we'll get over this, but not, apparently, anytime soon.
-- Brad Plumer 1:53 PM || ||