The first time I wrote about Lana Del Rey, in a column, a few months back, I said I was pleased that when she invoked the name “Lolita,” she actually seemed to be talking about something like the character in the novel, and not whatever strange mincing porny thing people use that name to refer to today.
Now, having heard her song “Lolita,” I would like to apologize and mostly retract that.
I wrote a review of her album for Vulture, findable here. I suppose the bullet points are as follows: It’s a so-so moody pop record that stumbles around a bit, and there are things about Del Rey’s attempt to pull off a persona that are campily interesting and/or poignant, and a lot of it reminds me of Showgirls. I have many more thoughts and feelings about related topic,* but I’m sure there’s more than enough to read about this artist at the moment, so I’ll save the bulk of them for another time.
Except for one thing. One novel I really adore is Manuel Puig’s Kiss of the Spider Woman. It’s about two prisoners, in Argentina, sharing a cell: Molina’s there because he’s gay, and accused of corrupting a minor; Valentin’s there because he’s a leftist revolutionary. Through most of the novel, Molina is recounting to Valentin, from memory, the plots of films he loves. He has a keen memory for the sensual, glamorous, swooning side of them.
One of the films he recounts is, essentially, a Nazi propaganda thriller, and he describes the things in it the way the film sees them — at some point, he’s describing all the beautiful, masculine German soldiers marching through Paris. This annoys Valentin, who challenges him on it. And Molina’s answer, as I remember it, is to just let the issue pass for a moment, and appreciate the type of beauty that this film, right or wrong, is trying to offer at that moment.
And that issue, the thing that’s contested between them at that moment, has more to do with “camp” than laughing at things because you think they’re bad — to me, camp is always about seeing some overblown proposition of what beauty is, and knowing that the fundamentals behind it, the belief system it grew out of, is defunct or rotten or collapsed. It’s like a touchingly grand expression of a belief that has no worthwhile purchase on the world.