February 14, 2014

"Or maybe our attempts to get at the truth of an imbroglio, like that involving Farrow and Allen, reflect a frustrated aspiration to retrieve some kind of shared, collective truth, period."

That's one sentence in a belabored essay by Lee Siegel titled "Is the News Replacing Literature?" Subheading that appears at the top of my browser but not on the page: "Woody Allen and Dylan Farrow v. Proust and Kafka."

Of course, Woody Allen has written innumerable screenplays in the 20 years that have gone by since we first heard the accusations about what he might have done to Dylan. We still consume those things. We (some of us) endeavor to fathom "Blue Jasmine" or whatever his movie of the year is.

But Siegel insists: "Instantaneous news of what happened, or might have happened, has become our art, and, like the chorus in ancient Greek tragedy, we are all part of the swelling roar." If so, is this bad? In novels, the characters are fictional, so our inferences from the evidence don't pass judgment on anyone real. If we can't see all the facts, it's because the author created ambiguity or didn't foresee all the various ideas we'd have, reading, and the additional things we might think we need to know.

It's a mental exercise, reading fiction, and the author may be a despicable person, like Woody Allen, if Woody Allen really did the things he's accused of, so maybe it is better to stretch our minds over the framework of some news story, like the story of Woody and Dylan. There, the facts are incomplete for a different reason, but the incompleteness is reality-based: Reporters can't get any deeper into the truth of the past. If we judge, we judge real people, and that isn't merely a mental exercise. We risk our own morality.

Siegel observes "a backlash of fanatical certainty and malevolent personal projection" in much of the "swelling roar" about Woody and Dylan, but people say foolish things about art too. High art is a filter. Who has opinions about Proust and Kafka? Maybe what's really eating Siegel is that those who used to consume high art and exchange their fanatical certainties and malevolent personal projections amongst themselves have joined the mob blabbering about news stories, and where can you find the truly excellent people anymore?

42 comments:

Revenant said...

"Is the News Replacing Literature?"

In the sense that fewer people care to follow it than used to, sure.

Sean Gleeson said...

"Instantaneous news of what happened, or might have happened"? I don't know, in the Woody Allen affair, it's more like a 20-year slow intermittent dribble of vague hints of what might have happened.

Shouting Thomas said...

Allen's movies are porn for women like you, Althouse.

When I was in college, was back in the 60s, taking your girlfriend to the Allen movie was the way you proved you were the sensitive, feminist New Man.

I stopped watching his movies shortly after college. The porn aspect is Allen's dreary and incessant babbling about "relationships." Along with the trappings of Upper West Side artsy fartsy life.

His descent into vicious sexual stupidity doesn't surprise me. Feminist women has always praised him to me because they see Allen as the exemplar of "serial monogamy," i.e., a dressed up version of whoring.

Allen's work is porn for women like you, Althouse. That's why you find yourself in the strange position of rationalizing his excuciatingly awful, if strictly legal, behavior.

Intellectualized porn for feminist women is what Allen producers, Althouse, not "high art."

Shouting Thomas said...

Why don't you get down and watch some real porn by honest pornographers instead of this dreary shit, Althouse?

Fuck the hours and hours of babbling about "our relationship."

David said...

Gaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!!!

Shouting Thomas said...

Dylan, who's work I respect because I actually take it for what it is, also serves as intellectual porn for you, Althouse.

You've almost made me hate Dylan, because it is so obvious that your "civil rights" crusades emanate from romantic nostalgia for the days of your adolescence when pretty girls loved them a folk singer who left the world dumbstruck with the latest folkie broadside against the bigots.

You clearly continue to need to fantasize the existence of bigots in order to support your need for this type of intellectual porn.

Dylan's work, in my opinion, is little more than intellectual porn in terms of the purpose it serves in your life. You seem to have no use for music, except as propaganda and intellectual porn.

DKWalser said...

Works of fiction should stand apart and be judged separately from their authors. Do people refuse to read Hemingway because he committed suicide? If so, they are missing out on some very good reading. Many novelists and screenwriters were drunks and louts, but that doesn't mean their works aren't worthwhile (and it doesn't mean that they are, either).

Note: I feel differently about the "personal foibles" of politicians, business people, and civic leaders. Personal foibles can give insight to a person's integrity and judgment. Since we are often asked to take at face value what a politician, business person, or civic leader has to say, knowledge of significant issues in the speaker's personal life can legitimately affect our willingness to accept the person's word. With a work of fiction, there's no need to trust the author.

Rusty said...

At this point I think it would be a fun to lock em both in a room with a couple of Cuisinart s without lids and then open the door in a couple of days and call it art.

John said...

"Is the News Replacing Literature?"

Most "news" has been fiction for years. It's much easier to listen to stories, than to hear facts. Stories make you feel; facts make you think.

traditionalguy said...

I noticed a new tag for "off the high ground."

Does Allen suddenly have a Tea Party vibe to you? Woody always dug around inside the psyches of powerful women to produce entertainment. That is a high ground high wire act. So Woody has finally fallen off the high ground without a net.

I say give Woody a lifetime achievement award for getting away with it as long as he did like his fellow Baby Boomers named Clinton did.

R. Chatt said...

Can someone be an "excellent person" while still being flawed? I think so. If we limited ourselves to art produced by excellent people, I presume meaning those who are extremely good, I suspect the repository of art would be quite small.

The most famous artists: Van Gogh, Picasso, Michaelangelo were hardly excellent humans from a conventional viewpoint. Shall we ditch their work?

Are we supposed to reject the work of PSH because he also was clearly a flawed man? So why reject the work of Woody Allen because he's a creepy guy?

tim maguire said...

we are all part of the swelling roar

That sort of lazy universalizing always gets my dander up. No, Mr. Siegel, we are NOT all part of the swelling roar. You and your friends may all be, but I am not your friend and you don't get to presume what I am a part of.

Roughcoat said...

Re: "I say give Woody a lifetime achievement award for getting away with it as long as he did like his fellow Baby Boomers named Clinton did."

Woody isn't a Baby Boomer, you putz. He was born in 1935.

PB Reader said...

I really don't care about Allen/Farrow, OR their kids trying to capitalize on it and their fame.

William said...

The back story of the Allen/Farrow debacle is Strindberg out of Sophocles. Allen took a stab at the drama in Blue Jasmine, but, despite Cate Blanchett's fine performance, it plays more like a cheap shot at Farrow than some dark reckoning with the female psyche. Allen is to Farrow as Arthur Miller is to Marilyn Monroe. Miller's play about Monroe portrayed her as a hot mess but gave no hint of her mythic appeal. She had a power that was beyond Miller's ability as a dramatist. So too with Allen. He doesn't have the objectivity or range to give sympathetic lines to the stressed characters that his own self indulgence has created.......Allen should look less to Blanche Dubois and Tennessee Williams and more to Eugene O'Neill for a dramatic model. In Long Day's Journey, O'Neill gave his mad mother, cheapskate father, and envious brother the most moving lines, and we forgave them their sins. People in families sometimes collide rather than connect, and it's not just their vices but their virtues that give them such leverage over us.

William said...

I bring to everyone's attention Shirley Temple and Arthur Freed. Arthur Freed was a successful Hollywood producer......What kind of satanic, evil, psycho pervert tries to molest Shirley Temple? A successful Hollywood producer like Arthur Freed. I would recommend all pedophiles go into show business rather than football coaching. A more attractive list of targets and sovereign immunity if yo get caught.

Jerry Pox said...

Shouting Thomas said...Allen's movies are porn for women like you, Althouse.

Can't disagree with Shouting ST's points about WA movies. But ST reminds me of just a horrible WA character, all this nasal whining and attacking, yuck.

lemondog said...

Woody isn't a Baby Boomer, you putz. He was born in 1935.

Part of the so-called Silent Generation

Revenant said...

When I was in college, was back in the 60s, taking your girlfriend to the Allen movie was the way you proved you were the sensitive, feminist New Man. I stopped watching his movies shortly after college. The porn aspect is Allen's dreary and incessant babbling about "relationships."

Woody Allen's entire 1960s output consisted of the mockumentary "Take the Money and Run" and the redubbed Japanese spy movie "What's Up Tiger Lily".

Naked Surfer said...

O'Neill gave his mad mother, cheapskate father, and envious brother the most moving lines, and we forgave them their sins.

Awesome. Thanks for this.

One part that I’m not getting from the header and from the otherwise good lead article here is this: "a frustrated aspiration to retrieve some kind of shared, collective truth, period."

Shared? Collective? Are these throw-away, throat clearing words? I just don’t get the feel – in context – of shared and collective, so is there some Colbert truthiness of “feel the news at you” that I’m not feeling? Are shared and collective more ennobling and dignifying for frustrated aspirations than non-shared contentious and atomic non-collective aspirations?

rhhardin said...

I think it's a fascination with child molesting.

That started in the 1970s.

viator said...

"Is the News Replacing Literature?"

Absolutely, since the news is now mostly fiction.

Naked Surfer said...

Another thing on this ramble – going to Sid Caesar.

I felt a weird irony in seeing texts highlighted, as in highlighting ur-texts, because I automatically flipped to ruminations about how Caesar is more about oral tradition and more about oral storytelling as an oral – not textual - high master. Orality – not text – trumps the feel of good comedy and the news too. Even if comedians and newscasters follow teleprompters and scripts and follow hireling meta-bias. There’s the feeling of an oral story, of raw orality itself, that keeps driving the – news – of Woody and family. As if something new will show up almost certainly in a mythological non-scripted oral flow. Something beyond texts.

Or as if, like Dumbledore sticking his head into the pensieve of liquid oral memories to scrutinize speaking memories for any missed details, we might discern some new thing not contained in a scripted text.

Paul said...

Well about Woody, Mia, and Dylan...

frankly sir, I don't give a damn.

madAsHell said...

I saw Bananas in '71, and Sleeper in '73, then his movies stopped being funny. I figured by now someone would have invented the orgasmatron.

Revenant said...

The idea that "Blue Jasmine" is a hit piece on Mia, or particularly based on Mia, really doesn't hold up on closer inspection. If that was true, why did he make her look so much more sympathetic than he claims she is in real life?

In the film, her husband is a serial cheater who defrauds people of their money. He's actually guilty of the crimes she accuses him of. In real life, Allen wasn't married to Farrow, claims that he is innocent of any crimes, and claims he didn't start dating the (adult) Soon-Yi Previn until he and Farrow's relationship was basically over. Then there's the fact that, apart from the "nasty breakup" angle, the events in the film don't bear any discernible relationship to either Woody's or Mia's actual lives.

There are some superficial parallels, and obviously Allen used the scandal as a jumping-off point for a story, but thinking Jasmine=Mia? I don't see it.

William said...

It was Roman Polansky, not Woody Allen, who gave Mia Farrow her signature role. Rosemary's Baby is the performance she will always be known for. She had a haunted kind of innocence. You could see how evil would be attracted to her innocence and how she would be capable of embracing evil to her bosom. The performance has a particular kind of mythic power given how the events of her life played out.

William said...

I just read Arthur Freed's bio on Wiki. He was a devoted family man and had a distinguished career. What are the chances that Shirley Temple was the only kid on the MGM lot he made a pass at? What are the chances that any kid would be believed if she made such an accusation public?

William said...

@rev: It doesn't matter whether you see the parallel between Jasmine and Mia. Mia surely did and that's what set off this latest howl of rage.

NotquiteunBuckley said...

I have wondered, will also continue to do so I, why Buckley didn't write one all-compassing epic thing.

Then I looked at what he did and thought, which I do often, "Holy shit he has done and did so much toward advancing what he believed while living as a really great person who the Hell am I to judge?"

I sincerely hope this doesn't come across as saying, especially at my second-favorite hang-out behind the great Ace of Spades and before the soon-to-be-considered great by the folks important at Mr. Jeff Goldstein's tremendous (however un-"How to Win Friends and Influence People" it all is currently) Protein Wisdom sphere something along the line of "don't you be bringing that up" because twasn't meant as such to begin with.

Howard said...

Lee Siegel nails it (us).

Shouting Thomas said...

Last Allen movie I sat through was Annie Hall. Two fucking hours of "Let's talk about our relationship." Dreary godawful sensitive feminized man porn for women like Althouse. Any woman who expects a man to sit through that shit to get laid is a bloodthirsty sadist.

NotquiteunBuckley said...

Infinities's doors extend only so far.

So far beyond our recognition is a starting point for some.

And their Theirness or theirness were as'ing it the thing to do.

duntov283 said...

This is a form of pornography, is it not, people speculating and discussing whether Woody Allen had sexual contact with a seven year old girl. You cannot know the truth as you were not in the room when it did or did not happen.

Perhaps you would all be wiser to end discussion of this topic. I include Althouse in this as she listed this topic for others to discuss.

Find other matters to discuss.

Revenant said...

It doesn't matter whether you see the parallel between Jasmine and Mia. Mia surely did and that's what set off this latest howl of rage.

All that tells me is that Mia is an egomaniac who thinks the world revolves around her. But she IS an actress, so that much could have been guessed to begin with.

Left Bank of the Charles said...

Woody Allen is essentially a TV writer. Most people watch his movies on TV, and most of them resemble extended Sid Caesar sketches.

TV is going away from scripted dramas and toward reality shows. Blue Jasmine borrowed on Alec Baldwin the TV star from 30 Rock, a Show of Shows TV show if there ever was one. It also borrowed on the adopted theme from Woody Allen's own life.

This controversy is all just a buildup for another TV show, the Oscars. My guess is Woody will not get his Oscar, which means Dylan wins. Two weeks and it is over.

mccullough said...

ST,

Annie Hall came out in 1977. You said earlier you saw a few of Allen's films in the 60s when you were in college and stopped watching them shortly after. As Rev pointed out, Allen had 2 movies in the 60s, neither of which were chick flicks.

So what are you talking about?

Revenant said...

"Annie Hall" can never be completely irredeemable to me, if only because of one line:

"Don't you see the rest of the country looks upon New York like we're left-wing, communist, Jewish, homosexual pornographers? I think of us that way sometimes and I live here."

bbkingfish said...

" Woody always dug around inside the psyches of powerful women to produce entertainment."

Powerful women? Always? Examples please.



rcommal said...

God almighty, it's as if folks want to forget the late '60s, all of the '70s and also the '80s and '90s .

Selfish, narcissistic bullshitters that they are. I mean, why not just get over it? Not pay attention at all to all of that.

rcommal said...

The bottom line is the sort of dishonesty that is so pervasive.

Jon Burack said...

"Belabored" is a nice shorthand way of summing up that essay. The New Yorker seems to specialize in that kind of writing. Life is complicated, sure enough, but the writers (and I assume readers) of these kinds of things seem to want to revel in that and belabor it.

The piece makes a huge distinction between fictional narrative and news reporting narrative. There is a difference in that one is understood to be made up, the other is understood to be about what really did happen. Either way, a narrative never escapes from being an interpretation. Big deal.

Then again, there are also those who "belabor" the pretense of being certain, such as the very aptly monikered "Shouting Thomas." Perhaps they need a New Yorker of their own.