March 15, 2017

"That’s the mistake we all make, isn’t it? Believing that being a writer means being, you know, totally and utterly uninterrupted—it means silence, it means, you know, a room of one’s own."

"No, no. That’s bullshit. That’s what we perceive a male writer to have. And that can lead to horrible solipsism and disconnection from humanity. I’m not naming names, never naming names... Martin Amis, Woody Allen, Saul Bellow."

Lines delivered by Tracey Ullman (as a writer named Ode Montgomery) in the "Painful Evacuation" episode of "Girls." I wish I had video of this scene — a little vignette that precedes the credits. It's all we see of Ullman, but I kept pausing and rewinding and rewatching it bit by bit. I was exclaiming: "This is the best performance I have ever seen on television." The lines were good and Lena Dunham — interviewing Ullman's character — was doing a fine supporting role, but Ullman was so funny (and dramatic) and doing so much in such a short time that I was in total awe.

I cut and pasted the line from a piece in Tablet by Miranda Cooper "On ‘Girls,’ Narcissism and Jewish Writers/Hannah gets some unexpected news, Woody Allen and Saul Bellow get name dropped, and Ray confronts his own mortality."

Excerpt:
What more could a Jewish-American-literature obsessed recapper ask for? Casting aside Amis, a self-professed philosemite, the fact that Montgomery’s list of self-centered writers is all Jewish is like manna from the HBO heavens.

Interestingly, Allen and Bellow have also been often compared to Philip Roth, who held much of last week’s episode’s attention. Allen even had a not-so-subtle cameo in the form of a photo on the wall in fictional writer Chuck Palmer’s study: a brilliant sight gag in an episode about writers abusing their fame and privilege. As with Roth, these are more than casual name drops. Girls is setting up an old guard of male Jewish American writers with whom Hannah must contend. Is being a writer as a woman really as hard as it seems, Hannah asks? Harder, Montgomery confirms.
By the way, if you don't actually watch this show, don't assume you know what it is like. The first 2 episodes of the new season have been phenomenal, and last season was great. Please don't clutter the comments with things you've been repeating about Lena Dunham for years. To do that is to flaunt that you do not know what you are talking about. Anyone who thinks the show is doctrinaire feminism and female narcissism is making it obvious that he doesn't know what he is talking about. 

121 comments:

Beth said...

Yes! It was a phenomenal few moments of television.

Ron Winkleheimer said...

I have never seen the show, and likely never will, so I won't comment on it. I will, however, say that Tracey Ullman is a fantastic actress. I don't know why we don't see more of her. I would recommend just about everything she has been in, except for "Men In Tights." I want that part of my life back Mel Brooks!

https://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=I+love+you+to+death&view=detail&mid=6E5515CBA009340DFDFA6E5515CBA009340DFDFA&FORM=VIRE0&mmscn=tpvh&ru=%2fsearch%3fq%3dI%2blove%2byou%2bto%2bdeath%26go%3dSubmit%26qs%3dn%26form%3dQBLH%26sp%3d-1%26pq%3di%2blove%2byou%2bto%2bdeath%26sc%3d9-19%26sk%3d%26cvid%3dD3FACBE75D424FD59C044CC8C9F42D13

traditionalguy said...

On motherhood: I don't have to have one of those. It's like having a truck driven through your vagina.

Now that is grade A Nastiness. Maybe it is worth watching.

Jeff Boulier said...

Ullman's a good singer, as well: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f9un119lq4c

And probably more rounded than most entertainers: https://www.amazon.com/Knit-Together-Patterns-Stories-Knitting/dp/1584795344

Ignorance is Bliss said...

I don't know what I'm talking about, and I flaunt my ignorance blissfully.

Roughcoat said...

I like it when Althouse lays down the rules for a discussion thread. There's something so Frau Blucher-ish about it.

Lucien said...

"Philosemite" is a real word?! Cool . . .

And Tracy Ullman just makes whatever she's in better (like Don Cheadle, Frances McDormand, and Edward Norton in movies).

bagoh20 said...

Nag, nag, nag!

lgv said...

"...To do that is to flaunt that you do not know what you are talking about. Anyone who thinks the show is doctrinaire feminism and female narcissism is making it obvious that he doesn't know what he is talking about. "

Wow, pre-emptive comment self-censoring via shaming. I understand the rationale, as we would be get the tired, oft repeated anti-Dunham, anti-Girls pile-on. But, I find it difficult to absolutely preclude the possibility that someone has: 1) watched the shows, 2) believes it is doctrinaire feminism and 3) doesn't know what their talking about. Kind of, if you have opinion X, it is wrong, and I don't want to read it and I don't what anyone else to read it.

Bay Area Guy said...

Darn, I really want to comment. But, alas, that would mean watching the show.

I did really enjoy Captain Fantastic, so maybe I will watch an episode of Girls, but only with a large tumbler of vodka and cranberry juice, while Bay Area Gal massages my feet.

joucas said...

I do not take a 2nd seat to anyone in my dislike for Lena Dunham and her annoying public persona, but "Girls" is indeed a terrific show, well written and smart.

Lyle Smith said...

Igv,

She just doesn't want people who don't watch the show turning the thread into a festival of Dunham bashing. If someone who watches the show and thinks it is sucks because of x, y, and z... they aren't precluded from walking out on such a limb.

Personally, I think all conservative minded people should watch the show, because they will be very entertained.

rehajm said...

The restrictions on comments for this thread lead me only to say that Tracy Ullman is terrific in anything she does.

Michael K said...

No intention of watching the show, even for one second.

My son and his friends used to watch "Friends," I know.

I don't know anyone who watches that.

John said...

"...To do that is to flaunt that you do not know what you are talking about. Anyone who thinks the show is doctrinaire feminism and female narcissism is making it obvious that he doesn't know what he is talking about. "

---OR---

COMMENTING CHARGES
Daily rate: $2
Monthly rate: $18
Yearly rate: $180

We hope this new
largely symbolic measure will help us create a more pleasant and cultivated environment for all of our readers, and, as always, we thank you deeply for your support.

Roughcoat said...

Never seen the show so I won't talk about it. But, speaking from experience, I can tell you that it's hard to be a writer because ... writing is hard and the business of writing is hard too. I don't know whether it's harder for women to be writers than it is for men and I don't care. It's hard for me.

JHapp said...

It sure sounds like the same old stereo typing crap I try very hard to avoid.

Luke Lea said...

"Montgomery’s list of self-centered writers is all Jewish is like manna from the HBO heavens." Doesn't Susan Sontag belong on that list? Maybe at the very top?

Ron Winkleheimer said...

There's something so Frau Blucher-ish about it.

https://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=frau+blucher&&view=detail&mid=E9AB0241ED96FB33D8F6E9AB0241ED96FB33D8F6&FORM=VRDGAR

Roughcoat said...

Do you think Rachel Maddow blew it last night because she's a female journalist, or because her hyping skills are better than her observational/reporting skills?

She's a female journalist?

Lem said...

I saw one episode were Lenas friend is trying to pee in the street and is interrupted by police.

chuck said...

> Is being a writer as a woman really as hard as it seems, Hannah asks? Harder, Montgomery confirms.

BS. The list of best selling kindle unlimited authors is dominated by women who write romance. Maybe it isn't easy writing best selling romance, but I'll bet it is no harder than writing best selling anything else.

David said...

Salinger comes to mind.

bagoh20 said...

Why are academics so opposed to free speech, and always with nasty attempts at shaming as their chosen technique to that end. Seems kind of juvenile, with a side of bullying.

Try this alternative: "We've already heard everyone's piling on dislike of Dunham, but I'd like you to discuss the specifics of this post. We don't need a rehash of the old stuff. We got that already.

Just trying to help.

Farmer said...

By the way, if you don't actually watch this show, don't assume you know what it is like.

Can I assume it sucks fucking dog balls at least? 'Cause it really looks like it sucks fucking dog balls.

Fernandinande said...

Roughcoat said...
There's something so Frau Blucher-ish about it.


Nnnnaaaaayyyyyyy! I disagree.

Sebastian said...

"And that can lead to horrible solipsism and disconnection from humanity. I’m not naming names, never naming names... Martin Amis, Woody Allen, Saul Bellow." Saul Bellow is "disconnected from humanity"? Perhaps our hostess was trolling us in describing these lines as "good" and the performance as funny. In any case, I have not read any Martin Amis and can see the "good" line apply to Allen, even humorously, but applied to Bellow it strikes me as ignorant BS.

Lewis Wetzel said...

So we aren't talking about being a writer -- heck, I'm a writer -- or being a professional writer, but being a celebrated writer?

buwaya said...

Some shows have a target audience, probably.
I am not the target audience for this one.

exiledonmainstreet said...

I have never watched Girls, but I take issue with this:

"No, no. That’s bullshit. That’s what we perceive a male writer to have. And that can lead to horrible solipsism and disconnection from humanity."


That's a male writer thing? It sounds like the Tracey Ullman character is looking through a very narrow lens. What about Emily Dickinson, a decidedly antisocial spinster who shut herself away in her bedroom in Amherst to write? I've never read biographies of the Bronte sisters, but, as I recall, they were also unmarried introverts.

I recall that near the end of her life, Dorothy Parker said something to the effect that that the members of the famed Algonquin Round Table (including, of course, herself) spent a bit too much time sitting around that table drinking and exchanging witticisms and not enough time doing the hard solitary work of writing and as a result remained essentially lightweights.

Meade said...

"COMMENTING CHARGES
Daily rate: $2
Monthly rate: $18
Yearly rate: $180"

I like. Hey. even speech freedom isn't free.

Bad Lieutenant said...

Has anyone considered that poor Althouse may be getting old. and is a changed person? Perhaps ten or twenty years ago she wouldn't be, or appear, this fragile. Didn't she quit teaching because she couldn't do it anymore?

I would think that nothing can be more destructive to the soul than the teacher-student relationship because whether or not the teacher deserves it, he/she must self-portray as being in a position of superiority. No teacher can be equal to his or her student.

I don't watch Girls and would only have stereotypically contemptuous things to say, except going on the post, I think that this is valid: Tracey Ullman is a great actress, but I don't understand the words that were written for her.

What is different for men or for Hannah or for Ode? Is she saying that it's silly to want to have peace and quiet to write? Is it that mothers don't have this privilege because they have to take care of children?

Meanwhile, who in this scene has children to be oppressed by? Ullman? The truck remark doesn't sound like the voice of experience but a stereotype. My mother says she had easy deliveries, loved being pregnant and wished she'd had more children. Yeah, I think you can get to contempt - how do the lawyers say it? - facially, without having to see the show.

And wow-moderation? Really? Well I didn't say Durham is a pig, so I should be okay, right?

Lewis Wetzel said...

Half of all books published by a traditional publisher (not e-book only, not self-published) are genre: mystery, SF, romance.
I assume the Ullman character isn't talking about that kind of writer.

William said...

I watched the first two seasons. Ok, Dunham has talent and a fresh perspective. But the characters in her shows had problems I've never encountered, and I lost interest in them. Also, there was a lot of subliminal preaching going on.......I'll give it another try, but my past experience was that the good stuff didn't outweigh the annoying stuff.

exiledonmainstreet said...

"And that can lead to horrible solipsism and disconnection from humanity. I’m not naming names, never naming names... Martin Amis, Woody Allen, Saul Bellow."

Like Sebastian, I certainly don't see Saul Bellow as "disconnected from humanity."

It seems to me the Ullman character is taking a pretty narrow view of things. What about Emily Dickinson, who might have been the Belle of Amherst, but was certainly not the belle of the ball?

"Considered an eccentric by locals, she developed a noted penchant for white clothing and became known for her reluctance to greet guests or, later in life, to even leave her bedroom. Dickinson never married, and most friendships between her and others depended entirely upon correspondence. Dickinson was a recluse for the later years of her life."

In her later years, Dorothy Parker made a remark to the effect that the members of the famous Vicious Circle (of which she, of course, was a charter member) spent too much time drinking and trading quips at the Algonquin and too little time doing the hard, solitary work of writing and so were all essentially lightweights.

Unknown said...

I write at the library, right out in the open. Have written at airport coffee shops and on airplanes. The key for me is not silence, but the lack of something to go do that I would rather do, like cut the grass. Right now there is hammering going on and I simply don't hear it.

Bill said...

Years ago, when I lived in San Francisco, I was down with a nasty infection. A neighbor two floors down brought me some Chinese herbal concoction, barely drinkable, in a large crock . . . and this. I don't doubt the herbal concoction helped, but I think I laughed that infection out of me. Thank you Tracey, and thank you, dearly-departed Ernie.

Bill Peschel said...

Tracy Ullmann was interviewed recently on The Nerdist. She comes across as sensible and sane, and willing to put her family and children ahead of her careerism.

Unlike, say, Alice Walker, who married a white Jewish man, had a child by him, divorced him after a few years, and shuttled their child back and forth every couple of years. Said daughter wrote a memoir and defended her mother's behavior this way:

``She was a part of and still is a part of the women's movement,'' Rebecca says, ``and there is a sense that young women had been made dependent and kept dependent in many ways. She thought by allowing me this great, independent childhood that I would be more independent and stronger as an adult. I don't think she thought she was being neglectful. I think she thought this was a good, fine thing, to let me experience the world alone.''

She experienced the world alone by getting pregnant at 14 and having an abortion.

Anyway, thanks for bringing up "Girls," Last time I looked, my local library didn't carry. Now, I see it does and put in a request for the first season.

(Note: We cut the cord in 1995 for various private reasons. Now that I'm poor, I have more time to catch up on my viewing.)

I have discovered that relying on reviews is the worst way to watch shows. I've found movies that they hated that we loved. For example: "Alex and Emma," a rom-com with Luke Wilson and Kate Hudson, about a writer and the girl he hires to type to dictation. Critics at RT gave it 11%. I think they're delusional.

Meanwhile, I think J.J. Abrams is a blight on popular culture, based on "Lost" the two "Star Treks" and his Star Wars abortion.

The point behind all this self-congratulation is that, despite my loathing for Dunham, I want to experience the show myself and see why it's considered good.

So for those of you who've seen it -- which is probably only Ann and Meade -- am I right to start with season 1 show 1? Assuming I can only see one season?

Bill Peschel said...

Oh, and I forgot to mention that after her daughter's memoir came out, Alice Walker sent her a note saying, "You're on your own," cut off all ties, and wrote her out of her will.

Jim S. said...

I read an interview with Madeleine L'Engel once where she was asked what is the greatest gift you can give an author. Her answer was uninterrupted time.

John said...

Meade said: "I like. Hey. even speech freedom isn't free."

Maybe you could charge per post. Mary E. Glynn would have paid for your next trip to the east coast National Parks?

CWJ said...

"COMMENTING CHARGES
Daily rate: $2
Monthly rate: $18
Yearly rate: $180"

Available through the Althouse Amazon portal.

Lewis Wetzel said...

The most important thing you can do as a writer is to avoid repeating yourself.

Bad Lieutenant said...

LOL, Lewis.

MEG, I don't know why you have to repost twenty times, but it doesn't appeal to the rest of the people here, I daresay. But you are waging a struggle no one else perceives, so...Carry on...


and I meant to say re: "Carry on" - that's shiloh's line, leave it to him. You don't want to touch it, it's dirty. We supposedly have the pleasure of his going away and coming back only every election cycle, so please don't invoke him.

Known Unknown said...

I guess moderation is coming back in 3 ... 2 ... 1 ...

Roughcoat said...

I'm reminded of the scene in Moby Dick ... dead Ahab/Gregory Peck entangled in the harpoon ropes on the whale, beckoning his shipmates to join him ...

Or the scene in "On the Beach" with a toy submarine caught in the window shade cord, endlessly tapping out a nonsense message on the telegraph key ...

EDH said...

I've been meaning to say in one of the Althouse cafes of late just how phenomenally good the final season's "Girls" has been.

And note Patrick Wilson's character reappeared in the "Painful Evacuation" episode. Doesn't mean all or much of the "One Man's Trash" episode wasn't a "one off" fantasy episode. Hannah (Dunham) may have actually met the doctor, but the whole romance thing was a fantasy. The ER encounter didn't really confirm the sexual intimacy... Or the writers may just be fucking with us.

Anyway, truly great stuff!

Althouse: I was exclaiming: "This is the best performance I have ever seen on television." The lines were good and Lena Dunham — interviewing Ullman's character — was doing a fine supporting role, but Ullman was so funny (and dramatic) and doing so much in such a short time that I was in total awe.

I was thinking the exact same thing in real time as well! You really have to put to one side Dunham the activist from Dunham the writer/actor.

Bavissima!



Titus said...

I have watched the first three episodes this year and it is the best it has ever been.

Love it when Lena lets her cooch out for some sun.

Etienne said...

"...making it obvious that he doesn't know what he is talking about."

I don't have cable, but I enjoyed the preemptive strike on commenter's. ha!

I bet that Oriental Spammer comes back. That's all I know...

I was listening to talk radio yesterday coming back from the store. It was all commercials the whole trip. Two brands of competing male enhancement drugs.

Talk radio is limp.

The Toothless Revolutionary said...

Anyone who thinks the show is doctrinaire feminism and female narcissism is making it obvious that he doesn't know what he is talking about.

Agreed. Although from what I'd remember seeing, there were glimmers of unearned "reward" accruing to Hannah's self-absorbed bunch from time to time, they were more likely contending with the uproariously humiliating consequences of their own follies. Your crowd here complains all the time about bumbling paternal stereotypes in American television. Girls was often doing the same thing to young single women. Poking fun at them due to the literary justice they'd reap following all the selfish exploits they'd sown. The show was just more honest/realistic about showcasing exactly what psychological foibles lead young successful women to set themselves up in exactly this way. That's why it's successful art.

Girls tapped a rich vein of material for the prerequisites of female comedy: Showcasing young women in typical, comical situations. Most women are too proud/vain to relate these anecdotes, which is why they're hidden from popular culture's view. Dunham wasn't. She did for feminine entertainment culture something close to what Michael RIchards' "Kramer" character did for slapstick. Her work succeeds because of that. Why can't so many of you see that? The humanities are not about conveying perfection, but the opposite.

The Toothless Revolutionary said...

Meanwhile, I think J.J. Abrams is a blight on popular culture, based on "Lost" the two "Star Treks" and his Star Wars abortion.

Shake my head and slack my jaw. I never watched "Lost" but the first two Star Trek reboots were awesome (better than the third) and had it not been for some studio exec's demand to continue the ridiculously, yawn-inducing and overdone Death Star plot bullshit, he would have had a better Force Awakens than any of Lucas' three prequel abortions by several orders of magnitude.

Titus said...

The episode with the male writer was fucking amazing too. She also is lucky enough to get to fuck Naz Khan-he is yummy.

The Toothless Revolutionary said...

Ok, Dunham has talent and a fresh perspective. But the characters in her shows had problems I've never encountered, and I lost interest in them.

I never realized that the purpose of writing was to only relate to the reader's experiences, rather than to challenge to reader to relate to situations they'd not normally experienced. Can you imagine how mundane it would be to seek a reading market as wide as possible? What things does everyone have in common, aside from bathroom functions? Sounds pretty boring to me. But then, I guess that breaking that taboo explains Howard Stern's early success.

Young women (and men) flock to cities as they'd flock to any socially and economically and culturally rich environment, for obvious reasons. It's a human thing. The way she describes the pathologies that all-too-commonly compete to make that drive successful, was needed and interesting. And realistic. What's not realistic is to say that such a widespread experience isn't worth relating. You might as well have shut down Harriet Beecher Stowe's or Upton Sinclair's works on that basis. And they weren't half as entertaining and lighthearted as Dunham.

Lydia said...

Ullman has a sketch show on the BBC doing celebrity impressions. Her Angela Merkel is priceless.

HoodlumDoodlum said...

I'm tempted to rebel (at being instructed not to clutter the thread)...but it's your blog, ma'am.

If you haven't watched the "Tracy Takes On..." series you should (it was also HBO, I think). She's a good actress and a great comedic actress.

I saw some clip of a previous Girls episode online--I didn't realize Gillian Jacobs was on the cast. They certainly do get some good cast members, anyway.

chickelit said...

Not watching and enjoying "Girls" is right up there with not watching and enjoying "My Dinner With Andre."

chickelit said...

You just have been to know that "Girls" is terrible show based on the people who like it here.

Drago said...

TTR: "I never realized that the purpose of writing was to only relate to the reader's experiences, rather than to challenge to reader to relate to situations they'd not normally experienced."

If you are demanding I sit through 30 minutes of Gerard Depardieu eating butter than we are going to fight!

The Toothless Revolutionary said...

You just have been to know that "Girls" is terrible show based on the people who like it here.

It's always good to have a guy who thinks in stereotypes and sound bites to promote his "guilt-by-association" thinking here.

It would be interesting to get his idea on what's made for relevant art throughout the ages, historically. And by "interesting", I mean horrifying.

The Toothless Revolutionary said...

If you are demanding I sit through 30 minutes of Gerard Depardieu eating butter than we are going to fight!

No worries there, mate. I wouldn't do that to my worst enemy!

I might do it to chickenlittle, though. ;-)

He would get carried away with the inanities of butyric acid, anyway. So it's all good.

I swear, if someone farted on him, he would probably provide you with a breakdown on the precise amounts of hydrogen sulfide, ammonia and methane contained within it.

Ficta said...

@BillP Yes, start with Season 1.

Girls is a very smart show (either that or Lena Dunham is an astounding idiot savant). Her public persona does seem fairly daffy, but I really don't know what to make of that and she has an uncommon genius for getting people to talk about her. Veteran sitcom writer Ken Levine once said on his blog something like: I can't stand Girls, but she should be in charge of NBC.

The show itself seems to me to be really dedicated to telling its story without putting an ideological finger on the scales.

I apparently really need to catch up (I haven't gotten around to watching last season yet).

Bad Lieutenant said...

If you are demanding I sit through 30 minutes of Gerard Depardieu eating butter than we are going to fight!

3/15/17, 2:28 PM

After reading through and posting at the end of 195 (so far) comments, mostly Glynn's botshit? You could endure Depardieu EATING the butter. This thread is more like the 30 minutes he spends in the bathroom later.

chickelit said...

"I never realized that the purpose of writing was to only relate to the reader's experiences, rather than to challenge to reader to relate to situations they'd not normally experienced."

That is meaningless because it includes things tasteless and offensive which an "artist" thinks people should see.

Robert Cook said...

"Why are academics so opposed to free speech, and always with nasty attempts at shaming as their chosen technique to that end. Seems kind of juvenile, with a side of bullying."

If you're referring to Althouse's admonishment, you seem intent on misreading her. She's not trying to halt free speech about GIRLS on her blog, but uninformed speech about GIRLS, that is, comments and opinions put forth by people who do not watch the program or watched one episode or ten minutes of it once and never again, but who insist on forming and expressing their opinions anyway.

The Toothless Revolutionary said...

That is meaningless because it includes things tasteless and offensive which an "artist" thinks people should see.

Who's to decide what's "tasteless and offensive?" You? Hahahha. Perish the thought.

Determining a single, "superior" standard for taste and inoffensiveness is where elitism and its cousin, tyranny, go to die.

I hope some day you grow up and learn of the urge to control behavior in the most mundane way, by controlling opinions, is something that dies in liberals, psychologically healthy people generally, and oh yeah, successful parents.

We are not molecules that you can control and tinker with. I find it interesting that you are more provoked to control people than to control the chemistry of their industrial processes. It's almost like you think the chemistry controls the people that create it, rather than the other way around.

You remind me of Superman's square planet-inhabiting alter ego, at least insofar as worldviews go.

The Toothless Revolutionary said...

That is meaningless because it includes things tasteless and offensive which an "artist" thinks people should see.

Who's to decide what's "tasteless and offensive?" You? Hahahha. Perish the thought.

Determining a single, "superior" standard for taste and inoffensiveness is where elitism and its cousin, tyranny, go to die.

I hope some day you grow up and learn of the urge to control behavior in the most mundane way, by controlling opinions, is something that dies in liberals, psychologically healthy people generally, and oh yeah, successful parents.

We are not molecules that you can control and tinker with. I find it interesting that you are more provoked to control people than to control the chemistry of their industrial processes. It's almost like you think the chemistry controls the people that create it, rather than the other way around.

You remind me of Superman's square planet-inhabiting alter ego, at least insofar as worldviews go.

chickelit said...

I don't have an opinion on "Girls." I do have a strong, negative opinion if Lena Dunham.

chickelit said...

I'm not likely to watch anything starring OJ Simpson if and when he gets out of prison.

The Toothless Revolutionary said...

I don't have an opinion on "Girls." I do have a strong, negative opinion if Lena Dunham.

Do you have a strong opinion "if" Werner Heisenberg and Werner Von Braun?

They worked for the Nazis. Their work was nevertheless invaluable to science.

I am sure there are other examples. Many, many other examples.

People shouldn't evaluate their artists for moral rectitude. The quality of their work is what matters.

Art is the one field where moral "rectitude" is least relevant, in fact. The quality of the best literary art is in fact contained in how it examines moral ambiguities for all the challenges presented in achieving right action - if the work isn't even amoral in the first place. And more often than not, it is. Properly so. Just like the best science doesn't necessarily have a moral dimension to the meaning of its findings.

Art is like money or technology. People can manipulate it for good or ill. But the virtue of art is that it usually doesn't even have to be used. It's about relating the journey.

Although I guess if Dunham committed massacres and genocides I suppose I'd be inclined to re-evaluate that.

chickelit said...

R&B: Let me put it to you this way: I'm about as likely to go out of my way to watch Lena Dunham as you are to watch Richard Spencer.

I hope that mentioning someone mutually repulsive would help you understand.

Your expected response is "but why is Lena Dunham repulsive?"

Thank you.

Bad Lieutenant said...

The Toothless Revolutionary said...
I don't have an opinion on "Girls." I do have a strong, negative opinion if Lena Dunham.

Do you have a strong opinion "if" Werner Heisenberg and Werner Von Braun?

They worked for the Nazis. Their work was nevertheless invaluable to science.

I am sure there are other examples. Many, many other examples.

People shouldn't evaluate their artists for moral rectitude. The quality of their work is what matters.



Just checking - so operation Paperclip, all good?


As may be expected, George Orwell treated this long ago in Benefit of Clergy: Some Notes on Salvador Dali

http://orwell.ru/library/reviews/dali/english/e_dali

I think the lesson is, perhaps you can/should admire and respect their work, but they need not be regarded as authoritative outside of their domains. So, for instance, as with Lena Dunham's "Your First Time" spot endorsing Obama.

bagoh20 said...

"If you're referring to Althouse's admonishment, you seem intent on misreading her. She's not trying to halt free speech about GIRLS on her blog, but uninformed speech about GIRLS, that is, comments and opinions put forth by people who do not watch the program or watched one episode or ten minutes of it once and never again, but who insist on forming and expressing their opinions anyway."

A lot of people who never met Julius Cesar, or attended the battle of Waterloo, or had an abortion still have valuable opinions on those subjects. If Althouse was excluding people based on personal experience rather than just trying to exclude commentary already covered, then that's even worse. I think it's you who misreads her. I was suggesting she overshot her directions, when what I hope she was asking was to just not repeat covered ground, rather than banning people from the discussion. I was being a lot more generous.

Now that's meta-meta-"Girls" talk.

The Toothless Revolutionary said...

Let me put it to you this way: I'm about as likely to go out of my way to watch Lena Dunham as you are to watch Richard Spencer.

Lol. Seriously? Richard Spencer produces HBO content as successful as Lena Dunham does? Mkay....

I hope that mentioning someone mutually repulsive would help you understand.

I'm not "repulsed" by that guy. I think he's a cute lil' white nationalist who made the monumental error of thinking that he can innocently upend U.S. founding ideals, with all their post-enlightenment, humanistic and liberal underpinnings, and transform it into a European far-right ethno-state.

Why mention him anyway? Are you into Richard Spencer's silly ideas?

What a nightmare anyway. The only thing he's good for is underscoring the intimation that when fascism comes to the U.S., it does so with a smiley face and an friendly, good-natured smile. Even so, I think his haircut and 30s dress style gave him away. Plus, he might have worn suspenders one too many times for his own good.

Your expected response is "but why is Lena Dunham repulsive?"

I think I know the answer. Isn't it because she naively thought about her perverted pre-pubescent sisterly sex-play wouldn't have provoked more controversy? Perhaps she should have. But she was honest, and she was underage. She's not appealing to the far-right, like Bruno/Milo Snuffleupagus did, so what's the problem? Kids make mistakes, and don't know what they're doing. This is a basic underpinning of Western jurisprudence. They don't have the same expectations of right-and-wrong that we'd place on a mentally competent, responsible adult.

The Toothless Revolutionary said...

I think the lesson is, perhaps you can/should admire and respect their work, but they need not be regarded as authoritative outside of their domains.

Exactly.

I could probably come up with a few examples of my own. Yeah, it's a pain in the ass when someone whose work you admire turns out to be totally disappointing in other, unexpected ways. But that's life.

Bad Lieutenant said...

From Orwell:

And finally there is the picture — apparently some kind of faked photograph — of ‘Mannequin rotting in a taxicab.’ Over the already somewhat bloated face and breast of the apparently dead girl, huge snails were crawling. In the caption below the picture Dali notes that these are Burgundy snails — that is, the edible kind.

Of course, in this long book of 400 quarto pages there is more than I have indicated, but I do not think that I have given an unfair account of his moral atmosphere and mental scenery. It is a book that stinks. If it were possible for a book to give a physical stink off its pages, this one would — a thought that might please Dali, who before wooing his future wife for the first time rubbed himself all over with an ointment made of goat's dung boiled up in fish glue. But against this has to be set the fact that Dali is a draughtsman of very exceptional gifts. He is also, to judge by the minuteness and the sureness of his drawings, a very hard worker. He is an exhibitionist and a careerist, but he is not a fraud. He has fifty times more talent than most of the people who would denounce his morals and jeer at his paintings. And these two sets of facts, taken together, raise a question which for lack of any basis of agreement seldom gets a real discussion.

The point is that you have here a direct, unmistakable assault on sanity and decency; and even — since some of Dali's pictures would tend to poison the imagination like a pornographic postcard — on life itself. What Dali has done and what he has imagined is debatable, but in his outlook, his character, the bedrock decency of a human being does not exist. He is as anti-social as a flea. Clearly, such people are undesirable, and a society in which they can flourish has something wrong with it.

Now, if you showed this book, with its illustrations, to Lord Elton, to Mr. Alfred Noyes, to The Times leader writers who exult over the ‘eclipse of the highbrow’ — in fact, to any ‘sensible’ art-hating English person — it is easy to imagine what kind of response you would get. They would flatly refuse to see any merit in Dali whatever. Such people are not only unable to admit that what is morally degraded can be жsthetically right, but their real demand of every artist is that he shall pat them on the back and tell them that thought is unnecessary. And they can be especially dangerous at a time like the present, when the Ministry of Information and the British Council put power into their hands. For their impulse is not only to crush every new talent as it appears, but to castrate the past as well. Witness the renewed highbrow-baiting that is now going on in this country and America, with its outcry not only against Joyce, Proust and Lawrence, but even against T. S. Eliot.


...

Bad Lieutenant said...

...



But if you talk to the kind of person who can see Dali's merits, the response that you get is not as a rule very much better. If you say that Dali, though a brilliant draughtsman, is a dirty little scoundrel, you are looked upon as a savage. If you say that you don't like rotting corpses, and that people who do like rotting corpses are mentally diseased, it is assumed that you lack the aesthetic sense. Since ‘Mannequin rotting in a taxicab’ is a good composition. And between these two fallacies there is no middle position, but we seldom hear much about it. On the one side Kulturbolschevismus: on the other (though the phrase itself is out of fashion) ‘Art for Art's sake.’ Obscenity is a very difficult question to discuss honestly. People are too frightened either of seeming to be shocked or of seeming not to be shocked, to be able to define the relationship between art and morals.

It will be seen that what the defenders of Dali are claiming is a kind of benefit of clergy. The artist is to be exempt from the moral laws that are binding on ordinary people. Just pronounce the magic word ‘Art’, and everything is O.K.: kicking little girls in the head is O.K.; even a film like L'Age d'Or is O.K.(2) It is also O.K. that Dali should batten on France for years and then scuttle off like rat as soon as France is in danger. So long as you can paint well enough to pass the test, all shall be forgiven you.


Gerard Grosso said...

I definitely DO think Dunham and her show are "doctrinaire feminism and female narcissism"...so, please tell me why I 'don't know what I'm talking about'.
Is it because of some vague gobbledygook about imagining Virginia Wolf imagining Shakespeares sister. Or maybe it's about this apparent moderne thing of taking too many 'comics' too seriously? Or maybe it's some weird distraction re Jewish writers? Or perhaps simply the usual dumb bickering about potaytoe v potahtoe and vanilla vs chocolate?
In any event, it's sheer nonsense.

bagoh20 said...

"People shouldn't evaluate their artists for moral rectitude. The quality of their work is what matters."

I have to try that next time I get pulled over. I know I'm drunk and ran that red light, but I'm really good at my job, soo....

William said...

Sorry, can't get past what a disgusting human being Dunham is. I'm afraid I can't disocciate her real life persona from the fiction.

Beth said...

Ann... if you haven't seen the four actresses on the actor's studio you should. Amazing how similar their real lives are.

Bad Lieutenant said...

MEG, the thing is, I'm interested in reading your thoughts, but when you spam the thread, I can fully understand why you get deleted - you're begging for it.

William said...

I admire and respect Ingmar Bergman. He made some great films. That said, I'm in no big hurry to see all his films. It's not that he's solipsistic and male. It's just that there aren't enough special effects or jokes to overcome the bleakness of living in a world devoid of God. The girls in his movies are fairly hot and there's some occasional nudity, so there's that.....New York Jews have a better sense of humor than Swedish Lutherans. Still, if you want nudity and insights into the pain of living in a godless universe, Swedish Lutherans are the way to go.

exiledonmainstreet said...

"I hope some day you grow up and learn of the urge to control behavior in the most mundane way, by controlling opinions, is something that dies in liberals, psychologically healthy people generally, and oh yeah, successful parents."

Oh, really? Why did Middlebury students shut down Charles Murray's talk and put a professor in the hospital? Why they rioted in Berkeley and tried to shout down Ben Shapiro at Madison? Is that why Yale students pitched a hissy fit over friggin' Halloween costumes? Is that why a majority of college kids think the First Amendment should not cover speech they deem offensive?

Because leftists don't want to control opinions or behavior?

What you wrote is the exact opposite of the truth.

But hey, if the left didn't have double standards, they'd have no standards at all.

Ann Althouse said...

""And that can lead to horrible solipsism and disconnection from humanity. I’m not naming names, never naming names... Martin Amis, Woody Allen, Saul Bellow." Saul Bellow is "disconnected from humanity"? Perhaps our hostess was trolling us in describing these lines as "good" and the performance as funny. In any case, I have not read any Martin Amis and can see the "good" line apply to Allen, even humorously, but applied to Bellow it strikes me as ignorant BS."

Lines said by a character can be good even if the assertions the character is making are stupid, ignorant, deceptive, etc. etc.

Care to restate your remark? As is, it looks pretty... ignorant. Sorry, but it's your word.

buwaya said...

Bad Lieutenant,

Great link re Orwell essays, etc., very useful, thanks.

http://orwell.ru/library/index_en

exiledonmainstreet said...

Bad Lieutenant , yes, that is an excellent Orwell quote.

Bad Lieutenant said...

Ann,

"And that can lead to horrible solipsism and disconnection from humanity. I’m not naming names, never naming names... Martin Amis, Woody Allen, Saul Bellow."

Is this the line you are offering as "good?" Shall we then perform exegesis on this sentence?



buwaya,

A gift to which you are most welcome (surprised you didn't know this actually). It's a bit chagrin-inducing that this site is hosted on a .ru TLD, eh?

Lewis Wetzel said...

Percy Shelley: terrible human being, great poet.
Charles Swinburne: terrible human being, great poet.
Ezra Pound: terrible human being, great poet.

There are some people who view the awfulness of a person as a positive when they evaluate that person's life. They believe that a great artist should be one of the people who rejects the norms of society. There are people who identify with the artist as much or more than they identify with the artist's work.

Lewis Wetzel said...

Bad Lieutenant said...

. . .

A gift to which you are most welcome (surprised you didn't know this actually). It's a bit chagrin-inducing that this site is hosted on a .ru TLD, eh?

Things go into the public domain in Australia sooner than they do in most other countries:
http://gutenberg.net.au/pages/orwell.html

Bad Lieutenant said...

Lewis,

Ann, for instance, is drowning in nostalgie de la boue. As somebody else said, she has a taste for the rotten maggoty parts of life and culture - the worse the better. She would doubtless justify it under your rubric of nonconformism/individuality, but indeed, I think she likes the mud for mud's sake, and will defend the art of a rotter past the virtues of the work.

Tarrou said...

The show is doctrinaire feminism and female narcissism

Bad Lieutenant said...

Like I was saying, Ann, defend the work if you like.

What, has Dunham invented a new literary device? Apophasis, paralipsis? -- doh, Aristotle on the white courtesy phone.

So, not particularly original. Why is that line so great, then?

buwaya said...

The one bit Orwell misses is, perhaps, one he should have known, having been there.
But I guess he had no time for cultural steeping, to pick up on it, or that. In "Homage to Catalonia" he gives the impression of having been rather busy and preoccupied with other concerns.

Dali was Spanish - Catalan to be precise, but in this they are as other Spaniards, or rather worse really.
Spain is not England.
Its no accident that "Chien Andalou" is what it is.
There is a taste for the bizarre in Spain, often quite disconcerting, that isn't easy to see from the outside, or to appreciate in any depth, unless you are on the inside, and really do straddle cultures. Or at any rate it was much more so at the time, and rather later. These days, I don't know.

Jay Elink said...

"People shouldn't evaluate their artists for moral rectitude. The quality of their work is what matters."

***************

Ahhhh....the Roman Polanski defense. "People" shouldn't....and apparently the law shouldn't either.

Right?

Earnest Prole said...

Isn't it a bit late to start herding your dopey commenters?

Robert Cook said...

"There are some people who view the awfulness of a person as a positive when they evaluate that person's life. They believe that a great artist should be one of the people who rejects the norms of society. There are people who identify with the artist as much or more than they identify with the artist's work."

Flaubert said:

"Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work."

Etienne said...

Earnest Prole said..."Isn't it a bit late to start herding your dopey commenters?"

Ha. I think 75% of them aren't even commenters. They come here to bully one another.

Very annoying. Almost as annoying as the spam, and that bitch who always gets deleted.

Michael Brand said...

Am surprised no one has yet mention Ullman's brilliant sketch comedy show on FOX back in late 80s. On her show we got our first look at short animated tales about a dysfunctional family named 'The Simpsons'.

EDH said...

Gerard Grosso said...
I definitely DO think Dunham and her show are "doctrinaire feminism and female narcissism"...so, please tell me why I 'don't know what I'm talking about'.

Girls does involve themes of "doctrinaire feminism and female narcissism," but it's presented largely as a cautionary tale. Rather than extoll the girls or Dunham in particular as the voice of a new generation, they are presented as very flawed individuals who spout high-minded ideals but very often fall short in both thought and act. Their preconceived notions of the world are constantly falling apart due to their delusions, trendiness, PCness, romanticism, narcissism, greed, sloth, envy, etc.

The degree to which the show (and Dunham) put to one side all their liberal/left bias, avoid proselytizing, and present a complicated story is very refreshing and interesting -- unlike most shows that are unadulterated PC pablum.

The dialogue in the episode where Dunham confronts the male writer was excellent. The back and forth about who was right, who was wrong and who had a claim on virtue was interesting, compelling. And the "happy" surprise ending completely complicated who you thought was right and who was wrong.


EDH said...

I should have said surprise "happy" ending (kind of).

Robert Cook said...

"A lot of people who never met Julius Cesar, or attended the battle of Waterloo, or had an abortion still have valuable opinions on those subjects."

Not without becoming well-informed on the respective subjects. To form an opinion about a work of creative expression, one must experience the work of creative expression--watch it, see it, hear it, read it--in order to even begin to develop an opinion about it, positive or negative, that is anything more than ignorant prejudice for or against it, or the reiteration of hearsay.

Sebastian said...

"Lines said by a character can be good even if the assertions the character is making are stupid, ignorant, deceptive, etc. etc." Yes, professor, they can be. As Immanuel Kant may or may not have said, duh.

"Care to restate your remark? As is, it looks pretty... ignorant. Sorry, but it's your word." Actually, no. I gave a reasonable reason to question whether the line(s) in question is/are "good," if we take the character's assertion seriously as a claim, in the context elaborated by the Tablet quote about using certain Jewish writers as an "old guard" to belabor the plight of women writers, even if there might be (obviously) other reasons to think they might be "good" in some other way. I'd be happy to hear what made them "good" in context. I'd be particularly interested in hearing what, in context, was the dramatic effect of the character's juxtaposing such disparate writers as "disconnected from humanity."

Liesl said...

Toothless Revolutionary at 1:59-- that's a really interesting take. I may have to try and watch it again, with the pride and vanity angle in mind, because I think you're absolutely right.

Bill Peschel said...

Thanks to Ficta and The Toothless Revolutionary for their responses. TTR will just have to agree to disagree on Abrams, and Ficta I'll start at the beginning of Girls.

I'll have to come back to read the rest of the responses. Dinner's calling.

Lewis Wetzel said...

Blogger Bad Lieutenant said...
Lewis,

Ann, for instance, is drowning in nostalgie de la boue.

My remarks were not meant to describe Althouse. She has shown an interest in Boomer culture (Bob Dylan, for example), and some boomers see rebellion, feigned or real, as an enhancement to being an artist. I doubt if Althouse achieved what she has achieved by being a rebel.
Speaking personally, I was born in the last year of the Eisenhower administration, so I grew up in the 70s, not the 60s. I was a witness to and a victim of the cultural revolution of the 1960s, not a participant.

exiledonmainstreet said...

"There are some people who view the awfulness of a person as a positive when they evaluate that person's life. They believe that a great artist should be one of the people who rejects the norms of society. There are people who identify with the artist as much or more than they identify with the artist's work."

I think that notion dates from the Romantic Era and really came in force in the late 19th century. Of course, there were artists who were awful human beings prior to that, but their awfulness was not viewed as a positive.

exiledonmainstreet said...


"Your expected response is "but why is Lena Dunham repulsive?"

Camille Paglia's answer is because Dunham is "a big pile of pudding."

BN said...

Perfesser quotes from the show: "Is being a writer as a woman really as hard as it seems, Hannah asks? Harder, Montgomery confirms."

Schoolmarm preemptively chides: "Please don't clutter the comments with things you've been repeating about Lena Dunham for years... Anyone who thinks the show is doctrinaire feminism and female narcissism... doesn't know what he is talking about."

Irony perhaps?



Left Bank of the Charles said...

I haven't seen Girls, as I husband my trips across the HBO paywall, but perhaps on this recommendation I will.

The best performance I have seen on television recently is the speech from Game of Thrones Season 6 Episode 6 delivered by Daenerys Targaryen atop her dragon Drogon:

"Every khal who ever lived chose three bloodriders to fight beside him and guard his way. But I am not a khal. I will not choose three bloodriders. I choose you all. I ask your oath, that you will live and die as blood of my blood, riding at my side to keep me safe from harm. Blood of my blood! Blood of my blood! I will ask more of you than any khal has ever asked of his khalasar!

Will you ride the wooden horses across the black salt sea?

Will you kill my enemies in their iron suits and tear down their stone houses?

Will you give me the Seven Kingdoms, the gift Khal Drogo promised me before the Mother of Mountains as the stars looked down in witness?

Are you with me, now and always?!"

Lewis Wetzel said...

It's possible that some Romantics and early Moderns thought "To be true to my art, I must reject the normative, bourgeois values of society!"
But it seems today that many people think "I reject the normative, bourgeois values of society, therefore I am an artist!"
Most of these people come from exquisitely bourgeois backgrounds. Their inability to see that their idea of art is normative and bourgeois is their greatest failing as artists, and perhaps as human beings, but as long as they retain their contempt for the values of working people, they will remain members in good standing of the bourgeois.

Lewis Wetzel said...

Left Bank of the Charles said..
. . .
The best performance I have seen on television recently is the speech from Game of Thrones Season 6 Episode 6 delivered by Daenerys Targaryen atop her dragon Drogon:
. . .

That is sentimental drivel.
GoT drives me crazy. It is such a mish-mash of cultures. There is no sense of depth to any of the civilizations. It is full of anachronisms. At one point early in the series there is a scene where the king's councilors tell him that he is millions in debt, but millions is not an archaic word. They should have said "thousands of thousands," not "million."

Roughcoat said...

"People shouldn't evaluate their artists for moral rectitude. The quality of their work is what matters."

The great Paul Johnson put paid to that notion in "Intellectuals."

buwaya said...

"there is a scene where the king's councilors tell him that he is millions in debt, but millions is not an archaic word."

There is no need to follow real-world practice. Or even European/Western practice.
After all, in Sanskrit and all modern Indian languages there are words for much larger numbers like crore = 10,000,000, and the padma = 1,000,000,000,000,000 (a trillion), and more. They like fantasizing about numbers in ancient India.

There are words for 1 million AFAIK, but moderns use lakh = 100,000 for most things.

rcocean said...

Roth? Bellow? Woody Allen? Amis?

Yeah, they must mean something to Dunham. They mean little to me.

Woody writes movies. Bellow is a bore. Philip Roth is great, if you like vulgar humor and you're interested in Jewish issues. He's sorta of literary Howard Stern. Half-forgotten Martin Amis seems to have tossed in there because Dunham needed a Goy.

rcocean said...

People are mentioning great writers who were awful people.

Its funny that peeps are calling Ezra Pound an "awful person" - because of his goofy politics. Pound was saved from a life time in jail, or even a firing squad, because he was a great person. He helped any number of his fellow artists in the 20s and 30s. Most of whom disagreed with his politics.

OTOH, there's Hemingway, who I love. Was he a "good person". I don't know. He sure as hell never helped any of his fellow artists. He was pretty much of an egomaniac, and could be an incredible shit toward anyone - especially a "friend" - who crossed him. Cf: Dos Passos, Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, etc.

rcocean said...

The thing that strikes me about writers is they always have strong political opinions that are almost always childish and driven by emotion. Even when they are on the "right side", the reasons they give are almost always stupid.

They're great at attacking injustice, or man's inhumanity to man, or whatever, but there suggested solutions are moronic.

Hemingway was a Communist. How people know this? Tolstoi was a political boob. Orwell was Trotskite. Pound was a fascist. Twain was politically incoherent.

damikesc said...

Ullman is slumming it up hard to appear on Girls.

exiledonmainstreet said...

Roughcoat said...
"People shouldn't evaluate their artists for moral rectitude. The quality of their work is what matters."

The great Paul Johnson put paid to that notion in "Intellectuals."


3/15/17, 6:29 PM

I don't think Johnson ever denied that Shelley or Tolstoy or Hemingway were great writers. What he took issue with was the idea that artists, and, more broadly, intellectuals, are authorities on other issues besides their art.

As rcocean noted, most of them seem to have childish ideas about politics, Mario Vargas Llosa being an exception. It's as if literary talent cancels out political common sense.

bagoh20 said...

"To form an opinion about a work of creative expression, one must experience the work of creative expression--watch it, see it, hear it, read it--in order to even begin to develop an opinion about it, positive or negative, that is anything more than ignorant prejudice for or against it, or the reiteration of hearsay."

Fair enough. Now if we could only adopt the same standard on subjects like business, capitalism, or the perspectives of males.

Lewis Wetzel said...

"Orwell was Trotskite."
Orwell changed after Catalonia. After the Stalinists crushed his beloved POUM, Orwell seemed to acknowledge that the Stalinists would always win over the Trostskyists. I know that Orwell, in this essay, http://wikilivres.ca/wiki/Catastrophic_Gradualism
states his belief that the past is no guide to the present, which means that the present is no guide to the future, which means that Marx is horse apples.

Lewis Wetzel said...

I would also like to say that post-Catalonia, but not before, Orwell spent a lot of time thinking about the idea of objective truth (Winston Smith works for the Ministry of Truth, for example). Orwell seemed to believe that objective truth really existed, and that hiding the truth, and especially corrupting the truth to achieve power, was the source of mankind's woes. After World War Two, Orwell criticized capitalism because it economically exploited people (it "made bread and employment lines"), but he criticized communism because it became totalitarian, and totalitarianism corrupted objective truth.
If Orwell had lived a decade longer, he might have become a Catholic.
But not an Anglican. Never an Anglican.