Tony Kushner is taken to task from time to time for his harsh treatment of Joe Pitts, the closeted, Republican, Mormon lawyer whose self-hatred motivates so much of the plays’ drama (and poisons his marriage to Harper). Those critics must ignore this passage, which is among the most beautiful and heartbreaking Kushner has written. It’s been at the very back of my mind for nearly a week now but came front and center earlier this evening.
But the adaptation of a written text to film also necessarily foregrounds the authority of images, imposing specificity on what an author might have chosen to describe more generally. I was surprised, for example, to find myself suddenly moved by an image of the small boxes in which Faunia stores the ashes of her dead children. In the novel, surprisingly little emphasis is placed on the ashes; Roth does not make of them an excuse for one of his patented ten-page diversions.
That Mailer’s opinion of the corporate executive echoes exactly D.J. Jethroe’s is no coincidence, for this selective amnesia — this sense that all is permissible so long as it is state-sanctioned, to the benefit of American markets, and hidden from plain view — is, according to Mailer, precisely why America was in Vietnam.
So, this is kind of exciting. My copy of Philip Roth: New Perspectives on an American Author just arrived, hot off the proverbial press. My article, “The ‘Written World’ of Philip Roth’s Nonfiction,” is the 17th and final chapter in what I believe is the first book-length study of Roth’s entire body of work, up to and including The Plot Against America. Pretty cool. My first book chapter.
Karen has stumbled upon a wonderful discovery. If you take a magazine, remove all of the stuff that is designed to make you spend money (between 40% and 100% of the content of most mags), and replace that crap with stories, essays, interviews, photos, and jaw-dropping design, you end up with something like art.
Like a soloist, Baldwin introduces an idea, a phrase, then he explores it, explodes it, develops it until he finds something new, something more precise or melodic. Baldwin accomplishes in his story what Sonny accomplishes in that jazz club. And, really, isn’t this just the most beautiful “vanishing evocation” (as the narrator describes music) of what art is capable of doing?
Miller’s politics made him an enemy of the Right when he balked at the hypocrisy of anti-communist politicking, and an enemy of the Left when his “confused liberalism” (in the words of Eric Mottram) was deemed unsatisfactory at a time of revolutionary struggle. Miller, for his part, seemed most interested in simply understanding the human causes of human troubles. The work of the artist, you might say.
After living with Miller for the last few days — after rereading The Crucible and After the Fall and a three inch stack of photocopied criticism — I’ve come to one significant conclusion: I don’t like Miller. His early work shows an obvious knack for wrenching every last drop of sentiment and inevitable heartbreak from a tragic narrative, but, damn, they are really unpleasant to read. His language is starving for poetry.
Jack Neely, everyone’s favorite chronicler of life in Knoxville, has a nice piece in this week’s issue of the Metro Pulse about his recent efforts to sell some old books. It’s a great glimpse into the lives of book lovers and the dealers who support their habits, with nary a mention of Borders or Barnes and Nobles in sight.
So many of Perrotta’s observations of suburban life are so spot-on — I especially like the way that his lead characters absolutely adore their children while still resenting somewhat the life-changes they’ve caused — but the narrative voice never quite transcends the banality of the lives it is documenting. Maybe that’s the point. I doubt it.
I am of two minds about The Meanings of Social Life: A Cultural Sociology. The argument that Alexander and Philip Smith lay out in Chapter 1 is intriguing, and Alexander’s application of it in his readings of the Holocaust and Watergate are refreshingly useful. The rest, to be perfectly frank, feels a bit like filler.
I’m thrilled so far with Angels. Mary-Louise Parker is stealing the show as Harper, and Justin Kirk is fantastic as Prior. The homage to Cocteau and the casting of the prior Priors were both brilliant. But why, in their trimming and reshaping, did Kushner and Nichols have to cut my two favorite lines from Millennium Approaches?
I expect conservatives to be offended by many of the lines spoken by Kushner’s characters; I expect conservative critics to acknowledge the distinction between the message of a particular character and the message of the work as a whole. But that is expecting too much of anyone who writes for a partisan magazine (whether the NRO or The Nation) in a climate like ours.