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.
Yesterday I made the mistake of pulling Christopher Bigsby’s latest book from the library shelf. Arthur Miller: A Critical Study (2005) will, I assume, be Bigsby’s final statement on Miller.
“Although he refused the mechanical determinism of the unthinking Marxist left, he created in his greatest play a drama in which it is impossible to avoid thinking about economics–money–in any attempt to render coherent the human tragedy unfolding before you.”
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.
“I’m a Communist because I want the people to take the power that comes with ownership away from the little class of capitalists who have it now.” Subtle, eh?
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.
“A World in Which Everything Hurts,” a profile of Arthur Miller in The Forward, gets bonus points for mentioning, in a single paragraph, three of the authors I’m writing about in my dissertation.
Williams “without poetry.” That can’t be good.
For your reading pleasure: some snippets from Tony Kushner’s commentary on the Klezmatic’s recent CD, Possessed. Parts of the commentary, I noticed, have made their way into his and Alisa Solomon’s introduction to their new collection of essays, Wrestling with Zion.
Dale Peck at Slate offers the best critical reading of HBO’s Angels that I’ve found. He points out something that has bothered me a bit as well: the film just isn’t very funny. Which is a shame, because the play is really funny.