Friday, November 19, 2010

Readings: The Paris Review Interviews #6

Scrolling down the index of posts, I see that it has been more than a month since I last posted a pithy quote from one of The Paris Review Interviews. As fate would have it, my benefactor in the acquisition of this set of amazing volumes (and lifelong friend) Jim, called me yesterday morning just to pose a general wtf? Happily, I was able to report to him, during the course of our brief conversation, that I was three-quarters of the way through the interview with Kurt Vonnegut and would have a quote up on Rodak Riffs in two shakes of a lamb’s tail. I elaborated on that proud pronouncement by declaring that the quote had already been chosen. It would, I declared, be only slightly more wordy than “Jesus wept,” consisting of a single sentence.

But, predictably, the final quarter of the interview has since laid a quote on me that I just cannot leave lying there in good conscience. I will therefore use them both. Rules are made to be broken. Here is the first:

My relatives say that they are glad I’m rich, but that they simply cannot read me.

To the extent that I can call myself a writer, I’ve certainly been there (except, of course, that I’m not rich.)

The final quote was generated within the context of Vonnegut discussing himself as a humorist. His novels, he said, were constructed by stringing together series of jokes. The interviewer asks Vonnegut if it’s true that he prefers Laurel and Hardy to Charlie Chaplin. In response, Vonnegut provides my second chosen pithy quote:

I’m crazy about Chaplin, but there’s too much distance between him and his audience. He is too obviously a genius. In this own way, he’s as brilliant as Picasso, and this is intimidating to me.

That is a new idea to me, and strikes me as precisely spot-on.

Consider also this timely UPDATE


Mad said...

I think the comparison of the two acts is more a conceit of Vonnegut's mind that actual reality. Chaplin was a star for well over a decade before Laurel and Hardy arrived on the scene as a team and did not seem to find trouble with the popular audiences. Chaplin's intentional efforts at "high art" (1923's "A Woman in Paris," final films) were accepted more by filmakers and students than a general audience, but none of his major hits prior to "The Great Dictator" failed to find both a popular (re: fianancially successful) and critical audience.

I would say Vonnegut's comments are more appropriate to Chaplin's final works ("Limelight," "Monsieur Verdoux," "A King in New York").

It should also be noted that, in terms of "recognition of genius," Laurel and Hardy won the Oscar decades before Chaplin ("The Music Box").

Rodak said...

Note that Vonnegut says that the evident genius of Chaplin was intimidating to HIM. He is not comparing and contrasting either the popular appeal, or the commercial success (which latter includes industry recognition), of the two acts. The general public, for its part, is often too focused on the clowning, slapstick veneer of both Chaplin and Laurel & Hardy to dig down to the real genius of either.

Mad said...

Duly noted. On the other hand, I didn't realize Vonnegut was from Indianapolis, a town I usually just drive through from Ohio to Illinois without so much as a second thought. Now, I'll have to make a stop and smell the proses ...

Mad said...

I always considered Columbus, Ohio to be the failed, dirty, stupid version of Indianapolis; sort of like some evil, twisted bastard clone of the virtuous main character on a sci-fi show ...

Rodak said...

Indianapolis was, in Vonnegut's day anyway, the largest totally land-locked city in the U.S.--neither on a coast, a Great Lake, or a navigable river. It may still be that. As compared to Columbus, it's a push in my estimation. It doesn't get any more hick, any more "fly-over" than Indiana. I lived in Muncie for two years (1958-60.) I think of them as "the lost years" to this day.

Mad said...

Unlike a lot of black Americans, "hick" is not synonymous with "racist" to my ears, although I'm not under any illusion that Muncie may have been a bastion of East Coast liberal enlightenment during the 1950s.

Growing up, we had neighbors that were from VERY RURAL West Virginia (think Loretta Lynn's family from "A Coalminer's Daughter"), an older couple, their daughter and grandchildren. They ended up being among my mother's best and truest friends. I often had to defend the grandson from the more thuggish black males in the neighborhood, when I was a kid.

As a child, I learned early what both William Julius Wilson on the left, and Thomas Sowell on the right, both concluded: race in post-Eisenhower America is not even close in significance to "class." Thus, I would give a donation to Meharry Medical College in a heartbeat (no pun intended), while telling the bourgie negroes at Spelman and Morehouse to go fuck themselves without blinking.

So, "hick" isn't automatically a bad thing to me.

I would think folks from Iowa, or Oklahoma would consider themselves to be even more landlocked than Indianapolis (lol). That can be a virtue. I often think the only thing Chicago has going for it is Lake Michigan. Take away that inland sea, and you're stuck with just another humongous piece of decaying urban shit...

Rodak said...

I never heard the word "nigger" casually used by middle-class white kids until I lived in Indiana.
Ball State had a football player named Tim Brown, who was a small college All-American running back, and later played in the NFL briefly. He had a brief acting career, too, and was Spearchucker Jones in M.A.S.H. At Ball State the barbershop in the Student Union refused to cut his hair.

Rodak said...

That said, I never knew anything like the number of inter-racial couples in Michigan or New York as I have known here in Southeastern Ohio. So "hick" doesn't automatically connote "racist" to me, either.

Mad said...

Resolved: Hicks Are People, Too. (LOL).

Oh well, thought I was going to make it Borders, but I am slogging through an academic paper for a class that I am totally disengaged from, at the moment. If I'm interested in the subject, I can whizz out 10 pages, APA style, without blinking. On the opposite end, a page is excruciating pain if I'm not engaged.

The next three hours will be torture.