S1: This ad free podcast is part of your Slate plus membership plus. I’m Stephen Metcalf and this is the Slate Culture Gabfest, Unreal World Edition. It’s Wednesday, March 31st, 2021, and Today Show The Father is the latest in our Oscar roundup. So it’s a best picture nominee. It’s about a man in his 80s losing his sense of himself and his world to dementia. It stars Anthony Hopkins. And then The Real World premiered back in 1992. And when it did, it was the first true reality TV series. There’s now a reunion show, same loft, the same seven protagonists. We will discuss Real World Homecoming with Slate’s TV critic, Willa Paskin. And finally, a new 800 page plus biography of the novelist Philip Roth is making the rounds. I’ve read it. I’ve reviewed it. So we will interview me about it. Joining me today is Julia Turner, the deputy managing editor of the L.A. Times.
S2: Hey, Julia. Hello. Hello.
S1: Hi. And of course, Dana Stephens is the film critic for Slate. Hey, Dana.
S3: Hey, greetings.
S1: And Dana, I should say, we’re going to have you for the first segment on the movie, The Father. You’re going to step out for the middle segment. We’ll be joined by Willa Paskin to talk about the real world homecoming and then you’ll return to the show.
S3: That’s right. Sounds good, Steve.
S1: Anthony Hopkins plays Anthony, an octogenarian who’s become forgetful, willful at points, cruel at other points, somewhat less than coherent, and he is moving. It turns out, from the ordinary trials of old age into dementia, Olivia Colman plays his daughter. Or so we’re led to believe. There’s no way really to confidently describe the plot of this movie because we are in a non-linear. It turns out antenarrative and in the end, finally dying mind of Anthony. The excruciating truth of old age is that we live in a world made up entirely of touchstones this apartment, this sofa, this window, this child of mine, only to watch as they literally and figuratively slip away over the course of the movie. Anthony becomes totally unsure of the world he lives in. And the clip we’re about to listen to Anthony Hopkins playing. Anthony walks into a room only to not recognize the person sitting in his own apartment as his son in law. Let’s listen to the clip.
S4: I see it’s me, Paul. Oh, what are you doing here? I live here. You yes, you live here. Yes. You live here in my flat. That’s the best yet. What is this nonsense, huh? I’m going to phone at. Your daughter? Oh, yes, thank you. I know who Anne is, you know, and are you a friend of hers? I’m speaking to you. Do you know Anne? I’m a husband. Her husband is. But since when? Coming up for 10 years. Oh, yes, yes, of course, yes, yes, obviously.
S1: Dana, before we dig in, I should say, the father is based on a play, it’s adapted into a film by its playwright, Florian Ziller wrote and directed this production. Dana, you wrote a really beautiful review and appreciation of this movie. I want to thank you for insisting that we do it. I thought it was remarkable. Talk to us about the father.
S3: Yeah, I really, really hope people will see this in spite of the subject matter. And maybe that clip makes the entire movie sound like it’s going to be. I mean, I guess you would have to say that it is depressing. It can’t be anything but depressing to watch someone fade away in the way Anthony Hopkins character does. But this movie, because of the the perspective play you were talking about, which I’m sure will get into the way, the point of view keeps slipping, has a little bit more of an intellectual puzzle quality. In other words, it works on your emotions for sure, but it also works on your perception and your intellect in this this interesting way. It’s a fantastic performance from Anthony Hopkins. I would not be surprised to see him getting Oscar attention for this movie, even if it’s the only Oscar attention this movie gets. And it’s just kind of really impressive from a technical craft point of view. This movie, the director you mentioned, Florian Zellar, who was also the playwright for this very successful play. It was a huge hit. It won the French equivalent of the Tony. It was translated into many languages and played all over the world. And this is his first time directing a movie. So all of that to me points toward, you know, the danger, I guess, that this this would feel like we’ve talked about this many times in the past, too. Is that bad for a movie based on a play to feel like a play? That’s a whole other debate. My point is, though, that this movie doesn’t feel like a play at all. It’s got a really cinematic sensibility. And I don’t want to spoil the way that the time slippages are revealed. But there are a lot of moments that Florian Zeller’s is kind of tricking the viewer as well in the way that reality tricks the Anthony Hopkins character, who’s also named Anthony. And I believe that that was a change that was made for the movie script in order for Anthony Hopkins to really feel like he had to dig deep and to to really play himself. I think he they even gave the character the same birth date, day and year that Anthony Hopkins has. And and I think he’s really, really extraordinary. It’s obviously no surprise that Anthony Hopkins can act. But as I say in my review, we’re used to seeing him play, you know, somebody along the lines of Hannibal Lecter, somebody who’s sort of demonically diabolically intelligent, extremely cultured. And even though his character in this movie starts out that way, you know, to watch him slowly strip those layers away is really something. Hmm.
S1: Julia, the defining thing going back to Aristotle about dramatic storytelling is unity of space and time and dementia, especially as depicted here is is the loss of that unity of time and space. They really are dissolving in front of us in this movie. It’s astonishing how the two are brought together here. No.
S3: Yeah, it’s a really destabilizing movie
S2: and really fascinating in that it tells us the story of dementia from the perspective of the person who who’s losing their grip on the world. And one thing that struck me about it is that usually when a movie plants uncertainties in the way this one does, you know, having different actors show up, seemingly play the same characters, having different fact sets in dispute, there’s it feels that there’s an underlying skeleton key that you like, could resolve it if you thought hard enough about it or went back and watched it six times. And I’m curious, Dana, whether you think there is such a skeleton key for this movie. But I don’t know. I don’t I came away not knowing, you know, exactly, you know, what the daughter’s romantic state was, you know, or what country she lives in, which are things that are about which the Anthony character hears different things at different times and is confused about you.
S4: Keep changing your mind. How do you expect people to keep up? There’s never been any question to be living in Paris. It’s what she told me. No, I didn’t. I’m sorry. I and you told me the other day you forgotten. She’s forgotten.
S2: You’re left uncertain what’s real, which is exactly the state that that Anthony’s character is in, and that feels like the most radical impact of the film. And you can imagine it being really profound on the stage. I didn’t see it on the stage when I was in New York. But the the tricks that are played here with production design are all really effective.
S1: Thing about this movie is hearing about it or reading about it probably does not fill one with the urge to watch it. And when I started it, I thought homework. You know, it’s so it’s so gripping. It’s so powerful. It’s so profound. It’s so true. I can’t emphasize this enough. And it is not secretly redeemed by humor or there’s no escape hatch here. I really believe it’s a true attempt to look something in the face and not turn away. And yet it’s it it’s just it’s just a gripping piece of filmmaking. I mean, I feel like Hopkins has to win the award, not to reduce it to that, but it’s one of the more astonishing performances I think I’ve ever seen. You know, when he says when his character Anthony says what is going to become of me at a moment when he thinks that his daughter, his caregiver, is going to, you know, take off for another city, the look on his face, the panic, the distress.
S4: So if I understand correctly. You’re leaving me, is that it? You’re abandoning me that. Well, it’s going to become of me.
S1: It’s exactly what an actor is, a great artist is supposed to do, it’s both totally individuated to that human beings experience at the same time is as it’s a token on behalf of all of us and for a category of experience, you know, aging, which I think as a culture we’re in denial about what we do to old people, especially because it’s a preview for what’s going to happen to us. And the movie’s just excruciating and true. At the same time, it’s not a chore to watch it. It’s mesmerizing. It’s almost like Christian Marclay is the clock. Dana, in a weird way, where you’re waiting in some you’re constantly riveted, but also in a state of suspended animation in a way or sort of suspended wondering when the next movie is going to Chris Christie. Mark, Glaze, the clock. Is this wonderful for those of you don’t remember is a 24 hour experiment. It’s a 24 hour film in which the filmmaker went through and cull clips from all of movie history that feature a clock that tells a specific time of day and the actual time of day. In reality, as you watch the movie corresponds to the one that you see. And of course, to sustain this conceit, you have to constantly change movies and universes and plots. And the whole thing is completely plotless. It has no throughline. It’s just this one, dare I say it, gimmick. And yet it’s completely riveting. And I felt the same thing in this film, which is, oh, I get it now. I get it. Nothing. This man has no anger anymore. He has no ontological anger. His whole being is adrift. And he’s desperately he’s enraged by it at points and he desperately wants to anchor himself in reality and can’t do it. And that’s the experience I’m going to be subjected to here. And you’re just sort of waiting for a provisional reality to disappear out from under you, because everything is is as Julia says, nothing is underpinned by the concrete, you know, ultimate true, true reality of the film. Anyway, it’s just I, I, I really love this movie.
S3: Steve, you’ve now reduced me to a fugue state of desire to see Christian Barclays’ the clock again, which I still regret not having devoted more of the one 24 hour period I had access to it. I wish that I had just sat there and eaten peanuts and watch the entire thing. But yet I guess the connection makes sense in that time. And and a watch that he keeps losing is a key part of this movie as well. Right. And I don’t know if I was getting across. I mean, we’re getting across that. We like the movie and we recommend it. But it is an experiential kind of unfolding in this movie. And I think, Julia, what you said about the lack of a skeleton key is really true, especially in relation to the casting slippage. Right. The fact that there are some characters that are played by more than one actor and we’re not quite sure who he’s collapsing in his mind into these composite characters, it ends up having this sort of Moebius strip quality. Right. There seems to be one day or a couple of days that are being repeated over and over with slight variations. And it’s all done very soberly and simply. It’s there’s no kind of like crazy canted angles and weird flashback montages and things that are trippy or psychedelic in any way. Right. It’s quite simple, but the dislocation is really profound. The music is also gorgeous in this movie. And I thought it was worth noting because it was composed by none other than Ludovico Einaudi, who have endorsed before on the show and who I put on my Winter Walk playlist. Just a great film composer who I’m going to be looking out for in the future. And maybe we can listen to a short clip just to see the way that the soundtrack weaves in and out of the movie. Here’s a scene with Anthony Hopkins and Olivia Williams, who we haven’t mentioned, who’s wonderful, who plays one of the the collapse together characters in this scene. She is a home health aide who’s coming to learn how he does things around the apartment or something.
S4: Just make sense about this doesn’t make sense to me. We met yesterday. We were just starting to get to know one another. And I said I’d come back just to see how you do things here and see if I can can help you to remember.
S3: And here, I think you can you can hear how the strings in the background kind of work against the dialogue to create this this feeling of anxiety that places you in Anthony’s mind.
S1: Right. So I think I think we’re in total lock step here. This is this is a remarkable film. And Hopkins’s is is is mesmerizing in it and truthtelling in ways that are excruciating. But I think important to see it’s available on multiple platforms. It’s kind of a standard VOD situation. You’ve got to pay your 20 bucks to see it. It’s in lieu of a real release due to covid, of course. But check it out. We really believe in this movie and and think you will, too. All right. Moving on. All right, before we go any further, we typically talk business here. Dana, what do we have?
S3: Steve, the only business is that in Slate plus today, we or rather you, because I am skipping the Slate plus segment, all a matter of needing to save time for my own book work this week. But the rest of you, including Willa Paskin in Slate, plus Slate’s TV critic, are going to be talking about criticism and things that you got wrong in the past. This is a listener request to talk about something that we miss evaluated. We either loved it when we returned later, we hated it or vice versa. We didn’t give it its fair shrift. I actually have plenty of movies that I could put on this pile. Maybe it’ll be a future conversation I can join in, but I’m curious to hear what you all have to say. If you are not a slate plus member and you’re interested in hearing Bonas segments like that one, you can sign up today at Slate Dotcom Culture. Plus, it only costs a dollar for your first month. And with that you get ad free podcasts plus only content like our bonus segments and lots of other great benefits. You can read about that and sign up at Slate Dotcom Culture plus if you are already a slate plus member. First of all, thank you very much for your support. And secondly, if there is a topic or question that you would like us to take on in a future bonus segment, you can send us an email at culturist at Slate Dotcom. We love to read these emails and we keep them in a big pile for future conversation. So even if it takes a while, we may get around to your question. OK, Steve, what’s next?
S1: Back in 1992, seven kids barely into their 20s were thrown into a Soho loft together, thus MTV’s The Real World begat reality TV, as we have come to know it, since for better and for worse, as Willa Paskin writes in her review of the new reunion show before Julie, Heather, Becky, Kevin, Naum, Andre and Eric got together, reality TV as we know it didn’t exist. Now, those same seven have returned for a reunion show, same seven, same Soho loft, Real World Homecoming, whose theme might be stated as everything has changed, nothing has changed. Let’s listen to a clip.
S5: When we did this show, Bill Clinton was running for president. That’s right. And here we are. Twenty nine years. Yeah. And it’s the same shit. Yeah. Anita Hill was me, too. Rodney King was Black Lives Matter. It’s the same shit. And like, finally, maybe it’s incendiary enough that we will be able to put this endemic racism to bed because it’s like reaching a pustule. Now, some things have changed. Some things haven’t changed at all. The beautiful thing about the real world, I think, about American television history was the first time outside of coverage of the civil rights movement, which was mostly new stuff. We actually had a TV show where black people and white people were having really intense conversations about race and racism. We had never seen that before, ever. They will never be a show like ours. We had no reference point. It was just us. There was no reality TV. We all thought it was a documentary on seven artists that was like more in depth. We had no idea that it was going to turn into this or that it would be a reality TV show. President of the United States.
S1: All right, well, we’re joined by Willa Paskin, the TV critic for Slate Dotcom Willow. Welcome back to the show. Hi. This was something new when it premiered. These people had no idea what they were participating in, not only because no such show existed, but the description of it that they were given when they auditioned, if that’s the right word for it, was kind of deceptive, maybe isn’t quite the right word, but it wasn’t indicative of the experience they were going through. Talk a little bit about the original show and its legacy.
S6: The real world did, in fact, change the course of TV history. I mean, one of the things that’s interesting about it is it sort of introduced reality TV as we know it. There had been a sort of previous documentary that, you know, a decade or two earlier that that sort of also did introduce reality TV to America. And then reality TV didn’t really stick until the early 2000s when Survivor came along. But this is definitely like, you know, it’s like one of the direct descendants of everything. And if you heard in the clip, you know, they really were seven ambitious kids who ambitions were not to be on reality TV. They didn’t really know what they were getting into. It seemed like a cool art project. They all wanted to be artists. They were doing something else, say that they’re making a documentary. And you can sort of see that in the show, which is like the sort of rote concerns of reality TV drama. While the show established, a number of them, like they don’t know that’s what’s happening, like they’re doing it for the first time. Um, and I think I think sort of the move of the reunion has kind of been. It’s like a complicated thing, creating reality TV, right, like there very has been the show has been so far very sort of like self-congratulatory, as you heard also in that clip, you know, they did this thing for the first time. They don’t know what they were doing and it’s everywhere. But of course, it being everywhere, like, is that a good thing? You know, our first reality TV president, is that a good thing? Is like is is the extent to which it’s sort of disseminated into every corner of our culture a good thing? And I think the the reunion has sort of inoculated itself against some of those criticisms, which I actually think the participants are smart enough and thoughtful enough to have thought about by centering grace, which was absolutely a big part of the original run, but was not, you know, the only big part of the original run. You could have watched that first show and sort of thought it was just about like 20 year olds goofing around in the city and like whether Eric and Julie were going to hook up. And that was actually a lot of what the show was about.
S2: I wonder if there’s any you know, if there’s any sense that where reality TV has landed us was inevitable like that, that for all that this particular reunion special would like us to think that the original real world was all ground breaking, cringe inducing conversations about race in America in the early 90s. In fact, like people just wanted to wonder if people were hooking up. And that was the impulse. Folks leaned in to like, what do you look at this? Do you see, you know, the original sin of there was no way for America to ever be interested in anything else. But Blond’s trying to woo each other. Maybe some brunette’s still 30 years later, like trying to interest America and people of color wooing each other, like just is is the sin of reality television emblazoned in the initial document, or was there a path not taken somehow,
S6: you know, in the original incarnations of the real world, like through I would say probably like Season four, the London season or maybe through Boston or something. There was this kind of cinema verité aspiration like and they were casting for people that, while interesting and attractive, did have other goals. But then it just sort of it started to eat its own tail, you know? So it’s like it’s not even it just it’s not about it’s about what the producers wanted to do, but it’s about like what’s just happening in the culture and the kind of people that want to be on a reality TV show. And it sort of just spirals out at some point. The show itself like tracked what happened with reality TV insofar as there started to be seasons where it was just about people hooking up and hot tubs until the end of the show was just people getting drunk and hooking up and hot tubs and yelling at each other all the time. And and and to the extent that people who were like the original cast members, like a Pedro, you know, like a Heather, like a Kevin, like like a Julie, like, they would just not have agreed to do this. It was just not in line with their what they want to do. I mean, there was like Medical’s, you know, like in the seventies there was like a medical student, you know, a cartoon like this, people who just never they just like it didn’t make sense. And it’s like a tabloid story, right? Like we wanted more trash. They gave us more trash. Like if they hadn’t given us more trash, would we have been happy with not you know, I don’t like the ratings only went up. It’s like I mean, it’s sort of it’s true of everything. That’s true of Web traffic. I mean, it’s just like who who came first.
S1: Right. And I mean, part of what I think you’re saying. Well, is that is the you know, the Rubicon having been crossed. People became aware of what they were consenting to and appearing on a reality TV TV show. They, in addition to watching them read about them and understood that the producers made strategic cuts in order to villainize some people and make heroic other people. And, you know, it became self selecting a certain kind of person just was not going to consent to open up their life to that kind of scrutiny and manipulation. And a certain kind of person thought it was a pathway to fame. I mean, it’s it comes at just the moment cable TV really explodes. And about ten years before or so before social media, I’m old enough to have seen it in its first iteration. I watched it as it was aired and even once practically walked directly into Julie on a New York City street and thought of it as a major celebrity sighting. You know, the show was was weirdly meaningful in a way. Talk a little bit maybe about Kevin Powell and what a daring piece of casting I think that was and how how really in some ways socially productive it was to have Kevin be end up at the heart of the show.
S6: Yeah. You know, whether you’re just also talking, it’s interesting because I think so many of these tensions you’re talking about is actually playing out in the reunion because they’re actually, like, thoughtful enough to sort of have thought about their place in it and what it means now. And and to sort of be familiar now with the sort of the modes of reality TV. So like you, as it were. But I’m about to talk about, you know, you start to see cast members being like, but I’m getting a bad at it, you know, which is like a thing they want to have thought about before. So, yeah. I mean, so Kevin Kevin Powell, who is who at the time in 1992 was already like a young black activist, was cast on the show. And I think it’s sort of as I said in my piece, you know, it’s like the show is able to sort of go back to 1992 and show these conversations that the cast members, particularly Kevin and his white cast members, were having, his white roommates were having about race, like because Kevin was, as he put it, extremely well. OK, you know, before people were calling it woke
S5: Julianne, I had the most famous argument in American TV history on race and racism. Racism is the point. We don’t have the power to control what said in.
S6: Everyone basically saying things that, you know, we’re talking about out like about structural racism, about about like the context of racism in America. And he. He was at the time in the it’s not like the show at the time in 1992 was like Kevin’s right on. He’s like the hero of the show. Like, that’s not really it at all. I mean, they weren’t. And actually, I think in the in the most recent episode where they’re the roommates are sort of talking about the fallout from of sort of the show reiterative fight between Kevin and the remaining, Becky. And they basically had the same conversation again. And she was extremely defensive of her now 30 years past self in a way that she probably didn’t need to be. And she ended up sort of leaving. And it you know, it’s like this show that’s all about how how much talking matters and like, they’re suddenly stuck where they can’t resolve anything either. But Julie, sort of in sort of when they’re debriefing was sort of just like maybe we should congratulate ourselves a little less. Right. Like where where where are we really? And I think that’s like a point well taken.
S1: As with history, so, too, with people, right, we have this illusion of total change, even as we just are the same creatures and some sad way, right? I mean, I started watching this and I thought, oh, it’s going to be just all warmth, reconciliation and acceptance because there’s this patina of middle age. It just maturity and self acceptance to all of them. And they’re all hugging and extremely I mean, there’s the whole drama that we haven’t even brought up about Eric News was this young up and coming male model with like the perfect upper body. He loved walking around shirtless. He was narcissistic and provocative, but but and almost like he had almost like someone who tipped him off to what reality TV was going to be and how to be a star on a reality TV show. And it was previewed that he wasn’t in the loft for the new series. And you thought, oh, it’s because he’s got an agent and a manager. And like the negotiations broke down. And at some revoltingly showbizzy story, it turns out he has covid and or tested positive for Caronna right at the beginning. And he says, oh, weepie, that he can’t I mean, really, I really kind of touching way that he can’t be there. And he he beams in on a large screen and and he he, too, has achieved, you know, almost the comical level of spiritual self-possession in the intervening years. And you thought, where can this possibly go? And then at the end of Episode one, they preview the upcoming show and they’re all screaming at one another about race again.
S6: I mean, there is this way, though, like, well, like in terms of the road not taken, like it does just seem you’re like, oh, you guys were like lucky enough not to get like it was hard. Like they all describe this moment after being on the road where no one knew what to do with them because like they were famous, but they couldn’t no one knew, like they were famous, but they couldn’t get cast in anything, you know, or like they couldn’t they couldn’t turn it into a career because no one knew what to do with them. And you’re like, I know that was probably heartbreaking, but like you all actually seem like you mostly turned out. Yeah, OK. In this way, I actually do not think happens to people who aren’t reality TV shows of that kind, like, like fame sucked them in, is about them out and they got their lives together and they do like really seem like thoughtful and sort of self actualized and, and loving and like they turned into grown ups, you know, like regular grown ups. And you’re like that was actually like lucky. Um, right. And I mean, the thing
S2: that the thing that popped into mind when you were talking about who’s attracted to reality TV now is like the problem with American politics, which obviously merged in Trump. But it’s you know, it’s a fair question to ask what kind of psychopath would want to enter politics, which if you only have a system for a governance that attracts psychopaths, that’s not good for, you know, the polity. And reality TV sort of has a similar dynamic. And I think just the. None psychopathy of these individuals is, I don’t know, feels kind of poignant, like for all that they fight in there and they’re not as mature as they seem. And it’s an impossible tangle. Selfhood and structure like they they seem real.
S6: I mean, even just to sort of identify it more specifically than psychopathy. It’s narcissism, right? Like they are curious about the world and each other and like the defining quality of someone who wants to be on reality TV now is they are obsessed with themself and what they’re going to do and how they’re going to come across like that’s what it is you have to be. I’m not even insulting those people and and and that and you see that, right? Like they were looking around and people that’s like literally like the thing you can’t do anymore. And and yeah. So they actually were talking about things that were happening in the world and with each other and they continue sort of to do that. And I like. You know, it’s funny because I don’t know if you like, the most recent episode of the reunion just aired, it appears that Becky, who had sort of left the house in this half, sort of, you know, taking her ball and going home is still around. And Julie’s going to talk to her, you know, like there used to be like, oh, this is like reality TV shenanigans. You know, like everyone learned something, like the producers learned something, that people learned something. But they’re going to try to, like, make it means something on this. I like, you know, in sort of different and a sort of more elevated level. Right. And whether it’s showmanship, it’s all those things. But it’s like you’re like, oh, right. It’s not all the tools are still here. They were just trying to make something a little bit different. And I wish people were still trying to make something a little bit different. It would be hard, but, you know, I liked those sort of more like high notes. So obviously not high brow, but you know what I mean about like sort of more. AMMANN Yeah, I just like I’m like just not so claustrophobic. Right? That’s what it is. It’s like The Real World became a story about what it means to make to be on a reality TV show instead of what it means to be a person. And that’s that’s what all reality TV is about. What’s it like to be on a reality TV show instead of what it’s like to exist?
S1: All right, well, we’ll as always, a pleasure to talk to you about the show, you’re sticking with it, going to watch the whole thing, are you?
S6: Yeah, kind of like like I find it very nostalgic and interesting. I’m, like, interested in that. Do you know what I mean?
S1: Yeah, me too. I thought. No way. I resented we were doing this topic. I’m like three minutes in. I’m like I’m frickin hooked. But thanks. Thanks for coming back on. Thank you. Well, Philip Roth, I think, hardly needs any introduction. He was one of the great well considered one of the great American post-war novelists. He began his career with the tender, gentle, perfectly wrought Goodbye Columbus, with which won the National Book Award for him when he was still in his mid 20s. He became a huge literary celebrity with the publication of Portnoy’s Complaint, hysterically funny, pornographic ode to masturbation that made him world famous and rich, which he really stayed for the remainder of his career. Over time, he refined both himself and his literary reputation to the point where there was an annual expectation that he would be named the winner of the Nobel Prize, which he never in fact received among his mid-period supposedly great books and included the Counter Life Sabbath’s Theater and then a remarkable late efflorescence without which I think it’s impossible to really consider his reputation. It really changed his reputation. The books that he wrote in his in his 60s and 70s, most notably American Pastoral, which won the Pulitzer Prize, and which I, despite my extremely mixed feelings about Philip Roth, regarded as a literary masterpiece, there is now a 800 page major biography, the first serious major biography of Philip Roth that’s appeared by Blake Bailey, who previously had written very highly regarded biographies of John Cheever, among others, Philip Roth. The biography weighs in at about 800 pages, and it’s been attended by quite a lot of controversy. Dana and Julia, I will say, having read most of the reviews, if not all the reviews that have come out, is really an excuse for people to get in their opinions and in some cases, their shots. About Philip Roth, it’s a big controversy stirring book. I’m reviewing it right now for Julia Turner’s L.A. Times, and I have lots of feelings about it.
S2: Well, I think the most prominent review of it so far and one that was certainly entertaining to read was the review in The New Republic, which essentially accused Blake Bailey, who’s at this point have made a career of well reviewed literary biographies of American literary lions, um, sort of accused him of falling for and buying Roth’s misogynistic view of his own life and career in it did that in a much more pungent and entertaining way than my summary just conveyed. Certainly worth a review. Whether you agree with it or not, they’re worth a read, whether you agree with the conclusions or not. But, you know, the review highlighted a number of passages in which Blake Bailey, um, you know, cited or quoted or describes Roth’s view of his interactions with wives, mistresses, girlfriends, stepdaughters, stepdaughters, friends, and was essentially monstrous to women. And and so my main question for you is, was that review right? Or is belly up to something more subtle and interesting?
S1: I’m going to say both. First of all, I thought that was an exemplary review essay, and I did not disagree with a word of it, really. I mean, I it’s by Laura Marsh, who’s the literary editor of The New Republic. It is beautifully written. It is very considered. It’s very carefully executed, but firm in its conclusions. And I, I, I both admired as a piece of writing and agree with what she’s. Concluding, which is that. Both that Roth had clearly transactional and misogynistic. Views of women, and when a woman didn’t service his ego or his libido, he tended to regard them as milestones or nurse Nanex or hysterics. And I think the case for Roth’s misogyny is going to be much harder to answer now that this biography is out. However, by implication, I think she the the implication of her view is that Bailey didn’t kind of know that he was doing that, that it’s sort of in spite of what Bailey intended to do. My reading there is slightly different. I think Bit Bailey, first of all, had access to Roth and via Roth, access to a number of people who wouldn’t have talked to him otherwise about earlier. Biographer got effectively fired and stonewalled by Roth and Rothert. Agent Andrew Wylie basically said, you get access to nothing here. When they discovered that the guy was going to say things that Rotten wanted. I think Bailey adapted himself to this agreement. I kind of believe, unlike a lot of biographers, by the way, Robert Frost got a biographer when he was in his 60s, proceeded to live until he was 90 and over those three decades incurred the complete hatred of his biographer. And therefore, the definitive Robert Frost biography is a three volume takedown that depicts him as a complete monster. Bailey, I think, came on board in 2012 that took, let’s say, eight years from then to publication or to galleys or whatever. He appears not to have turned upon wrath completely. However, I think his motivations in presenting the evidence is very mixed. There’s one he said, she said after another, the cumulative effect of which is to say that Roth found himself, that he in a he said she said over and over and over again. So the overall pattern of the book is here’s a guy who’s constantly attempting to vindicate his behavior vis a vis women. And I think Bailey is sort of saying, draw your own conclusions here.
S3: Yeah, that was going to be my question to you, too, Steve, is that after reading Laura Marsh’s review, which is as much an essay about biography and what it means to try to control one’s biography before one’s own death. Right. As it is about this specific writer and this specific biographer. So I was very curious to hear how much you felt that Bailey was an amanuensis, essentially, that he was writing down what Roth wanted him to do, which which Marsh does seem to feel more than you. So that’s interesting. I think that the next question I would have for you, and this is, again, something that pertains to biography as a genre. I mean, I’m in the midst of writing something that, while not a biography, is very biographically based right. About a single person’s life. And in the process of doing that, I’ve read so many biographies with so many different points of view. And to me, the big question, when you’re writing a biography of a great artist. Right. Which let’s just say for the record, whether we like him or not, write Philip Roth is an incredibly important American novelist. His his books matter. And the question is, to what degree do you focus on the life versus the work? To what degree are you a critic rather than a historian? Right. You’re sort of all those things at once when you’re writing a biography. And I’ve seen some reactions to this huge biography of Roth, including David Remnick in The New Yorker, that suggests that that Bailey isn’t much of a critic, that he is more interested in the life than the work, and that he gives short shrift to the books and sort of reduces them to plot summaries. I wonder how you feel about that balance in this book and in general, how you feel about that in a biography. I mean, if you’re reading a biography of a great artist who you already know is a great artist or, you know, enough about their art and you want to know about their life, is it sometimes OK that the the author is not a critic or what’s the right balance?
S1: Yeah, that’s a great question. I mean, I think, first of all, it’s it’s a tough balance and there’s no correct answer. I don’t think Billy’s strength is as a critic critic at all. I do believe that in this instance, Bailey was faced with a dilemma, which is had he forced more narrative shape into the story he was telling, he would have been obliged to take more of a position on the he said she says, and I really believe he threw up his hands and said, I’m just going to be totally inclusive here and people can draw their own conclusions. And I felt like this book could have been, you know, in the hands of someone who was writing a, you know, critical biography or biography is a work of criticism. This could have been a three to four hundred page, maybe 450 page book. And not just was not what what Billy really wanted to do. I think that’ll be for for subsequent biographers to come in and write shorter and more kind of critically nuanced or shaped narratives, drawing upon as everyone, by the way. And if you read any criticism about Frost that deals with the biography, everyone is drawing on that three volume takedown, because in addition to clearly being horrified by the deficient character of Robert Frost, it just it is the source for all of these details. And I believe that this is what this that’s the function of this biography going forward. Now, the rest of us can write critical biographies.
S2: I mean, isn’t the answer to that question to Dana, like what’s needed more? You know, is that is the figure being studied, someone whose work is critically undervalued, underappreciated and misunderstood? Or are they someone whose life hasn’t been read in a certain way? And, you know, the unique position of being the authorised biographer, the one who’s been given the keys to the kingdom? I think there is sort of a duty there to get get as much as you can down on the record and to extract what you can from from the archives and from the sources available. I also think. You know, the fact that one of America’s 20th century literary lions was an asshole for whom women didn’t have full personhood, for the most part, um. Seems pretty important, worthy of study, worthy of worthy of note and, you know, do we really need another close reading of, you know, American Pastoral or Portnoy’s Complaint? Uh, I’m not sure we need that before we need more of the facts. Like who? If if the purpose of the novel is, you know, to to explore in fiction the condition of being alive and being a person in the world, which is probably arguable, but is one of the things that I think great novels do. Um, what does it mean that we’ve anointed as one of our great novelists, someone who who’s stingy in attributing personhood to other people?
S3: Yeah, I mean, you’re really right that they both need to exist and that they both have a place. I’ve certainly read some biographies that I got a huge amount out of that were almost that were almost absent of any critical analysis whatsoever and that were just essentially there was just someone who managed to have enough access to research and also just simply patients and, you know, systematic, methodical ability to collate that. They can basically figure out what some figure was doing for virtually every minute of their life. That kind of biography is extremely useful. I would never want to write one, but but I do love reading them. I don’t know when I when I’m reading a literary biography, which I’m looking for more. And I think probably in the case of a figure like Roth, I would be more interested in the stuff that he wanted hidden while he was alive. And one thing I would mention, Steve, that seems like a fascinating part of this whole story is that Philip Roth essentially wrote an entire book that was just rebutting his ex-wife, Claire Bloom’s memoir about how horrible their marriage was. Right. He wrote this thing called Literally Notes for my biographer that was supposed to go to his biographer after his death is almost 300 pages long. And all it is doing is, you know, picking apart the the negative portrait of him drawn by by Claire Bloom in her memoir. So that’s there’s a never published Philip Roth text that seems maybe more worthy of plagiarizer than something that we’ve all been able to read for 30 years.
S1: Right. And we get glimpses of it in the Bailly book. And it’s just self-serving and ridiculous. I mean, there’s a I barely really gives Roth enough rope to hang himself with, to use a somewhat tasteless metaphor. But he really does. I mean, there’s just such ample evidence of a of a self-centered monster. I’d like to just briefly talk about the thing that most was most revelatory to me about the about Roth’s biography, which was I knew that he was a wunderkind and that, you know, he wrote Goodbye Columbus, the novella in one month when he was in his early to mid 20s. He was 24, 25, I believe, for which he then won the National Book Award. And that launched him immediately. And he never came down. I mean, he entered a plateau of fame and recognition that he really never lost. And what I didn’t know is the very same time that that was happening to him in his mid 20s, another very formative experience was which was also happening, which was his marriage to his first wife, Maggie. And the Laura Marsh Review does a beautiful job of summarizing that and taking to task Billy’s portrayal of it, all of which I more or less agree with. But there’s another aspect to that which the reviews haven’t fastened on. And maybe it’s because I’m a father of someone of similar age. But Maggie had two children from a previous marriage, both of whom have been tracked down by Billy and spoken to. And they both attest to what an extraordinary stepfather for a few years, for a number of very important years to them. Roth was and not only that, they were two children desperately in need of rescue because they were often left with their biological father, who was a lummox, an abusive lummox, physically vicious father. They were undernourished and undereducated. The mother does not come off. Maggie does not come off beautifully in this either. I mean, they both attest to her as a as a pretty woefully inadequate mother. And it was left to rot to re them. I’m not just talking about writing a fucking cheque, OK? I’m talking about he taught Helen, who was being treated as mentally deficient because she couldn’t read. Turns out her IQ was off the charts high. Roth taught her to read, OK, he completely reintroduced her to humanity. These were badly, badly abused children. And what I think is. So there were two revelations there. One is that early on, while he’s got this huge success in the celebrity, which, by the way, wrath from the beginning wanted to cash in his celebrity in order to screw everything that moved. And his wife was, you know, first wife was picking up on this fact. And it’s no wonder she might turn into something of a nervous wreck because of it. But there’s this other side to him which. That that Bailey does a good job of sort of talking about, which is this desire to be the good, virtuous Jewish young man that his parents had raised him to be and to do the right thing. And he really does it for a number of years with these kids. And as adults, especially, the girl says repeatedly, like that man was he he saved me like I turned out OK. And I would not have turned out OK without Rod. And there’s this astonishing series of events where she is just so fucking riveting. She hits adolescence and she’s madly in love with Roth. And the mother sees this and repeatedly turns to Roth and says, if you fuck my daughter, I will kill you. OK, that’s a verbatim quote to the point where Roth hides the steak knives in the house because he believes she’s become so paranoid about this possibility that she will literally stab him to death in the middle of the night. I mean, that incredibly volatile marriage, like maximally volatile marriage. Bailey’s conclusion based on multiple interviews and with the stepdaughter is that Roth had no designs on her whatsoever, that this was entirely a fantasy of the mother. The moment comes when he can no longer balance this young girl and the mother. Now, this is this is telling it in a way that sympathetic to Ruth that he might not deserve. But he sits her down. And I had to put the book down because because you’re seeing the side to Roth, you didn’t know existed for several dozens of pages. Right. He sits the girl down and he says that he’s leaving and he’s never going to speak to her again. And the reason he gives, I think at the time and and retrospectively to Bailey is it was an untenable situation. The mother was so volatile and so paranoid about this relationship. I thought it would destroy both of us. And I thought at that point I had done what I could and I had to leave her. And he and he breaks her heart and he utterly breaks the heart of the reader. And it’s at that moment, I believe in it. It’s I think well evidenced by the biography that Roth casts off the burden of being a good Jewish son that his parents and also in some ways the Jewish community turning to him as like the great postwar novelist who’s also Jewish, had placed upon his shoulders. And he says, I completely disavow that obligation. And from that moment on, he’s an entirely self-serving human being. And the biography actually in many respects becomes boring because all he does is he writes a good book, wins a Pulitzer, a national book award, and screws 50 more women. And he becomes in some ways, I think, an utterly boring human being. But that was that to me was the turning point.
S3: Well, that story is incredible.
S1: All right, well, I guess I sort of unplugged at length there in a very Philip Roth a way, but I’ll close out the segment by saying thank you, Steve, so much for coming on our podcast. Join us again soon. All right. Moving on. All right, well, now is the moment in our podcast when we endorsed Dana. What do you have, Stephen?
S3: My endorsement this week is in honor of someone we lost, a great cultural figure who passed during the past couple of weeks, which is Bertrand Tavernier, the French director who who died, I believe, in the last week or two. And who was this figure in French cinema just since the time of Truffaut and Godard and those kind of cinema guys use a little bit younger than them. He was sort of an assistant of theirs and and wrote for Kyoji Cinema. And in that period in the 60s, rather than a director, was more of a critic and sort of observer of the French cinema of the time. But then in the 70s started to make his own films and continue to for decades and decades, maybe some of the biggest titles that might be known in the states of his are round midnight, one of the great jazz movies, which I think won an Oscar for its score Life and Nothing but which was one of his masterpieces for sure, a movie called Kouda Torsional from the 80s that I love that that stars Philip Noiret, who was sort of his one of his muse actors. Anyway, Bertrand Tavernier is a whole director to explore. But the thing that I’m endorsing is a documentary called My Journey Through French Cinema. It’s three hours long, divided into three parts. And is this extremely expressionistic? I believe maybe inspired by those Scorsese documentaries like Voyages to Italy, the various Scorsese documentaries where he sort of, you know, melungeons together, his own idiosyncratic personal history and his great loves on film, Tavernier. And of course, as you were good friends. And after Tavernier died last week, I saw a really funny story or quotes circulating that that Martin Scorsese, he said something about, you know, the great friendship he had with Bertrand Tavernier and said his love for film was such that it could sometimes become exhausting. And whoever posted this headline said, Just imagine loving cinema so much that even Martin Scorsese, he is exhausted by your time. So I’ve only watched the first episode of this journey through French cinema, but it has a little bit of that energy of of the Scorsese documentaries where you really carried through by this one guy’s vision. He leaves out a lot. There’s almost nothing about silent film. It starts in the 30s. You know, he talks about those great directors of the 1930s, Jean Vigo and Jean Renoir. It stops right around the mid 70s when he started making movies, even though this this doc I’m talking about was made in 2016, he skips decades and decades of French cinema and leaves out whole huge figures. So there’s nothing kind of exhaustive or sort of educational about it. It really is much more effective. But he’s an extremely involving presence and he’s wonderful at putting together these montages. And I feel like I’m just I’m going to get so many ideas about French movies that I want to either watch or watch because of it so you can find it on Amazon Prime. I think it’s streaming in some other major channels as well. My journey through French cinema, it’s directed by and narrated by Bertrand Tavernier, this marvelous.
S1: Oh, my gosh, those movies. You’re absolutely right, Julia. What do you have?
S2: All right. I’ve got one and a half endorsements today, or maybe one in two halves. First of all, I am in the desert. And upon driving here and arriving, it’s it’s spring break. And we rented an Airbnb near Palm Springs. And upon turning into the driveway, a road runner ran across the road in front of us. And I have never actually seen a road runner before. And there just one endorsed that bird. Great bird looks and looks looks just like the road runner. So Road Runner, that’s that’s one half hour later.
S1: It actually looks like the cartoon bird. Yeah.
S2: Yeah, it does. I mean, you know, it’s reeler and feathery, but it’s got a very distinctive Gorki posture that is quite familiar to, uh, to watch a lot of old cartoons
S3: sitting on a case of Acme
S1: Dynamite. I was going to say, were you worried that there was a Imagineering coyote about to blow you all to
S2: where like where’s the cliff? Is our car actually suspended on ground or air? It just paused and picked for us a little bit. And it was it was a delightful welcome to the desert. But my actual endorsement is very undercity. It is the Atlantic podcast Bloodlines, which I’m listening to belatedly after it arrived earlier last year, I think, and was met with wide acclaim. But it’s very good and I would really send listeners to it. It takes a very sound rich approach to the History podcast, and they were just great and fascinating voices from people who experienced Katrina and people who tried to tried to solve the the many problems with Katrina. And it’s it’s just really worth a listen. It’s it’s it’s very, very well done. So that’s my full endorsement. And then my second half endorsement is I finally started. I capture the castle and it’s so good. It’s as good as Dana and Steve have been saying for a decade, you don’t have any excuse for waiting as long as I did, except that they kind of mis sold it because you didn’t really tell me it was Pride and Prejudice. See, I thought it was like a wire way and that the the fact that the sisters who are at the heart of it are sort of, you know of. Will age makes it a different type of book than the book I had in mind from the way you guys describe it. So if you’re unawareness of its Justinian, this is part of what you have not yet cracked. I capture the castle despite being berated to do so by Stephen Danylo this decade. Don’t let them stop you. You really should read it. I’m only like a third of the way through, but it’s so good.
S3: It’s our podcast is really just like a long form con to get people to read. I capture the castle and we talk about it every month or so.
S2: I’m finally in on the con and fully, fully on board. I’ve been my eyes are now squiggly squiggles and you must read I capture the castle.
S1: Oh my gosh. Can we please do a plus segment on that book? Yes. And Julia, for the first time in weeks, you didn’t use your endorsement as an occasion to dunk on me.
S2: Uh, it’s I’m getting soft.
S1: You are. All right. I have two endorsements. The first is I just love all these bands that bubbled up in Melbourne in the nineteen nineties, roughly around. Then I discovered a new one the other day. The Simpleton’s Love, the simpleton’s from. There’s something about the energy of these Melbourne bands, and it’s just fun, irreverent, goofy, but also just tender and heartfelt is just to me it’s very Melburnian. Somehow you can email me and say that that’s wrong somehow or right. I’d be curious to hear. And then the other one is just, you know, kind of captain obvious. I finally have started watching Call my agent, which is is such a great palate shift from the bureau. I mean, these are sort of the two French TV shows that have leaked through to Anglo audiences and become big hits. They’re so incredibly different. But I really did call me and it took me an episode or two. But my agent is fun. It’s really fun. And this is a plea for us to talk about it. If you guys are up for it at all, I think you know. Julia, do you watch it? I can’t remember.
S2: Um, no, it’s it’s on my to watch list, but I have not watched it yet.
S3: I’m dying to watch it. Yeah. It’s a little late because it’s been around for a while. But I’m, I’m very curious about call my agent.
S1: Oh it’s, it’s I, I am so pleasantly, pleasantly surprised. I thought I needed more. I mean I finished the bureau. The Bureau’s just a work of this is a masterpiece I think all five seasons in their own weird way. It wraps up the story. It’s great. The Bureau’s amazing call. My agent is just a completely different flavor pays attitude. And it’s just I love it. So hopefully we’ll talk about it. And easy peasy. It’s on Netflix, so just check it out and fans write us and tell us how much we should talk about it, how much you love it. Julia, thank you so much.
S2: Thank you,
S1: Dana. That was fun.
S3: It was good, Steve.
S1: You’ll find links to some of the things we talked about today at our show page, that Slate Dotcom Culture Fest, and you can email us at Culture Fest at Slate dot com. We also have a Twitter feed. You can interact with us there. That’s at Slate. Colthurst, our intro music comes courtesy of the wonderful Nicholas Patel. Our producer is Cameron Drus. Our production assistant is Rachel Allen for Julia Turner, Dana Stephenson, Willa Paskin. I’m Stephen Metcalf. Thank you so much for joining us. And we will see you soon.
S2: Hello and welcome to this last segment of the Slate Culture Gabfest, today, we entertain a listener question with guest for a Paskin. The question is, is there a piece of criticism you wrote or talked about in your career book, movie, TV show that you’ve changed your mind about or that you would formulate differently today? Will the the critics first of our trio of critics here, we’ll start with you.
S6: Oh, my God, there’s so many. And I, like have blocked them out of my mind. This happened to me and I like I hate it because you just like it almost makes me feel like blushing like in the privacy of my own home. Like you you like that. We just like to see people change,
S2: like the privacy of your own home. Yeah.
S6: You see people change your mind on Twitter and like it just makes my back like a prequel and I’m just like, OK, whatever, whatever I like, let me just not think about it. So I blocked a lot of them out. I’m just surly it’s happened millions of times. The only few that I remember remember are ones that I went and wrote about again, which, trust me, it has not always happen. Sometimes I just hide from them like they need to be hidden from. So like, for example, succession. I didn’t hate it, but I was like, whatever, you know, like it’s just another show. And then I was wrong. And I turn into a really good show than the one. I’m like, I think I also did that with scandal, which like maybe then also turned into a bad show. But at first I was like, oh, look. And the first season was Gettle was not good. And then it turned interesting. And then I wrote about it. Maybe the one that like it’s like hard because I also wrote a really critical piece about The Daily Show after Trevor Noah had been the host for about a year that I think was totally fair. But I think he’s gotten better. And I’m always like, do I have to, like, write a piece about like just apologize? Like it was like a weird thing to apologize for you for getting it together. Like, I don’t you weren’t that good then then you aged into it. But yeah, those are the ones that came to mind. But there’s things I mean, I’m sure, you know, like a probably like I didn’t write about it then, but if I had written about the first episode of Mad Men, I would have I think that nice to say. Yeah. It’s like it’s a little the thing about the critic thing is a little only a little complicated because you see you see like little bits and pieces of stuff and some especially for TV shows, you know, it’s better when you see more. And also you see it before you really just you really just left with your own opinion, you know. So I know other people’s opinions do have the magic of, like, making you reconsider your opinion right away. And you just left knowing what it was.
S2: You’re on you’re like the out on the list because you would say what you think and you going to say what you think often before everybody else is watching. Yeah. Steve, how about you? I mean, I would.
S1: I would. Confidently say that probably everything I wrote before the age of 40, I’d like to rescind it, I was trying to do two things when I started out as kind of a critic or whatever, which was the first was I was trying to transport and make not completely waste of all the years that I’d spent in graduate school. Right. So you kind of had this you’re trying to do that without sounding like an imperial snob and a complete highbrow moron. Right. But I didn’t really do a good job of that. And but, you know. But you’re trying to sound authoritative. The best version of that is you’re attempting to sound somewhat authoritative in your judgments. And you’re not just grading everything on a curve, which is of the shitty five novels that I’ve been forced to read and wouldn’t have otherwise read, this one was the best. Therefore, I’m going to compare it to Nabokov, which is a tendency and criticism to this day. I don’t really love, like have a little bit of perspective. Some some things really do stand the test of time and deserve to be swathed in the language of greatness and very, very, very large percentage of things coming down the pike really don’t. And the second thing was I was trying to sound you trying to sound confident, you know, I guess authority and confidence are bound up in one another. But you’re just trying to make the judgment, you make a judgment. And it seems as though you believe it in a way and in the process of that rhetorical inflation. I think I was really dismissive of a lot of things that probably didn’t deserve the level of scorn I was I was showing and that. To take the other side of it, you know, we live in a hype generating culture, and I think it’s gotten better in social media because now it’s something of a dialogue. And the crowd emerges on Twitter to say, you know, this thing’s ridiculous. Like stop like hype just doesn’t hype. You know, there are other there’s this whole other media that has a way of pushing back on the entertainment empires and their hype machines that didn’t exist when I first started writing criticism. And so you could talk yourself as a callow young man into believing that being puncturing and deflating was actually kind of a civic contribution in some way. And sometimes it was. But very often I’ve completely evolved. I mean, I just I think. First of all, I think the quality of things has just risen so much thanks to streaming and various other things, I also think anyway, all of which is to say I I can’t think of a specific thing because only because there were so many. But I, I just I just think scorn is like a very petty mode for a critic to go into. You should reserve it for truly, truly scornful things that are maybe being mistaken for having value. And so I wish I could go back and be less of a prick.
S2: What’s so interesting, what you say about hype, because there was I mean, there was that era of deflating and and the deflating now comes it’s coming from inside the house. It’s coming from every possible direction. So the rare quality of someone who can actually sing the song the nuance and sing the subtlety and sing, sing the ambivalent mysteries of whatever we’re presented with as opposed to the the takedown. Like, I think there’s a reason there’s not. Oh, interesting. Like a generation of the next, you know, who are the daily effects of now that we don’t make them anymore. Right. You don’t need them really.
S1: I mean, I need them to on Twitter.
S2: Maybe I’m wrong, but I’ll float that as a hypothesis and in the safe, cozy confines of. Plus, I had a hard time thinking about this because I I’m I’m not a critic, but I play one on this show, you know, I’m an editor, which has things in relation to criticism. But I remember when I first got to Slate, you know, at the tender age of 24 or something, and there were all these swashbuckling opinions all around me. And the way to kind of make your bones was to like also have them. So I just I don’t want to say who cares what I think about anything, like even just the the hutzpah of setting your thoughts down and assuming someone else would be interested in them. I didn’t have and you know, interestingly, I think it’s the doing this show, which is a much safer way to cultivate one’s critical instincts because you don’t have to stand out there alone ahead of the rising tide and say it’s all going this direction. Folks, right after me, you get to have your opinion in conversation with other smart people. It’s it’s been a different way to find one’s critical voice. Also, it’s like a disposable a decreasingly disposable way to find one’s critical voice. Like right now there are in a great move, there’s an increasing push towards doing transcripts of shows and the accessibility of shows for people. You’re not hearing people, but like, you know, I’ve issued a decade’s worth of opinions that are like unfindable. Unless you go back into some podcasts archive. I’m sure I said a thousand idiotic things in all those years and I can’t remember any of that stick out. I do sometimes come across like, you know, the the work with which I have engaged most publicly as a critic is Mad Men, because I did the Mad Men TV club for however many years. And occasionally one of those pieces will pop up and just the absurd level of close reading and speculation about every choice. It doesn’t strike me as necessarily mistaken, but somewhat insane. I think, you know, just just it was a text that merited substantial reading, and that was what was fun about reading it so closely. But the the, you know, attention to every scaleup on a waitress’s, you know, apron him seems like it seems sometimes like an odd use of of time. You know, the the other category would file things under here. His opinions. I expect to revisit, I think, as a young and voracious reader with critical instincts, I just. There’s like a lot of great books I don’t like, but I think I only don’t like them because I read them when I was too young.
S6: James, what are you talking about?
S2: Crime and Punishment. I like don’t know. I think I’ve talked about this on the show, both Crime and Punishment and Hamlet. I just have great impatience for the like idiotic vacillation of the men at their core, or at least as a young, strident woman, I did like him just like just don’t kill the old lady and then stop moping about it for hundreds of pages. Like, how is this an interesting reflection on the human condition? Like, what if you just didn’t kill her and weren’t a fucking idiot? Like, that’s basically what I think about crime and punishment. And like, I can’t be right like this. Like, I have a feeling this day she must have been on to something bigger than that. Otherwise all of literature wouldn’t be falling feet. But I just deeply did not get her vibe with that book. And Hamlet, I think I’ve already I’ve seen scenes and performances of that have helped me reconsider it. But just like, again, the kind of myopic vacillation of that hero, it’s like I don’t relate to that. I’m just not feeling you, which is not a response I have to almost any other Shakespeare play. So, um, yeah, that’s my that’s my bundle. No specific modern work that I can point to and hang my head in shame, but definitely some like loudly touted contrarian opinions that I’m sure I’m wrong. I’m sure I will discover I’m wrong about over time.
S1: Well I have to say the all time pull quote Julia Turner quote has to be this Dostoyevsky guy. He must be on to something. But but I will say, Julia, I believe and someone will write in and correct me no doubt that up until the nineteenth century, people agreed with your assessment of Hamlet, like, I believe it was regarded as the weaker of the weakest of the four tragedies because no one understood the neurotic delay of Hamlet and his need to dither and talk out loud about it. They were like, just kill the fucking guy or do it or don’t do it or whatever. And then with the advent of romanticism and just modernity, people saw this as an exemplary form of selfhood and it suddenly got vaulted to its canonical status. But anyway, what a failure.
S2: Failure to understand neuroses might be might be a turn herion characteristic. No, no. We’ll we’ll see. All right. Well, I’m sure our listeners have thoughts on things we’ve been deeply wrong about, so please send them in. And thank you so much, Slate plus listeners, for supporting Slate, supporting our show and listening. We’ll see you next week.