Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Takedowns and Breakdowns.

All this reaction to Martin Scorsese (and Francis Coppola afterward) criticizing Marvel movies has got me thinking about the times artists take digs at other artists or artists state their dislike for particular types of work.  It's a time-honored tradition really.  And it also has me recalling times I've come across writers or filmmakers I like criticizing other writers and filmmakers I like.  I've always found this to be a source of interest, and quite often it's cause for amusement as well.

When I read that filmmaker Jean Luc Godard says he doesn't like the films of David Lynch (one of my all-time favorite directors) because every Lynch film is only about himself and that "On the enigma of dream, dream life, I prefer to read Edgar Poe," I had to laugh while admitting that Godard, 88 years old and no less cranky and opinionated now than he was at 28 years old, may have something of a point about Lynch.  But even if he does, this doesn't diminish my love for Lynch's movies.  Nor does it make me angry at Godard for saying what he did about Lynch.  Godard's films are still entirely his own (the great ones, the good ones, the inscrutable ones), and just because he made a comment about a filmmaker I revere doesn't mean I'm going to start denigrating Godard.  He's someone with a strong aesthetic sensibility of his own, and for whatever reason, that sensibility doesn't take to Lynch's sensibility.  I still like both. It's not an either/or proposition.

And speaking of Edgar Allan Poe: What about Henry James' takedown of him?  James is not an author I rank among my favorites (though I do really like The Turn of the Screw and some of his other shorter works), and he's someone who you might say does have something of a rarified sensibility.  Poe I've loved since I was a kid and I'm sure I will always love.  James said, "An admiration for Poe is the mark of a decidedly primitive stage of reflection".

So here James is going after not only Poe, but people who have the temerity past a certain age to still like Poe. In a sense, you could say he's insulting all adult Poe readers.  Again, though, so what?  All you have to do is read a little Henry James, with all his reticence and misdirection, to understand that there would be something profoundly unpleasant to him about Poe's stories.  It's the same with how James felt about Baudelaire (a poet I love), who he said had a "permanent immaturity of vision".  Harsh words.  Ostensibly, anyone who likes reading Baudelaire would share this "immaturity of vision".   I couldn't disagree more, but again, it doesn't make me think any less of James as a writer.  He doesn't think much of Poe and can't fathom why anyone over a certain age would like Poe, but how I would love to sit down with Henry James (Over tea or booze, his choice) and debate this with him.  And then I would go on reading Poe and Baudelaire and James.  

Perhaps my favorite literary takedown artist of them all is Vladimir Nabokov, another writer who'd I put in my personal pantheon.  He had strong opinions - as one of his books is called - on just about everything, and not the least of these was his loathing for Fydor Dostoevsky's writing.  Now I happen to think Notes from the Underground is brilliant, and I like The Gambler, Crime and Punishment and "White Nights" a lot.  What does Nabokov say? He writes of "Dostoyevsky's lack of taste, his monotonous dealings with persons suffering with pre-Freudian complexes, the way he has of wallowing in the tragic...this trick his characters have of 'sinning their way to Jesus', or, as a Russian author, Ivan Bunin, put it bluntly, 'spilling Jesus all over the place'."

Okay.  Ummm....Nabokov is not exactly wrong about Dostoevsky, and of course, the way he attacks him - and there's more - is quite funny.  But is there a choice to be made here? Of course not.  I still somehow manage to love Nabokov, love Dostoevsky, and love Nabokov's takedown of Dostoevsky.

Nothing in the arts, for crying out loud, is sacrosanct.

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