YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

November 3, 2017

The American Dream?

Queen on top, RavePad.com

This blog is about the pursuit of unhappiness by three modernist writers: Melville, Freud, and Nabokov, all of whom doubted “the American Dream” while emphasizing subjectivity in their works.

 

 

The controversial modernist writer, Vladimir Nabokov, was famously anti-Freudian. Nevertheless, he emphasized subjectivity no less than other Romantic/”modern”/postmodern writers (including Melville). So why was Nabokov hostile to Sigmund Freud, a disdain recapitulated in 1970s feminism?
Nabokov, author of the “pornographic” novel LOLITA (1955), was greeted with derision for having written a dirty but widely read book. So was Freudian theory denounced for pan-sexualism in the early 20th C.

 

But would it not be puritanical (heaven forbid!) to denounce Freud (or Nabokov) for lasciviousness? Yet, even as a young writer, Nabokov (like his admired precursor “crazy” Herman Melville) was treating “Freudian” themes. I am referring to VN’s (updated) KING, QUEEN, KNAVE (1928) published in English after LOLITA, and translated from the Russian by his son Dmitri after Nabokov became both notorious and celebrated (1966). And, like LOLITA, the earlier novel was made into a movie (1972), suggesting that its triangle theme was acceptable to a popular audience, even as that popular audience was (seemingly) stigmatized by all three major moderns (VN, Melville, and Freud).

 
It is subjectivity that is the major focus of this posting. For it is rarely noted that dirty old Freud was advocating “the observing ego” at the same time that he was outlining the family romance. Thus, idealizations and all caricatures would be thrown out by the successful analysand (or even the unanalyzed reader of Freud), in favor of objectivity as the “Reality Principle” was finally attained. Out went the perfectly happy family (as limned by Melville in Pierre), in came modernism (as stoic?) adjustment to “everyday unhappiness,” and a fight that stills preoccupies me as it does the authors enumerated here.

More: I attended Cornell U. at the same time that Nabokov was lecturing there; I heard that Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina’s first paragraph was his constant emphasis: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” So both Freud and Nabokov were interested in families—happy and unhappy. But Pierre was ambiguous. So was Herman Melville, who, like Nabokov’s narrators, was similarly preoccupied and weird, and Melville, like Nabokov turned out to be an anti-bourgeois modernist/postmodernist, and as interested in decoding the unhappy Western family as Freud.

Full cast King, Queen, Knave (1972) Herzbube.com

[Blogs related to this posting: https://clarespark.com/2013/01/17/bondage-and-the-family/, https://clarespark.com/2011/10/01/updated-index-to-melville-blogs/, https://clarespark.com/2013/03/16/blogs-on-freud-and-anti-freudians/

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May 18, 2015

Matthew Weiner’s MAD MEN and the double audience

Don Draper meditating on California coast

Don Draper meditating on California coast

(Spoilers ahead). In all my years of watching television, I have never been so flummoxed as I was by the final season of Matthew Weiner’s Mad Men that purports to trace the ups and downs of its primary characters in a small NYC advertising agency, “Sterling Cooper” through its absorption into McCann Erickson. The series was set  during the late 1950s through the early 1970s, a period of great social upheaval.

I have written about the show before, arguing that it was odd for television writers to worry about the sponsors of the shows that they write, given that they purport to represent the real world uncontaminated by its corporate sponsors. (See https://clarespark.com/2010/10/24/mad-men-and-the-jewish-problem/.)

It never occurred to me until I looked up the definition and history of “irony” that the series had perhaps a double audience: one that would see it as a highly produced, realistic soap opera faithful to the period; while another would “get it” as standard {Jewish?] left-liberal self-hatred and anti-Americanism. (On the double audience for “irony” see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irony.)

For the last episode, eagerly anticipated by its fans, looked as if Don Draper, the dark, alcoholic, chain-smoking, womanizing genius adman (played by Jon Hamm) was going down, down, down, along with the American Dream, viciously portrayed in prior episodes such as the one with “milk and honey” in the title. Instead, Draper found at least a temporary reprieve at, of all places, an Esalen-type setting in the vicinity of Big Sur that persistently asked the question “How do you feel about your feelings?” Don, bottled up since his miserable childhood and perhaps on the brink of a heart attack, is suddenly redeemed by the confession of a depressed, unloved stranger in an encounter group, and goes on to embrace some kind of ersatz Indian religion installing him in a chanting hippie-garbed assembly, then to write a great Coca Cola commercial that not only unifies Draper with the mostly successful and “strong” female characters but affirms international groupiness. (See https://clarespark.com/2011/03/06/groupiness/, and https://clarespark.com/2013/07/02/groupiness-group-think-and-race/.)  On the commercial see http://www.coca-colacompany.com/coca-cola-unbottled/cokes-hilltop-featured-in-final-scene-of-mad-men.

Don Draper is literally and figuratively unbottled at last.

During my radio days of chronicling the fights in the art world, I used to know several New Yorker writers of fame. One or more complained to me about the ads for luxury goods that they felt compromised their ostensibly daring liberal stories and reportage. Similarly the artists and critics I met during the 1970s viewed themselves as hugely radical in both form and content. They loathed their bourgeois patrons (“Merde!”), pretty much as did the artistic vanguard that emerged before and during WW1.  I suppose that these artlings (not one of whom was a disciplined Red, by the way) comprise the peanut gallery that has praised Mad Men for the last seven seasons. They will “get it,” unlike the high-end consumers who fall for such arrant trickery.

As for myself, at the very end of the finale, I shouted out “Real or Fake?”

My outburst remains a radical query, and I don’t know the answer. I read once that irony was an unimaginative  excuse for an oppositional stance that failed to undermine or transform repressive cultures.

Then I thought about the venom hurled by Chomsky and his followers toward Walter Lippmann for encouraging the “spinmeisters” who “manufacture consent” (https://clarespark.com/2009/08/19/noam-chomskys-misrepresentation-of-walter-lippmanns-chief-ideas-on-manufacturing-consent/): magicians and puppeteers like the fictional Don Draper, archetypally a Jewish liar.

irony

July 4, 2014

How “independent” are we?

laba.ws_USA_Independence_DayIn defining myself both for and against the postmodernists or existentialists, I have stated that we are all prisoners of our context. Our choices are limited by the institutions we have made, and which either loosen our lips or force us to bite our tongues, lest we lose our jobs or break up “family” unity. Still, “Pierrot” tries to break out of jail.

While watching Fox News Channel as it boxes the compass of its on-air anchors and other sympathetic celebrities, I notice that most assert their vaunted freedom to say whatever they damn please along with their fulfillment of the American Dream despite humble beginnings. The overall tone was one of nationalist pride and complacency. I found this, at best, self-deceived, if not cynical.

Only Shepard Smith emphasized that this country remains in process, that the goals of human rights celebrated in the Declaration of Independence are incomplete and require attention. (Looking up the spelling of his name, I saw that he is rumored to have been demoted after he asked Roger Ailes to acknowledge that he was gay on the air.)

Shepard Smith seems to have a moral compass whereas not all his Fox colleagues celebrating Independence Day share his realism. I remember how passionately he covered Hurricane Katrina, literally shouting from a New Orleans bridge, when government at every level was not acting with appropriate dispatch in rescuing Katrina’s mostly black victims.

Back to the “independence” of Fox spokespeople yesterday and today as FNC observed the glorious Fourth. Though FNC claims to be “fair and balanced” its format and objectives are designed to get maximum eyeballs. It was brilliant in discerning that the many factions of “the Right” were shut out from MSM, including NPR, hence an underserved population would be easy pickings for advertisers. But having some social democrat voice talking points, while a conservative or libertarian contradicts him or her with other talking points, is not the same as the search for truth. (To be fair, not all Fox commentators are so predictable or conformist, but most are “moderates.”)

Whereas the Declaration of Independence, the precursor to the Bill of Rights, breathes the air of the Enlightenment. “American exceptionalism” (like “popular sovereignty”) is built on separating truth from error, hence the demand for checks and balances, the separation of powers, and the refusal of a monarch in favor of popular sovereignty. Yet today, we defer, often uncritically, to “leaders” whether these “good father figures” are politicians, clerics, celebrity academics, artists, or media personalities.

Lipschitz: Pierrot escaping

Lipschitz: Pierrot escaping

Did anyone think that the Founders goals would be easily achieved? These men of the Enlightenment were educated in the classics, in economics, and in international relations. Were they lacking knowledge of history, or without self-interest or ambition? Were they in total agreement with each other? Only the naïve would make such a claim. Still, they took tremendous risks, as those of us who succeed in this wild and wooly experiment in self-government do every day, often with fear and trembling, for the more sentient among us acknowledge how much “American exceptionalism” rests on the bounty of Nature, a Nature that we, in our hubris, do not always study and protect with requisite attention and zeal.

Some of our children have noticed this flaw. But their voices are unheard on FNC. [For a related blog, see https://clarespark.com/2012/01/28/popular-sovereignty-on-the-ropes/.%5D

America-the-Beautiful

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