What Do We Do with the Art of Monstrous Men?

When posed the question, “What do we do with the art of monstrous men?” Claire Dederer’s answer is anything but simple. Her piece, which was published during the height of the Me Too movement, focuses on modern instances of terrible men who put out their work to the world. She approaches and dissects the complexity of this issue, which is not an old problem but is more relevant today than ever. 

Dederer applies her thoughts to the specific situation of Woody Allen, first explaining her emotional connection to him and his work. She watches his works, along with the films of Roman Polanski, and cannot imagine not having the comfort of this art anymore. She doesn’t want it to be tainted by his moral shortcomings. Almost every person today has witnessed one of their favorite artist, musician, director, actor, or comedian outed as a sexual predator or abuser of some kind. It is a disheartening experience shared by millions, thanks to the Internet. 

At this point in Dederer’s piece, I was concerned she was going to explain that it is 100% okay to enjoy these still. However, she returns to the issue later on, explaining a conversation she had with a male writer. She goes on to ask the reader who has the most unbiased view, those who acknowledge the artist’s personal shortcomings, or “The one who had the ability—some might say the privilege—to remain untroubled by the filmmaker’s attitudes toward females and history with girls?” 

This sentence summarizes my opinion in this area better than I could myself. As a woman, I cannot separate a sexual predator from the art he curates. I, along with every other woman I know, has experienced sexual harassment and assault. I do not have the privilege of overlooking this quality in a man, just to appreciate a role he plays in a film. She illustrated that male privilege plays a massive part in separating the art and artist in the Me Too era. As Dederer states, this is a completely emotional stance to take, but it would be unethical to take any other. 

By following this idea through, one can see that an artist and his art are tethered together. It is impossible to study great art without understanding the influences and the motives behind creating it. Dederer investigates Woody Allen’s character in Manhattan, where he plays a middle-aged man dating a high school girl. This displays how Allen’s personal attitude and behavior towards women seep into his acting. As Dereder states, it “seemed to animate the project.” 

Artists take their personal experience and pour it into what they create. It is impossible to deny the connection between an artist’s personal experience and personality and their pieces. In our art history class, we study this daily. An everyday example that most remember is Will Smith’s character in The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. In one scene, his character breaks down in tears over his dad’s absence in his life. A video of this went viral, its caption explaining that Smith’s acting was very real considering his relationship with his estranged father in real life. Hundreds of thousands of people praised him for pouring his heart into his work. In the same vein, Allen used his personal urges and desires to create his character in Manhattan.

Dereder’s essay proves that the bond between an artist and art is unbreakable.An artist takes every aspect of his life and uses what he knows to create something. Therefore, enjoying his pieces that were inspired by monstrous acts makes us culpable in his behavior. Supporting predators, abusers, and rapists by consuming their art is unethical. To say that films, music, or pieces are isolated from their creators is a lie told for our comfort.

 

Link to Claire Dederer’s Article:

https://www.theparisreview.org/blog/2017/11/20/art-monstrous-men/

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Vast Hell: A Guillermo Martinez Analysis

While the culture of small towns is appealing to some, Guillermo Martinez’s “Vast Hell” highlights the negative aspects of this way of life. The narrator uses foreshadowing by opening with a proverb, “A small town is a vast hell.” He/she also uses several parts of the plot, as well as characters, to explore the idea that Puente Viejo is a hellish town. By the use of gossip and rumors, the character of the French Woman, and the shocking plot twist, it becomes increasingly clear how truly wicked the town is. Through various symbols, Martinez paints a picture of this small town that shows both its simple mask, as well as its dark secrets.

One of the most common themes in the story is judgement of others through gossip. Soon after his arrival, the nameless boy and the French Woman become Puente Viejo’s biggest scandal. Every townsperson is invested in their supposed affair, and when the couple disappears, it leads to a witch hunt. The village becomes obsessed and spends time and resources digging for the body of the French Woman. It becomes increasingly clear that this infatuation and the “dearth of scandals” the townspeople creat is a facade, a mere distraction to the real world (Martinez). It is much easier to face someone else’s business, rather than one’s own. Instead of facing personal  struggles and the hardships of the entire town, the townspeople obsess over the French Woman. By making the couple’s skeletons in the closet open to the public, they can keep their own hidden. These people use rumors and gossip as a distraction from the reality of their town’s history. This becomes increasingly clear as their circumstances become more dire and they still return to their old habits.

Another aspect that adds to the hellish theme is the character of the French Woman.  To the men of the town, her appearance is the pinnacle of female sexuality and attractiveness. The narrator often describes the clothes she wears, stressing that “she didn’t wear a bra,” to further display her blatant sexuality (Martinez). Her character serves as a symbol of sin, as she is portrayed as a sexual being in a setting where this is a negative characteristic. The men lust for her, while still fearing her power, making them sinners, just like the envious and hateful women in town. They create stories about her cheating on her husband and even “had made common cause against her fearful necklines” (Martinez). This makes her into the perfect image of an adulteress in the eyes of the townspeople, the epitome of unholiness. It isn’t until she is out of sight and no longer a threat that the women no longer seem to despise the French Woman. The sins the townspeople project onto and create for the French Woman tie in with the idea that this town is a hell of its own kind.

The end of the story is where the idea that this village is a purgatory is quite clear. The hunt for the French Woman’s body comes to a sobering end when, to the citizens’ horror, they look around and discover that “there were dead bodies and more dead bodies” scattered around the beach (Martinez). At this point, there is no more dancing around the gruesome truth. Everybody present comes to the realization that this is a mass grave, presumably filled with 

carnage from a war. But they are quickly forced to re-bury the bodies, to forget the “smell of death” that plagued the beach (Martinez). This act is the climax of the story because at this point, 

the townspeople realize that they are facing a horror they cannot fight or even change. These bodies represent all of the gruesome secrets that the town has no means to cope with. Out of options, the people shovel sand back onto the corpses and go home. The people come face-to-face with the evil that lives in their town, and they go back to living as though everything is the same, carrying on with their gossip and rumors as if nothing is wrong. Puente Viejo is almost a purgatory at this point- the citizens are in a pointless cycle of hiding this darkness and focusing on the sins of others instead. It is clear that Martinez is painting a negative picture of the environment the people of Puente Viejo have to live in, and how it affects their view of themselves and others. The longer the people live in this hellish place, the more extreme the measures they take to distract themselves becomes. 

Guillermo Martinez’s short story highlights the dark secrets that lie in so many small towns. By prefacing the piece with the proverb “A small town is a vast hell,” Martinez set the overall gothic tone, as well as foreshadowing events to come. Using many plot points, as well as characters, helps to explore this realistic perspective of the village. This can be observed through the theme of gossip, the character of the French Woman, and the horrifying final paragraphs. Through these various symbols, Martinez unmasks the false front of Puente Viejo and reveals the ugly truth.

 

Works Cited

Martinez, Guillermo. “Vast Hell.” The New Yorker, 27 Apr. 2009,            ddddhttp://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2009/04/27/vast-hell.

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Alone With Everybody: A Charles Bukowski Analysis

Charles Bukowski’s poetry is often associated with by references to alcohol, sex, and perpetual sadness. In his poem “Alone with Everybody,” Bukowski addresses all three topics. This freeform poem describes the pain that comes with trying to find “the one” romantic partner to be with for eternity, and how no one will ever truly find this person, despite so many attempts. The title itself states that each of us is destined to be “alone,” or unhappy in a relationship. In yet another poem where “Bukowski writes with no apologies from the frayed edge of society” (Kessler). The tone of this poem is just as cynical and sad as one could expect from any Bukowski work, but still tells an honest truth about the romanticization of finding “the one” and how these unrealistic expectations sets one up for disappointment. 

The speaker opens by reducing people to “flesh” and “bone,” (line 1) mere animals with instincts to find one another. He goes on to say that “they” (line 2) made the idea that there is “sometimes a soul” (line 4) in us. The speaker is clearly cynical of the idea that humans have anything more than just a skeleton in us- it is clear that the speaker believes that a soul is a human construct. In addition, the speaker is so pessimistic of human emotions that he/she describes then by their skin and skeletons instead. By reducing people to nothing but a physical body, the speaker is proving a point about how finding love is not what people think it is. This is a cynical way of seeing humans’ desire to find love and romance, only to be expected by 

Bukowski, a writer with a “loner persona” (Economou). The speaker goes on to explain in lines 5-8 how people’s sadness and utter loneliness can be expressed through different outlets.

and the women break 

vases against the walls 

and the men drink too 

much

Here, it is clear how women who are expected to remain cool, calm, and collected are likely to lose themselves in an angry burst, while men who often suppress their feelings will drink their sadness away. Even the word choice in how the speaker explains their violent coping mechanisms is vital here- a “vase” (line 6) tends to be feminine, as it is a household item used to hold flowers. The men “drink” (line 7) because alcohol is a way to internalize their pain, another form of escapism. These raw descriptions of how heartbroken people employ different forms of self-destruction to deal with their pain add to the bleak tone of the poem. 

In the next line, the speaker explains how people are constantly searching for their soulmate despite so many failed attempts at doing so, how they are constantly “crawling in and out / of beds” (lines 13-14) in search for someone to love them. The metaphor of humans being mere “flesh” comes back into play because humans are always looking for another body to fulfill their need. The people are “crawling” as if they are wounded, though in this case the speaker is insinuating that this is emotional pain they are struggling with. These people are desperate for affection and relief, a person to call their own or at least a place to escape. Bukowski uses this poem to suggest that people are defeated and depressed from heartbreak

Then, the speaker makes a daring statement that every human has the same destiny of loneliness- that “no one ever finds / the one” (lines 25-26). This controversial negative opinion of romance sets the theme for the entire poem. This is also where the title is so revealing; “Alone With Everybody” refers to how each person will end up alone, but everybody is together in having this destiny. 

The last few lines go on to say that although “junkyards” (line 28) and cemeteries and “hospitals” (line 30)  might fill up with garbage and humans, this is all that will be filled. The speaker chooses to use these places as examples because they are the opposite of the romance he/she is so critical of. These are places that are full of despair and sadness, which is the the negative reality the speaker is highlighting. When it comes down to people’s desire to be with someone else, to feel less lonely and “fill” the void inside them, this will never come. The speaker’s view is that people will always be alone, no matter how hard they try. 

Charles Bukowski’s poetry leaves readers with a sense of familiar sadness. In his poem “Alone with Everybody,” Bukowski does not disappoint. This freeform poem describes the pain that comes with trying to find “the one” romantic partner to be with for eternity, and how no one will ever truly find this person, despite so many attempts. Throughout these lines, Bukowski uses specific word choices and metaphors to maintain a theme of hopelessness and loneliness. 

 

Works Cited

“Charles Bukowski.” Poetry Foundation, Poetry Foundation, 2010, www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/charles-bukowski.

Economou, G. (2004). Sifting through the madness for the word, the line, the way: New poems. World Literature Today, 78(3), 97-98. Retrieved from https://search.proquest.com/docview/209371490?accountid=14183

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Recititaf: A Toni Morrison Analysis

Toni Morrison’s short story Recititaf makes a bold statement on racial conflicts of the 20th century, while incorporating the personal struggles of two main characters. The story focuses on Twlya and Roberta, two children who room together in a New York shelter. Over the course of their lives, the two run into each other and the truth about their childhoods unfold. 

The element that ties their struggles together is the character Maggie, an older mute woman in the shelter who was bow-legged. Both despise her, hurling cruel names and jokes at her because of her disabilities. Maggie’s character represents parts of themselves that they hated. She is thought of as weak, as a result of being disabled, and is constantly mocked by everyone in the shelter. This vulnerability is a reminder of both Twlya and Roberta’s own fragility. 

The narrator, Twlya, compares Maggie’s way of swinging when she walks to her mother; it’s made clear throughout the story that her mother had left her at the shelter so she could go out dancing at night. Maggie was a reminder of her, because she is deaf and is “nobody who would hear you if you cried in the night. Nobody who could tell you anything important that you could use” (Morrison 17). Twlya finds comfort in Maggie’s isolation and silence, because she “knew she wouldn’t scream, couldn’t- just like me and I was glad about that” (Morrison 18). She also mocks the childishness of Maggie and her clothes, which is something she has in common with Twyla’s mom; she also refuses to grow up, even as an adult.

For Roberta, her hatred stems from her mother as well. In one of her adult interactions with Twyla, she outright compares Maggie and her mother, stating they both grew up in institutions. Her frustration with her situation with her mother is reflected in her bullying Maggie, just like Twyla. 

As two children who are struggling to adapt to shelter life, they do what is needed to assimilate. This means mocking Maggie, just like the teenage girls who abuse her so cruelly. Twyla and Roberta are outsiders, two children whose mothers couldn’t or wouldn’t care for them, and ended up in a shelter of other misfits. But to them, Maggie is even more of an outsider- a physically disabled woman who is marginalized more than these two are. Mocking her and even wanting to physically hurt her is a way of lessening their positions as outsiders, as children who do not fit in elsewhere.  

The most important feature is the confusion over Maggie’s race, leaving the answer unknown. Twyla and Roberta fight over whether or not Maggie was white or black, their memories clashing. This brings home Morrison’s philosophy that novels about black culture and history “suggest what the conflicts are, what the problems are” (Morrison) without necessarily solving them. This philosophy was touched on in her interview for the New York Times in 2015. The issue of race is consistent throughout this story, always with a clear historical background to support it, with a level of ambiguity kept at the same time.

Throughout the story, race is the main stressor on the their lives crossing. It is a main theme to the story, a topic Morrison writes about in each of her works. She does not define which character is of which race, even refraining from using racial slurs to get her point across. In her Nobel Prize lecture, she stated that “Oppressive language does more than represent violence; it is violence” (Morrison). This powerful stance is exemplified in this short story- a strong statement about racial tension is made without having to use hateful language or force a character to be defined by her race. The conflict between their races is manifested in the Maggie’s character, reflected in the uncertainty of Maggie’s race. 

 

Works Cited

Morrison, Toni. “Nobel Lecture.” The Nobel Prize. 7 Dec. 1993, www.nobelprize.org/prizes/literature/1993/morrison/lecture/.

Kaadzi , Rachel Ghansah. “The Radical Vision of Toni Morrison.” The New York Times Magazine, 4 Apr. 2015.

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A Room Of One’s Own: A Virginia Woolf Analysis

In A Room Of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf dissects a woman’s role in literature as writers, as well as fictional characters. Despite the belief that only male artists existed before her time, Woolf gave this speech to explain why she believed the truth was much more complex. 

Woolf begins by discussing how female characters are portrayed in fiction, as objects to be admired by the male protagonist yet never heard. Women have been romanticized as the subjects of countless stories and poems since the dawn of time. But off paper, the women who inspired these works of fiction were unseen slaves to their husbands who likely were not educated enough to read their writing. In the years preceding Woolf, women did not have access to education at the level their male peers did. With the exception of the upper-class, most women did not have the resources to reach their potential as female writers.

Woolf goes on to discuss the tragedy of being a female genius both in her time, and the Elizabethan era. Though these women were not published and praised like any male intellectual, these women did exist. Woolf believed that “this poet who never wrote a word and was buried at the crossroads still lives,” (11) despite never having a chance to have their work recognized. While many tend to believe there were very few female writers in the past, Woolf believed they existed in silence. They were denied a platform to have their works published and supported because it was considered taboo. 

In her description of Shakespeare’s fictional sister, Woolf truly illustrated the fate of so many talented women of past eras. While men were handed education, work, and respect of everyone around them, a woman could fight her whole life and never have the same results as her male cohorts. No matter what a woman wanted for herself, she was forced to become a child-bearing housewife for her husband by the age of 21. Any sign of retaliation could result in an act of violence that would further push her into solitude and oppression. Woolf wrote that this female writer or artist “lives in you and in me, and in many other women who are not here tonight, for they are washing up the dishes and putting the children to bed” (11). She acknowledged that while many female creatives were suffocated by men and society as a whole, these geniuses existed and wrote all about it.

 

Works cited

Woolf, Virginia; A Room of One’s Own. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc. 1929.

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