Sunday 23 September 2018

What Do We Do with the Art of Monstrous Men? (Claire Dederer)

Interesting article on what are we, as audience members and consumers of art and culture, supposed to do in the face of male creators who are monsters, i.e. have done or said something horrible that troubles our relationship to their art.

In her discussion of Manhattan (Woody Allen), Claire Dederer makes use of terms by Heidegger to unpack the character of Tracy, who is presented by Allen as "good and pure in a way that the grown women in the film never can be".

She writes:
"Heidegger has this notion of dasein and vorhandensein. Dasein means conscious presence, an entity aware of its own mortality—e.g., almost every character in every Woody Allen movie ever except Tracy. Vorhandensein, on the other hand, is a being that exists in itself; it just is—like an object, or an animal. Or Tracy. She’s glorious simply by being: inert, object-like, vorhandensein. Like the great movie stars of old, she’s a face, as Isaac so famously states in his litany of reasons to go on living: “Groucho Marx and Willie Mays; those incredible apples and pears by C├ęzanne; the crabs at Sam Wo’s; uh, Tracy’s face.” (Watching the film for the first time in decades, I was struck by how much Isaac’s list sounded like a Facebook gratitude post.)"

Dederer fails to mention Heidegger's affinity and membership of the Nazi party. How do we pick and choose? Perhaps this is a simple oversight on Dederer's part or perhaps her focus is on the ways in which male artists or thinkers have treated women, but why make such a distinction? Yet, if her point is that we can still take pleasure in these works, then this use of Heidegger is appropriate - but it could still have done with some self-reflexive comment. 

Asking the question, "What do I do about the monster? Do I have a responsibility either way? To turn away, or to overcome my biographical distaste and watch, or read, or listen?", I am reminded by Barthes's essay, The Death of the Author, but with a different spin put on it. 

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