Monday, January 21, 2013

Notes on The Celebrities (Die Berühmten) by Thomas Bernhard

Well in advance of pondering any questions of an interpretative nature, the reader is likely to be bedeviled by the matter of the temporal-cum-causal relation to one another of the play’s five dramatic episodes.   That the two prologues take place successively over the course of a single evening is clear from the fact that they both center on the anticipation of the arrival of the soprano, which happens only near the end of the second one.  That Scene I takes place at some months’ or years’ distance from the prologues is clear from its abundance of references to a long and still-ongoing series of opera performances featuring both the soprano and the bass (and possibly the conductor as well), its lack of references to the Bass’s thousandth Ochs, and the like.  That Scenes II and III take place after Scene I is implied by their practical adoption of the publisher’s conceit that “each of [the characters] can be described as a particular kind of animal.”  Beyond this, all is mere conjecture.  To be sure, it may seem obvious that the two prologues take place before Scene I because in the second prologue the Bass repeatedly seconds the Director’s deprec(i)ations of artistic couples, while in Scene I he is himself a member of such a couple (the other half of it being the soprano).  But the prolegomenal secondings may be mere hypocritical lip-service, and one must also somehow account for the highly nettlesome fact that the servants are present and quiescently attending to their duties throughout Scene I, despite having been apparently throttled to death at the end of the second prologue.  (Admittedly the original German [Weg mit den Zeugen {“Away with the witnesses”} as against my “Death to the witnesses”] leaves room –barely—for the possibility that the bass and the conductor do not actually intend to kill the servants, but I for one would be reluctant to continue working for somebody who had choked me even to the point of mere unconsciousness.)  Naturally one’s inner civic association book-group member would like to kick back, light up a spliff, and sententiously urge, “But surely, mohn, de temporal sequence of de plyeh is irrelevant, given daht so many tings daht could never happen in real life—people treating inanimate dummies like real people, one of dese inanimate dummies playing de piano, people’s heads being replaced by animals’ heads—happen in it.  Surely, mohn, one should just savor deh plyeh as a series of temporally mutually independent segments.”  Naturally, I say, one wants to do this, but one really can’t get away with it, because The Celebrities is too intensively preoccupied with temporally conditioned matters to profit from such a voiding of the temporal field on the part of the reader-spectator.  Again, I emphasize: Bernhard is no Beckett.  His artists are artists occupying a quite specific historical niche—namely, that of the third generation of performing artists of the twentieth century, the second one having consisted of the first great crop of artists to be electrically recorded and filmed in sound.  (It is surely no accident that all of Bernhard’s artists’ mentors had in real life some connection to the record or motion picture industry.)  And these third-generation artists are captured, so to speak, at a specific swathe (i.e., a collection of specific points) of the artistic lifespan—namely late youth through late middle age, a swathe at whose earlier border one’s native gifts (such as they are) begin to “pack up” (as the Bass puts it), and at whose later border one’s biological stamina begins to perceptibly to deteriorate.  This means that while of course the play’s non-naturalistic elements can only be interpreted in a non-naturalistic register, the upshot of this interpretation must be reintegrated into a naturalistic hermeneutic plane—that, for example, while the artists’ murdering of their three-dimensional mentors is of course a symbolic act, there presumably is a reason it occurs immediately after the bass’s one-hundredth singing of Ochs, not long after the death of the unnamed “prophet of doom,” and so on, and that the artists’ more equable attitude to their mentors in Scene I is somehow connected to the temporal distance of the events referred to in this scene from those referred to in the second prologue.  As I said, any more detailed temporal sequence than the one outlined above is mere conjecture, but for what it is worth, I believe that Scenes I through III take place perhaps a year or two after the Second Prologue; and that whereas at the time of the first two prologues, the coupledom of the Bass and the Soprano, while already extant, has yet to solidify, and the artists’ professional reputations have yet to reach their zeniths, by the time of Scenes I through III, the Bass and the Soprano are effectively married and the artists have all effectively eclipsed their mentors (or at least convinced themselves that they have done so).  And from this belief I derive the inference that the massacre of the dummies at the end of the second prologue is essentially a parricidal (yesyesyes: a.k.a. Oedipal) complement of the fratricidal dismemberment visited on the “prophet of doom” via the welter of anecdotage retailed by the artists throughout these first two episodes; that the artists’ depreciation of their mentors and former colleague is a necessary and effectual means of shoring up their own reputations.  I infer further that the artists’ retroversion to the panegyric mode in Scene I—as witnessed, for example, by the bass’s extolling of Richard Mayr as “The most significant Ochs / and the most significant bass of his time” and of Lotte Lehmann as “the greatest Marschallin of all time”—is an epiphenomenon of their newfound vocational complacency, that as they no longer feel threatened by their mentors they can resume praising them, but this time with the difference that they need no longer apostrophize them, need no longer address them as though they were present as potential interlocutors—whence the metamorphosis of the mentors from three-dimensional dummies at ground level to two-dimensional portraits suspended overhead along the wall.  “And yet curiously enough the title of this scene—‘The Perfidy of the Artists’—is identical to that of the First Prologue, which suggests that the praise is lavished on the mentors here no less hypocritically than it was there.”  No: rather, this correspondence indicates that the object of the artists’ perfidy has shifted from their deceased predecessors and peers to the living human society of which the artists form a part as active exponents of their métier.  When the artists were at the middle of the artistic-professional heap they betrayed the dead because the dead were in no position to resist them; now that they are at the top of that heap they betray the living because now the living are also in no position to resist them.  And whence does the artists’ newfound irresistibility by the living issue?  It issues from the economic and identitarian supremacy of culture in Austria and from the performing artist’s function as the cornerstone of Austria’s cultural institutions, from his indispensability to the show that must go on if Austria is to continue functioning as a political and geographical entity that the world recognizes as materially different from both Germany and Switzerland.  The Salzburg Festival is Austria’s flagship cultural institution, Der Rosenkavalier is the Salzburg Festival’s flagship opera, and Ochs is Der Rosenkavalier’s flagship character; hence, The Celebrities’s Bass, being the reigning Ochs, can shape the human geography of Salzburg to his fancy; he can “set in motion” the chancellor and president of the entire country like marionettes in order to prevent his view of a mountain from being spoiled by the erection of a skyscraper.  The Director execrates politicians as “gravediggers” and “plunderers” of the State, but the Bass’s tax-evading policy of always demanding three times as much as the going rate suggests that among the principal beneficiaries of the politicians’ rapine must figure the artists, whose ever-escalating guarantees cannot but eventually bleed the State treasury dry.  From representing the artists as virtual thieves it is an easy, if mildly gratuitous, transition (one abetted by the spectacle of rampant gluttony to which the reader-spectator has already been treated in the two prologues) to representing them as actual animals, whence their bestiarial “revelation” as an ox, a cock, a cat, and so on in the last two scenes.  All of this is of course quite in line with Bernhard’s interviewial animadversions on state-subsidized art in Austria, on the moral and artistic necessity for Austria’s cultural institutions to begin shifting for themselves.  But it would be a shame if The Celebrities had basically to be described as a play “about” the perfidiousness of cultural subsidies, if its metaphysical and moral orbit were really so parochial as the Kulturwelt of 1970s Austria, if it had nothing more to say than “The current crop of leading Austrian performing artists are a bunch of spoiled—albeit undeniably talented—brats.”  Thankably, an attentive reading reveals that there is much more to the play than that, although regrettably with the discovery of its greater breadth of applicability comes a discovery of its diminished aesthetic coherence.  The most obvious—if also the most trivial—of Die Berühmten’s generalemes is the internationality of certain of its living characters’ spheres of professional activity.  The Bass, we know, is an extraordinarily popular figure not only at the Salzburg festival but also at New York’s Metropolitan Opera, where at last count he has sung Ochs 130 times.  And the Conductor tells us that he has recording engagements in cities dispersed among three countries and two continents—Berlin, Paris, and Chicago.  And finally the Publisher says that he is bringing out a book by a Viennese-born American professor.  All this suggests that the damage wrought by the Austrian artists’ megalomania has not been confined to their home country.  To be sure, we hear nothing of the Bass’s subornation of Abe Beame in an attempt to block the construction of an office building that would mar his (the Bass’s) view of Central Park (and to be sure presumably not even Luciano Pavarotti would have succeeded at such an attempt), but we are doubtless safe in concluding that he has managed to make the lives of plenty of New Yorkers plenty miserable by throwing his formidable Ochsian weight around.  In its most suggestive register, the artists’ international habitus adumbrates a prescient (or preemptive) critique of the so-called winner take all cultural system of the 1990s and beyond, a system wherein the top performers in every highly publicized field of endeavor—from sports to film acting, to, yes, conducting and opera-singing—manage by dint of sheer visibility and mobility to void the field of all competitors and pocket the lion’s share of the budget of every project in which they are involved.  (Although I refuse to stoop to treating the play as pièce-à-clef, I cannot help noting that the Conductor’s itinerary is reminiscent of an early example of one of these all-taking winners, Georg Solti—the Grand Poobah of late twentieth-century studio opera recordings.)  And moving on to Number 2 in the deparochializing catalogue, we have the aforementioned declaration by the publisher that “Poetry is beyond the reach of the race of performers,” a declaration that suggests that the loutishness and mendaciousness of this particular passel of performing artists is not historically specific, that Toscanini, Lehmann et al., were every bit as borné and perfidious as their successor-assassins, merely in virtue of being performers of great works of art rather than producers or [if you insist and don’t mind  directing me to the nearest unseated toilet bowl] creators of such works.  Is Bernhard’s polemic then completely historically undirected or [again if you insist and &c.] timeless, such that the translator should seriously contemplate dropping the “the” from “of the artists” in three of his scene-headings, so that they refer to the “perfidy” and “revelation” of “artists” in general (a construction left construable by the original German, with its freer use of the definite article)?  Not necessarily, for if the publisher’s word is to be regarded as not only the last but also the definitive one it must be integratable into the balance of the play’s system of exemplification; it must jibe with everything the rest of the play implies about general phenomena based on the specific examples of those phenomena supplied by it.  In this case we need to look for examples of performers of yore behaving as perfidiously as those of the present, and such examples turn out to be quite scarce.  Indeed, I can locate only one: Emmanuel List, from whom the Bass claims to have learned his three-times-as-much-as-the-last-guy formula for arriving at a fee to request.  But List does not figure among the gallery of dummies, which suggests that he is not important enough to be regarded as an exemplum.  In point of unbudgeable fact, the dummy-gallery is so pithily eloquent a representation of the previous generation of performing artists that not even the most vivid of the play’s anecdotes centering on members of that generation (e.g.—or, perhaps, i.e.—the Bass’s on Toscanini’s hissy fit at the “art mill”) can compete with it; such that the only way Bernhard could have properly conveyed any sort of plus ça change-ist theme would have been by including a scene or set of scenes in which Toscanini, Lehmann, et al. (either again as dummies or this time as impersonated by living actors) squared off against their own set of dummified mentors (Hans Richter[?], Nellie Melba[?], et al.).  In the absence of such an offsquaring, The Celebrities cannot help suggesting that there is something especially rank and despicable about the present generation of performers and that “poetry” might just possibly have lain within snatching distance of certain members of the performing “race” of the early twentieth century.  But I cannot let the roulette wheel of The Celebrities’s thematic upshot rest here, for there is one more fillip to be administered to the parochial Stucksanschauung, and that fillip is to be provided by the figure of the artists’ deceased contemporary, the so-called prophet of doom, the conductor who had to take a gig in Buenos Aires because nobody in Europe would hire him.  This figure strikes me as a kind of dry run or prototype of Wertheimer in The Loser.  Like Wertheimer, he hailed from a prosperous family and while still very young found his professional niche as a successful performing artist.  Like Wertheimer, early in his professional life he encountered another exponent of his chosen métier (Toscanini the great conductor, an analogue to Gould the great pianist) whose technique he could not equal, and who consequently engendered in him an overwhelming sense of inadequacy that sent his career into a permanent tailspin.  And, finally, like Wertheimer he seems to have been vouchsafed by his professional failure a kind and degree of insight denied to his more successful colleagues.  Admittedly in his case the seeming is quite a bit less nearly certifiable as being than it is in Wertheimer’s, because unlike the narrator of The Loser, the Bass and the other artists are not failers in their own right and therefore take more pleasure in poking fun at their dead friend’s visible idiosyncrasies than in analyzing his psychology or personal ethos.  But the very honorific “prophet of doom” speaks volumes, specifically the dozens of slim octavo Suhrkamp codices filled with the jeremiadical ravings of Thomas Bernhard’s Geistesmenschen, among whom Wertheimer is certainly not the least distinguished.  The inclusion somewhere in the dialogue of the briefest smattering of a quotation of one of this Prophet of Doom’s prophecies would have sufficed to establish him as a proper Bernhardian Geistesmensch, and thereby greatly constrain the limits of the Publisher’s stricture on performing artists; in other words, to establish that as far as Bernhard is concerned involvement in the performing arts on its own need not render one incapable of appreciating or understanding poetry.  (It should perhaps be clarified that the Publisher, being a non-producer of poetry himself, would derive no sense of superiority from declaring that performing artists were incapable of producing poetry.  His stricture implies the following hierarchically couched pair of statements: “Those who cannot produce but can understand may quote and pontificate as I do.  Those who cannot even understand must make do with performing.”)  But as the play now stands, it leads us to infer—admittedly in the teeth of both the historical record and large portions of the remainder of the Bernhardian corpus (and despite the aforementioned confinement of its examples of artistic perfidy to the present generation of artists)–that the connection between performing and philistinism is more likely causal, tight, and essential than casual, loose, and contingent; that the very inclination to be a performer is at minimum a generally reliable indicator of the incliner’s incapacity to understand or enjoy the very works that he seeks to perform.  (Lest one imagine that such a sentiment is beyond the pale of plausibility, one should recall the case of David Garrick, the greatest Shakespearean actor of the eighteenth century, who first thought about reading the Bard’s works only after retiring from the stage.)  The Loser, by way of its narrator’s and Wertheimer’s geistesmenschial rants, inculcates the comparatively heartwarming lesson that an early setback as a performing artist can be the catalyst of a richer and more enlightened (albeit less pleasant) experience of the world.  The Celebrities, in default of any such rants from the prophet of doom, inculcates the thoroughly demoralizing lesson that an early setback as a performing artist may eventuate in unmerited professional success, gross material comfort, and a pigheaded (or, rather, ox-, cock-, cat-, &c. headed) lack of insight into anything but one’s own financial interest.  For we must remember that the Bass, like Wertheimer and the narrator in The Loser, had his own early demoralizing encounter with a superior talent, the conductor Josef Krips, and has nonetheless managed to develop into a fatuous, uncultivated, morally purblind megalomaniac (largely thanks, let it be said, to the timely intervention of the Prophet of Doom, who directly after the Bass’s Kripsian down-dressing consoled him by playing through Schubert’s Winterreise with him and telling him that he was “the ideal Ochs.”  Let it be said also that while these kind offices certainly raise one’s opinion of the moral worth of the Prophet of Doom, they do not on their own suffice to establish The Celebrities as a telethon hymn to artistic failure with the Prophet of Doom as its poster boy; for if the guy who finishes last is to serve as a norm, he must be shown not only to be nicer, but also to know more or better, than those who finish first.). But it gets even more demoralizing than this; for admixed with the Bass’s scads of platitudes and howlers are a goodly number of less orthodox sentiments that would not be out of place in the mouth of a Bernhardian Geistesmensch or even of Bernhard himself—and not always even in his “exaggeration artist” mode.  First there is his depreciation of the opera-producing scene as “an assembly line… a single colossal exercise in mass production,” a metaphor that is a sort of streamlined late-industrial version of Bernhard’s elaborate conceit, cobbled together during the 1984 Woodcutters interview, of the world of Viennese cultural production as a “culture mill” (a conceit that itself would appear to be a jaundiced anti-tribute to the Prophet of Doom’s “art mill,” a former actual timber mill converted into a rehearsal space).  Then, close on the heels of this metaphor, comes a full-fledged, not ungeistesmenschwürdig mini-rant on “Art in general,” which, the Bass says, “is nowadays nothing but a gigantic exploitation of society / and … has as little in common with art as musical notes have with banknotes,” such that “The great opera houses like the great theaters / are nowadays merely great banking houses / in which so-called artists amass gigantic fortunes.”  Here, not only the sentiment but the rhetoric is idiomatic, with the zeugmatic turn from “musical notes” to “banknotes” being especially characteristically Bernhardian. (Cf. “Watten’s” turn from “artist” in the default sense to “quick-change artist,” Concrete’s from “humane” to “canine” [or “dog-like,” David McLintock’s less pointed choice])  Equally characteristic in both registers is the Bass’s witty follow-up to the Publisher’s remark that “general managers of theater companies read only three or four books a year”: “the first two of these three books are the railway timetable and the land register” (If my urban Anglsopheric readers will substitute telephone book for land register, they will get a pretty good idea of the level of crassness the Bass is consigning the theater-company managers.)  But without a doubt the most undamning Bassism of all is his apotheosizing tribute to his grandfather, “whom,” he says, “I loved as I did no other human being / and who has remained the most important human being in my life,” from whom he claims to have acquired the superheroic power “to remove myself from the world,” not to mention “Talent / mathematics/ physics / geophysics / my entire nature.”  Here again the words dry run and prototype spring to mind, but this time the final product is so close to its predecessor that on second thought one is more inclined to term the prototype the final product and the final product an instance of self-plagiarism.  Anyone enthused enough about Bernhard to read these present notes treating of a fairly arcane corner of the Bernhardswelt is almost bound to be familiar with this quasi self-plagiaristic passage, as it hails from one of the most famous (and celebrated) of all texts in the Bernhardian corpus, Wittgenstein’s Nephew.  It is the passage in which Bernhard coins the famous (and celebrated) word Lebensmensch, or, in the English of the established translation,[1] life support, a coinage that he uses in order “to describe the person from whom I draw my strength—for I truly have no other source of strength—and to whom I have repeatedly owed my survival” (18), the “one person who has meant more to me than any other since the death of my grandfather, the woman who shares my life and to whom I have owed not just a great deal but, frankly, more or less everything, since she first appeared at my side over thirty years ago” (ibid).  This is one of those infrequent but decisive passages in Bernhard wherein the vituperative monologist knowingly and without a trace of embarrassment lets his guard down to show us not so much what he really cares about as what he believes nobody can help caring about.  (Other such passages include the one in Concrete in which Rudolf lingers over the evocative smell of his mother’s coats in her closet, in Old Masters in which Reger laments the old masters’ unfailing knack for “letting us down when we need them the most,” and in Woodcutters in which the narrator warmly extols the Burgtheater actor’s atypically incisive tableside speech).  Here, that ineluctably care-exacting thing is our dependence, no matter how misanthropic by temperament we may be, on at least one other human being, the Lebensmensch.  And here although the referent of the first of these Lebensmenschen to be mentioned is obviously a woman, it is abundantly clear from the context that the superlatives Bernhard applies to her originally applied to his grandfather: “Until thirty years ago,” he implies, “I owed not just a great deal, but more or less everything, to my grandfather, and only since then have I owed not just a great deal, &c. to this woman [i.e., Hedwig Stavianicek, whom Bernhard had the good fortune to meet right after his grandfather’s death].”  Naturally, one’s inner AP English teacher can come up with any number of Occam’s razor-defenestrating cases for not making too much of the parallel between the two avicentric eulogies: she can, for instance, point out that in 1976 Bernhard could not have known that he would have occasion to praise his grandfather some six years later; or that there is obviously a difference between sincere praise and hypocritical praise, and that the amply demonstrated phoniness of the Bass’s enthusiasm for literature (“Gundi supplies me with all the heavyweight stuff [e.g., the “must-read author” Proust]) makes it eye-burstingly clear that his enthusiasm for his grandfather is equally sham.  But I prefer to think that Bernhard knew exactly what he was doing in putting sentiments so near to his (eventually) avowed own into the Bass’s mouth.  By 1976, you see, Bernhard had already published the first two volumes of his memoirs, in which, though Bernhard’s grandfather is not explicitly termed a Lebensmensch, he does figure as a much beloved and revered personage.  If Bernhard had meant to dissociate himself from the Bass’s Lebensmenschernennungerei, he doubtless would have made the person to whom the Bass claims to owe his entire nature some other sort of relation—a mother, an uncle, a second cousin three times removed; really any kin-type but a grandmother (as Bernhard’s maternal one figures as a kind of vice-Lebensmensch in the memoirs) would have done.  “Surely you’re not saying that Bernhard is effectively saying something so unregenerately, irredeemably crude as Le Bass, c’est moi.”  Indeed I am, barring the irredeemably bit.  I descry the ghost of redeemability in the Bass qua Bernhard self-portrait firstly because for all the bad-mouthing of  I have done of him so far, I don’t think the Bass is quite as awful as all that.  Yes, he is a glutton and a megalomaniac, but as I have already shown, he is also not without wit; and as for his philistinism: it is at least superior to that of the most despicable of Bernhard’s cultural ignoramuses—for example, Extinction’s Ma and Pa Saurau, one of whom has never heard of Kafka, and the other of whom would (at least so his son conjectures) rather see Kant executed than a prize pig slaughtered.  At least the Bass is going through the motions of keeping up with serious literature; at least he can be bothered on the cultural front to pay the hypocrite’s tribute to virtue.  It would appear that one is entitled to say of the Bass, as of the the Aeuersbergs, the husband-and-wife hosts of the “artistic dinner” party in Woodcutters, that though he may be one of “the worst kind of people,” at least he isn’t one of “the very worst.”  Secondly, I recall that Bernhard himself studied to become both a singer and an actor, that his record collection consisted almost entirely of recordings of standard-repertory nineteenth-century works, that he claimed that “nobody reads less than I do,” and that at his main residence, the farmhouse at Ohlsdorf, there were a dozen or so pairs of shoes for every book.  Naturally (naturgemäß), I do not wish to make too much of these biographemes, to copy in crude obverse the error of the model AP English essay writer (see the appendix of the early 1980s edition of Perrine’s Poetry: Structure, Sound, and Sense if you think I am making this up) who maintained that the concluding sentiment of Philip Larkin’s “A Study of Reading Habits”—to wit, “Books are a load of crap”—could not have been the author’s on the evidence that Larkin was a librarian.  Naturally, I do not believe that Bernhard wants us positively to love the Bass just because he has a handful of things—albeit fairly hefty things—in common with himself; naturally I do believe that the intentional thrust of the Bass’s characterization, as well as of The Celebrities as a whole, is basically satiric.  But I believe that one of the principal targets of this satire is Bernhard himself.  In a way, one should not be surprised or disconcerted to discover this, for few of Bernhard’s prose texts are free of self-satirizing moments, moments in which the narrating “I’”s seeming monomania on some highfalutin topic like music or metaphysics yields pride of place to a preoccupation with some ridiculously or even contemptibly trivial gewgaw like a rubber sausage or a mechanism for more speedily donning and removing one’s shoes.  Such moments are basically thematic counterweights to the eulogistic outbursts discussed above, and inasmuch as The Celebrities contains outbursts of this sort we must expect it to contain outbursts of the counterweighing sort.  But in the prose texts, the ridiculed figures are Geistesmenschen, figures who by default emanate an aura of heroic intellectual vitality from which the satirical episodes detract only to the extent of preventing us from virtually deifying the monologist (or, rather, one might cynically argue, preventing us from chucking the book aside in an access of incredulity in face of such untarnished brilliance); whereas the Bass in The Celebrities accosts us by default as a kind of Ungeistesmensch, a purveyor of intellectual rubbish, a veritable engine of fatuity, a man unaccustomed to talking accountably about anything, such that in his hands (or lungs) the elegiac and trivial modes alike come across as but standard-selection flavors of his favored medium of bullshit.  To encapsulate the distinction in psychological terms: the Geistesmenschen when they rave about their grandfathers or their shoe-buckling mechanisms are genuinely and thoroughly worked up about these things, and the fact that they are so indicates on the one hand a capacity for empathy (or some other universally lauded “human” quality), and on the other a clinically presentable form of barminess; whereas the Bass, the Ur-ungeistesmensch, when he raves about his grandfather or the absent countess’s salmon sandwiches is only half-heartedly worked up about these things, just as he is only half-heartedly worked up about the “artistic assembly line” or the unletteredness of the general managers of theaters—sure, he cares about them, but more as occasions for attitudinizing than as things-in-themselves—and the fact that he is so indicates on one and only one hand a kind of middling deficiency in the universally lauded “human” qualities along with a clinically presentable form of well-adjustedness.  “So then at arse, you’re saying that the Bass is nothing more or less praiseworthy or reprehensible than a normal bloke?”  At arse, yes, I am, though I would perhaps refine the designation a bit and call him “a normal bloke with dominant assholish traits and recessive nice-guyish ones.” “Hmm.  Doesn’t sound like very promising material for the excoriating hyper-Juvenalian sort of satire we expect from Bernhard.”  Indeed it (or he) doesn’t, and in the end I don’t think this is the sort of satire The Celebrities delivers up.  The Juvenalian mode of satire, after all, requires a rigorous and steadfast adherence to a belief in extremes—in a monstrous horde of extreme vices pitted against a unimanually itemizable cadre or cabal of extreme virtues.  The Celebrities, by both qualifying the viciousness of its exempla’s vices and counterpoising them with selected virtues (whose virtuousness is complementarily qualified), tends to level the moral landscape into something more nearly resembling a plateau, and hence ultimately cannot be adjudged anything more acerbic than a Horatian satire.  “So, then, what are we to make of such undeniably extreme elements as the dummicidal rampage and all the Animal Farm-alia—and of the more timeless themes to which you said they pointed?”  I am afraid they must be regarded as Juvenalian excrescences inamenable to harmonization with the play’s Horatian tenor (not to be confused with the Wagnerian Tenor of the play’s dramatis personae).   “And when we pare these excrescences away what are we left with?” I don’t know: you tell me.  “Well, perhaps some late twentieth-century Austrian analogue to [gulp] one of the lighter Woody Allen movies of the same microepoch?”  What’s with the gulp?  Is it really such a crime to have penned the script of an Austrian Manhattan or Hannah and Her Sisters?  Certainly the worst of middle-period Woody Allen is far superior to the best of what the present generation of TV, movie, and theater critics extol as serious drama, and I for one would much rather see the genuine foibles and folkways of top-flight musicians and actors gently pilloried than to see the authorially fabricated canting pseudo-philosophy of bottom-flight junkies, pimps, and prostitutes reverently fellated; and as for the Juvenalian bits: I can much better brook the bestialization of full-fledged human beings than the canonization of virtual animals.  





[1] Again by David McLintock, though here, unlike vis-à-vis Concrete’s “dog-like,” I think his rendition superior to the only imaginable alternative, “life person.

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