How To Complete

It’s the topic of every Woody Allen movie since Take The Money And Run – very possibly, the topic of his career – and lest anyone think Woody is no good for anything, maybe it’s the topic of the age, as well. Uniquely (I believe), it’s the acknowledged topic of many comic books written by Steve Gerber…although I can’t tell if Steve is just heavily influenced by Woody Allen, or if both Steve and Woody are influenced by the same larger weave of time and culture. I think maybe it’s mostly the latter, with just the tiniest hit of the former (or maybe it was Mad magazine instead) dropped in for seasoning. But let’s not get bogged down so soon, anyway. This isn’t a post about Woody or Steve [edit: actually it kind of is], it’s a post about How To Complete.


And, say, now that we’re on the subject: how do you complete? Still living in what will one day be the big black psychogeological stratum of cultural alienation, it must be a pretty big question for all of us fossils-to-be…but, if the twentieth century’s taught us anything, it’s taught us this: you complete by making up your own ending.

Hmm. Too bad most people suck at that.

Let’s revisit Annie Hall, my favourite Woody Allen movie, and the second one I saw in the theatres. At the end of it all, Woody gives away one of the more obvious magician’s tricks of romantic comedy: that all the tearjerker love-conquers-all climaxes aren’t faked merely from ideas of what would make a good story, but from impossible and unconvincing mental re-edits of the breakdowns of real relationships that the writer’s already gone through in real life. For every stirring speech, a girl who was already sick of your shit before you opened your mouth to say it…for every set of swelling strings, the mistaken belief that you should have two more vodkas before wading into the melee to confess your strangling secret. Not just one. Two.

Personally, I think one could write a pretty good paper on how Hollywood’s romantic comedies have instilled this value in us: that an ultimate reconciliation can only be accomplished by an ultimate rhetoric of love. Of course no one ever had this “ultimate” rhetoric available when they needed it, and it wouldn’t work ultimately anyway; even the most embarrassingly well-written love letter only buys you, typically, one more chance. And it’s kind of weird, if you think about it…the idea seems to be that love is a little bit like Texas Tea: you have to convince it to come up out of the ground before you can do what you want with it, though it’s still oil either way, wherever it is. But just to have the actual feeling isn’t enough, apparently…

But oh well. Digression: the favourite tool of the bad essay-writer. Let’s get back to the point. Said point being, that generally speaking people aren’t up to producing good completions on the spur of the moment (that’s why you sometimes believe you need that extra vodka, natch)…I mean God used to be pretty good at providing that sort of thing back in the old days, but of course he’s dead now, right? You knew that, right? Anyway…in his absence, “how to complete” is a question essentially no different from “how to invent”, and for us people in these times they’re both pretty tough. In my very first blog post, way back when, I alluded to the insurmountable, tyrannical insincerity of “forced closure” in any story, essay, letter, or stand-up comedy routine…unfortunately these days we also have to cope with the tyrannical insincerity of a deliberately busted-up non-closure, which is just as tough if not twice as tough. Because, I mean, if you botch something on purpose, is it really botched? Or, is it really on purpose? More importantly, can it ever be not botched, and not on purpose? Such are the vicious shagfoal that chase aspiring contemporary novelists around from bad relationship to bad relationship, these days. Of course the thing can be accomplished with much greater ease in comic books, as I think I’ve mentioned, because comics (at least, superhero comics, gah) have an inbuilt facility for handling infinitely-deferred narrative expectations, and in a way they satisfy just to the degree that they fail to satisfy…an ability of theirs that might be explored a bit better these days, but isn’t…but outside of comics it’s much tougher than that. Because, what else do we expect from our narratives, except that they don’t end falsely, but then don’t end dissatisfyingly either? Outside of comics, that’s a paradox and a half. And no mistake. Fnarr. Yoink! Bleccch. Etc.

Hey, you know what I should do?

I should make this the closing Defenders post.

I mean, I’m still waiting on Ed’s Headmen/Nebulon essay, and there are still perhaps a couple of outstanding bits of the Gerberverse that haven’t been examined…but then again, all these entries have been posted pretty much out of chronological order anyway, haven’t they? With, as you’ll notice on the SSoS sidebar I’ve so handily provided to your right, summary titles that mostly imply endlessly frustrated closing-off and finishing movements anyway. “The Final Disconnect” stands for an essay entitled “The End Of Omega”…wow! “Goodbye To All That” (and even though it’s one of mine, I assure you this similarity wasn’t planned) stands for an essay called “There Could Be Survivors”…jeepers! And, well, just look down the list, they aren’t all like that, but they’re not all not like that, either. And so many endings, that are non-endings, must mean that there’s a lot which is out of order, mustn’t it? So, why not the real concluding post, too? Ed can come along and drop in the pentagonal bit which forms the top of the igloo later, which after all (appropriately enough) is the actual climax of Gerber’s Defenders run…

Yes. Yes. You know, I think I like this idea. So it’s decided, then: let this be the post I was going to call Seven Soldiers of Steve Number Zero Number One, and why not? After all, if the Pedestrian Prognosticator fits…

Okay, we were someplace…


How to Complete. Always a problem, and not only that but a problem with a familiar name: freedom. Which comes complete (if you’ll pardon the pun) with its own annoying secondary characteristic, that is knowledge, or perhaps more precisely it’s the varying degrees of knowledge’s availability, utility, and reliability. The varying types and kinds of the failure of knowledge, if you like. Promises sadly broken, or pitifully kept…truths too complicated to articulate, or too simple to even realize.

Woody’s take on the matter is interesting. Knowing (as he always says) that he lacks the genius of a Bergman, for him the question of how ethical the stuff is that we’re left with, after our conclusion-making power collapses, is a question that infects the artistic endeavour too — because his own Seventh Seals usually end up resting on a foundation of slapstick anyway, and he knows it. Without the big transcendent Eureka moments that genius might have provided to him, even the problematic condition of a life lived without any God in it — or local equivalent thereof — is something he can only muse over so much before he runs out of wisecracks. And then…well, what then? I’ve argued before that one of the great acrobatic tricks a filmmaker has at his or her disposal is the embedding of grace into their picture, that purely local and temporary sign of divine presence that arises out of coincidence alone, definitively non-miraculous…but in Woody’s hands, you see, the use of grace in a movie isn’t actually graceful: he tells us right up front that it’s merely an expression of authorial fumbling. As it must be, if one lacks the genius of a Bergman and so forth and so on.

Well, at least he’s honest: he doesn’t know How To Complete, so he doesn’t.

Which is what makes him so interesting: because the grace of genius being absent, the only tool he’s left with, that he can craft Big Meaning out of, is the reflexion of his irrepressible humour, and its occasionally-satiric irony. And this isn’t genius either, I guess: but it’s funny. And doesn’t “funny” cover a multitude of sins? Isn’t “funny” a kind of grace, in itself? Hmm…I don’t know. I guess it kind of is, and then again at the same time it kind of isn’t. I mean here on one hand, humour’s too much a human value to be so elevated as all that: you can’t really expect it to have the air of the angels, because so often it’s coarse, or broad, just like us, and it looks more into the mirror (the bathroom mirror, even) than it looks out into the sky. In Deconstructing Harry, for example, Woody doesn’t cavil at slipping in department-store elevator announcements as he descends into hell (“Seventh Circle: Oathbreakers, Ladies’ Lingerie…”), and from our lofty contemporary vantage this might seem a quaint, shabby, and cosmologically-purposeless sort of humour…as quaint as Gerber arranging a confrontation between Howard and Oprah in the MAX HTD series. Oh, making fun of Oprah, how tired that is, people said when they saw it. Why, that nail was pounded in ages ago. Yawn.

But, “hmm” again…one also detects in this attitude a certain unwillingness to let humour really be humour, or satire really satire, don’t you think? One detects, inevitably, the urge to make humour’s usual target — i.e., the obvious — untouchable, as a sort of inverse sacred cow of blase-ness. But of course humour isn’t made funny or unfunny just because elites consider its subject to be old hat, and so maybe here it’s time to switch over to the other hand, the hand holding humour out as, yes, both purposeful and enlightening, just as coarse or broad as it is: and let’s have no accusations of quaintness coming from the frogs-in-saucepans crowd, particularly when the joke’s really on them. You know? Because consider, for example, how Howard responds to Oprah’s insistent question “what do you believe in?”

HOWARD: Deep down? That people are no damn good.

Call that quaint, if you can.

You see, God can express himself locally and non-miraculously in humour, too. It’s just that that expression isn’t called “grace”. It’s called the punchline

And so having made (I hope) just a little bit of a point, let me now move on to briefly summarize what you already know, if you’re one of those unlucky few who’ve gone over and under and around and through this little Gerberversal survey of mine: that we choose our own stories through associating ourselves into strange communities, in effect “choosing again” out of our origins…and thus we reside in a paradoxical wobble between future and past, self and other, male and female, authentic and inauthentic…and all on the margins of everything, never fully outside, and never fully inside. But, that’s just what it is to be a human being, right? That’s just where the meanings of human stories truly reside. The cosmic purposes we imagine for ourselves emanate from the centre of the world, compelling and directing, making the order of things natural and clear…ah, but then again what’s “clear”, when none of us are at the centre, none of us are of the centre? And when not even the gods are immune from Necessity, not even the gods can be immune from Absurdity, either…which only goes to show that the puncturing effect of humour, beginning at the margins, affects everything (as it were) from the outside in. And so that’s the real origin of the universe, I guess: the place that is “no”-place, like the team that’s a non-team, the family that’s an un-family, is revealed as having been the real “centre” of things after all, the whole time, but of course this particular knowledge doesn’t do anything but deliver unwanted freedom to the realizer anyway, so what odds, brown cow, now? Eh? Can you tell me that? Three hundred years ago, Thomas Browne said that God is a circle whose centre is everywhere but whose circumference is nowhere, and that’s a nice thought, but it seems rather more believable today to reverse him, and say that the circumference is everywhere, but the centre nowhere. Well, don’t you think?

Clarity. I suppose it’s something that’d be nice to have. Well, even in this essay. But just like Stephen Leacock’s lake trout, you have to find it, first…and then you’re all right, of course, but first you have to find it…


He’s talking about whiskey, people!

He wrote that story during Prohibition!

And, here’s the punchline, he’d gotten a waiver from the government of Canada that allowed him to keep and serve alcohol in his home outside of Orillia…and the folks in the town resented the hell out of him for it!


…And where you find it, that’s just where you have to take it. Of course it’s not much thought-of these days, but in the Seventies the comics-publishing world came with a lot of funny strictures (and perhaps today we would even consider them quaint), that artists and writers regularly had to work around, if not exactly with. This was a whole other country, then, from the one we live in now. And I’m not talking about the Comics Code Authority. I’m talking about the genre of superhero comics being actually very much more closely identifiable, at that time, with the medium of comics itself. Not that you didn’t have Tintins and Freak Brothers, or even Peanuts and Broom Hildas and Mads — even Heavy Metals — because you did. Don’t get me wrong. And not even that people just mistakenly lumped the idea of “comics” together with the idea of “superheroes”, because they did that too…but the funny difference in those days, as I understand it, is that certain types of serialized comic-book narratives, that we can now easily and comfortably set off from “superheroes” in our minds, were functionally incapable of being separated in the slightest degree from the superhero books and the superhero publishers. All the stuff that you, perhaps, as a young writer, can today see yourself writing for Vertigo and possibly selling to goth girls in college…that stuff would all have had to be crammed into a Spider-Man comic, once upon a time. You would’ve had to make it about Spider-Man, to make it at all. You would have needed four pages of fight. Sure, maybe in the Vertigo story of your imagination, you wouldn’t need to harp on superpowers as such, or costumes as such, or on superpowers or costumes at all, instead being able to drill down immediately to the symbolic stratum hidden underneath the layers of supervillainy and long underwear…

But back then, there wasn’t any Vertigo. Hell, there wasn’t yet any Epic! And to twist the superhero format around into something you could use as a vehicle for your “real” stories…wow, what a lot of effort that must have taken. Wanna write Ulysses? Fine: just make sure it’s all in haiku form…

I guess today that doesn’t sound like much, because the Door To Relevance has been wide open for ages now (because it was kicked open!), with the result that in 2007 a writer can do any amount of straight-up SF or crime or fantasy storytelling, or indeed whatever they wish, without needing a special imprint to justify their departure from “pure” superheroics. Heck, the mainstream superheroic formula isn’t even seen as particularly constrictive, anymore: lots of people even choose to tell their story using superheroes, when there’s not even anything forcing them to! And, isn’t that wild? But how much wilder does it look from the other side: when once upon a time it was necessary for us to cut away from James-Michael Starling, so that Omega could fight the Hulk.

And how much wilder even than that, when you realize those fight scenes couldn’t just be pasted into, but had to be skilfully made part of, the story. You see there’s a big, big deal here, that we must be careful not to overlook: these were, in fact, superhero stories. They were in, genuinely in, their genre: plotted that way, written that way, drawn inked and lettered that way. They weren’t really something else, gesturing at one type of action while secretly aiming at another: the action they gestured at was what they hit, because they were what they were, and the action was indeed part of the point. And I don’t think I can overemphasize this, not in 2007 when even the best superhero story seems bound to be (at least in part) nostalgically-motivated, and trickily self-referential. Yes, we might as well admit it: rare is the cape-and-tights story these days that doesn’t seem to feel itself too good for its genre classification. Which is fine, of course; I mean, who cares if it doesn’t? A story’s a story, and all it has to do is be good; it’s a big world, and there’s plenty of room for difference in it. Nevertheless, it does bear remembering that difference is difference: and genre fiction that commits to its typical motifs and set-pieces, even while at the same time pushing their limits, has a different aim than fiction that treats these elements in a desultory way on its road to other achievements. It’s just a different kind of storytelling, plain and simple, so its typical creative challenges (and, most importantly, solutions!) are different, too.

Which brings us back to Omega, whose super-fights reward examination because they’re a particular amplification of Gerber’s general technique: seemingly desultory, but actually integral, without their dreamy coldness and silence the story of James-Michael Starling would perhaps be far less worth reading as it stands…would probably have to be re-thought from scratch. Well, we find another variety of this amplification, this strangely integral superhero-pantomime, in Man-Thing and Howard The Duck too: where even though the monsters are monsters of absurdity, they can still kill you, and you still need to fight them.

And if there’s a word for what this isn’t, it’s arch. Just as Howard’s confrontation with Oprah isn’t arch, and neither are the floor announcements on Woody’s elevator ride to Hell. Because Gerber’s commitment to the values of his genre, just as Woody’s commitment to the values of his authorial perspective — these values that may occasionally, to those audience members not already in love with them, seem perhaps a little slight, or even sometimes old-fashioned — has necessitated a certain kind of approach to material, that more late-coming authors can’t duplicate. Because they didn’t grow up in the constrained compositional space of mainstream Seventies comic books? Yes, exactly; that’s exactly what I’m saying, exactly.

Even in satire, the difference is plain to see, as witness the example of Pseudo-Man, outlined neatly for us by Sean Kleefeld in the link right over there called “Epilogue Part One”…

Go ahead, click on it…that’s what I put it there for…

Notice anything?

You know, it really ought to go without saying that to have a satire you must have 1) something to make fun of, and 2) a plan for making fun of it. Because it isn’t all just simply in the indication, obviously: hey, this ain’t The Flower Sermon, this is GENOCIIIIIIIIIIIIDE…!

Okay, it’s not “genocide” — what does that mean, anyway, damn it — but what I’m trying to say is, jokes are founded on the interpretation of obvious things, not on obviousness itself. Humour is human, remember: it may be enlightening, but it’s not Enlightenment, so jokes have to be thought up, and told. And everybody tells ’em a different way. Gerber’s jokes happen to be steeped in, as I said, his particular approach to material, which is to say they don’t just use superheroic motifs as a convenient vehicle, but they are really founded in those motifs’ ability to exemplify. Self-centredness doesn’t just become a superpower, Ego-Man becomes a secret identity, complete with a costume featuring a big “E” on the chest. That sort of thing. Oh yes, folks, there’s no doubt about it, this is Your Father’s Chevrolet: don’t you know subtlety left Chicago an hour ago?

Which is to say…

Of course Gerber is perfectly capable of being subtle. And a cursory look ’round at his career will tell you that he’s not bound against his will to the devices of superheroics. But those things are not this thing, and it’s not them, and sometimes humour is best used as a hammer, and not as a scalpel, you know? I mean, scalpels have their uses, but you can’t whack spikes in with them, can you? So sometimes humour is broad, or low, and thank goodness for that…

Well, and genre fiction is also “low”, for that matter (although don’t say that to Raymond Chandler, he’ll tear a strip off you), and so we come back to it: a committed genre stylist uses its tropes for themselves, as much as for other things. Proof: none of Gerber’s superhero fight scenes, whether in The Defenders, She-Hulk, Omega, or Howard The Duck (with one notable, and superb, exception), is ever anything but important, even central…even though most of his fight scenes are among the most subversive you’ll ever see. And there are piles and piles of more newly-minted artists whose superhero satire I enjoy quite a bit, but…they can’t do what Gerber does. Because they never had to learn how!

And I think there’s a reason, after all, why the creator-owned explosion of the Eighties seems to our youthfully ignorant eyes inexplicably mired in the wish to create only one’s own new Superman, one’s own new Spider-Man…I mean, I thought all these people wanted to be free, for heaven’s sake! Didn’t they?

(He said, leafing ironically through a copy of Invincible…)

Well, they did, actually. But they didn’t necessarily need to be free from the superheroes. Sure, probably a couple of them, that might’ve been all they were really cut out to make, but I’ll argue that most of them were perfectly capable of making some really different stuff.

However — I speak generally here — hadn’t they all just finished cramming the superheroes full of envelope-pushing relevance? Hadn’t they just taken Stan, Jack, and Steve’s revolutionary reimagining of the superheroes, and revolutionarily reimagined it yet again? So why shouldn’t they keep on going with the revolution, and find out where it might end up next?

And how unfortunate it is, at least in a way, that it didn’t happen!

Sorry: ranting a bit. But I often think people just don’t fully appreciate that at one point Steve Gerber was writing Omega The Unknown and Howard The Duck, and they were both in official Marvel continuity…!

Not the country we come from, no. Like, at all.

It’s too bad, really.

But now back, finally, to The Defenders, the World’s Longest Graphic Novel, the book of Marvel marginalia that revealed that that’s where Marvel kept its soul: out on the edges of things. And, well, it was all edge, really, so where else could the thing have been kept? Where else was there, for the protagonistic voice to develop and be tested, and see, and discover a reason for acting

And, begin to grapple honestly, with a challenging freedom?

That’s the sort of activity that you can never really get done with, of course. Not once you start. Completion is apparently sold separately, and even God and the Devil are still waiting on the delivery of that item. As we know: because Howard met the one, and Harry met the other, and they were both suffering from that problem.

As all writers do, I guess.


Well, thanks for reading along, folks; and especially thanks to those who contributed their golden insights to this sometimes leaden cathedral of blogging ambition.  Me, I’ve enjoyed this process immensely, although who knew it would take so long? I ask you, who knew? Of course we’re not yet at the very end — we may never get there, I sometimes think — but at least we have something like a conclusion now, and I guess that ain’t hay.

So at this point, allow me to re-direct you to the HTD MAX series, where I intend to go and consume some brandy and cigars. Join me in re-reading it, won’t you? Tomorrow there’ll be time enough to start collecting Hard Time TPBs and new issues of Dr. Fate, I’m sure…

And may your Eye Of Agamotto never lose its flavour on the bedpost overnight.


13 responses to “How To Complete

  1. Hollywood’s romantic comedies have instilled this value in us: that an ultimate reconciliation can only be accomplished by an ultimate rhetoric of love.

    I know exactly what you mean. But this is ‘grace’ itself, right? A subset of grace, called ‘true love’, which manifests itself by having whatever unfortunate female character the male character’s eye lights on fall as deeply in love with him as he thinks he is with her. Although, of course, being a woman, she’s too dumb to realize it until he finds the right way to tell her. Anyway, the interesting example here is Say Anything, which, I am reliably informed, contains the Most Romantic Scene Of All Time for women of a certain generation… and it’s completely rhetoric-free! It’s completely inarticulate (which may be one reason why it goes over so well). None of which changes your point.

    but in Woody’s hands, you see, the use of grace in a movie isn’t actually graceful: he tells us right up front that it’s merely an expression of authorial fumbling. As it must be, if one lacks the genius of a Bergman and so forth and so on.

    So does this mean that Aaron Sorkin is the anti-Woody Allen?

    Isn’t “funny” a kind of grace, in itself?

    Well, one thing it is, is hard. It’s not quite a superpower, but almost… it’s like martial arts, I guess. You have to be really good at it to get it to work even semi-reliably. Which is why it covers a multitude of sins. So Woody Allen is being a little disingenuous here: he must know he’s funny, and therefore he must know that he’s already halfway home even before he starts the movie. Authorial fumbling, my eye; it’s just his style, that’s all. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

    Yes, we might as well admit it: rare is the cape-and-tights story these days that doesn’t seem to feel itself too good for its genre classification. Which is fine, of course; I mean, who cares if it doesn’t? A story’s a story, and all it has to do is be good; it’s a big world, and there’s plenty of room for difference in it. Nevertheless, it does bear remembering that difference is difference: and genre fiction that commits to its typical motifs and set-pieces, even while at the same time pushing their limits, has a different aim than fiction that treats these elements in a desultory way on its road to other achievements.

    Dude, you should totally be reading Blue Beetle. It’s sad how many times I find myself saying it these days, but it’s true. It’s completely unapologetic and undiluted superheroics and it’s as good as anyone could ask for.

  2. I spent so much time urgently nodding my head in frenzied agreement as I read this that I failed to think of anything more to add! No sooner had I thought “ah, wait, I’ve just spotted a loophole in his argument” than you addressed that very loophole and filled it neatly. Great fun to read but a bit rough on the whole “audience participation” side of things.

    The only thing I’d want to emphasize — because you did mention it, but didn’t shine a spotlight on it — is the nature of Howard’s meeting with God in the HTD MAX series. From reading so much Gerber in the past, we could have been prepared for Howard to meet an inadequate God, or a satirical God…even a hapless, disillusioned God who shared Howard’s dismay at how his creation has turned out. Or Gerber could have pulled an Animal Man on us and written himself in as Howard’s demiurge, and that wouldn’t have seemed unexpected.

    What we got instead was unexpected, and all the more touching for it: a Supreme Being who is kind, ethical, compassionate, and sincere, offering Howard and the reader something very much like valid spiritual advice. Instead of an Animal Man riff, Gerber gave us a Promethea moment. Unlike the stories we explored in your trans-blog epic series, this one does have a payoff.

  3. Matthew: Aaron Sorkin is ABSOLUTELY the anti-Woody, my God that’s IT!!

    Also…hmm, interesting point about Say Anything…although I’m tempted to say that in this case the rhetoric of love is boiled down to near-numerical precision: to a mere rhetorical pose, that doesn’t even need its own magic verbal formula. In fact if you don’t already know the song, then the words really just slip by you, rendering their content moot.

    Something to think about, definitely!

    RAB: Yes, it does, doesn’t it? You get an interesting revenge on me here: I can’t think of anything to add to your excellent comment except “you said it!” One of my favourite Gerber moments ever, and a real relief when it hit me: oh, here’s a guy who cares about his story’s ending as much as I do, thank goodness! I get a little present to take away with me!

  4. I wonder if Allen and Gerber share a belief that they are incapable of greatness. (Not that I necessarily share this opinion, you understand, just opening up the idea.) When Allen deconstructs his Casablanca departure scene, I always saw it as a lack of self-confidence. He doesn’t believe he can move us in the way the greats can do, so he deflates it. When it comes to the huge, emotionally-rending set pieces, both Allen and Gerber duck out. Please excuse the pun.

    Sometimes, the words Gerber gives to Howard – your Oprah example being a very good one – are seemingly there with the explicit intention of having us feel less about the character. Like we mustn’t see Howard as a hero (once he deliberately walked away from a fight, just because it was too silly), because then Gerber would have to build a much more epic story around him. If so, this would be a pity, because Howard, like it or not, is an epic character.

    I think of Steely Dan’s songs similarly. Everytime they threaten to turn into classics Fagan and Becker get all ironic and detached. No Montagues and Capulets for them.

  5. Hmm…that hadn’t occurred to me, but…

    I think you may be on to something there. Not only because Woody says himself that he isn’t great, and that as a filmmaker he’s changed nothing and made no impact (!), but because diffidence is so obviously the demon of his protagonists. Oh God, once you think about it it’s really obvious, isn’t it? It’s deliberate. Has to be. I mean, suddenly we have Zelig, right? Just to cement the whole thing. And then more of the “voiceover” movies in which Woody moves himself out of the spotlight to become a supportive or explanatory voice…

    Good Lord. I’m an idiot. It’s all right there.

    Must think on it more!

    Not sure about Steve, yet, though…

  6. Plok

    I’ve been having a further think. Gerber’s greatest character was taken from him at his point of maximum creativity, and that makes judging his work a tricky business. But, on reflection, I don’t think he suffers from a lack of intellectual self-confidence in the way Woody Allen does.

    What Gerber does sometimes show is anti-intellectualism – witness Howard’s reaction when Bev accuses him of being an intellectual. This is a well-established American tradition. Like Bob Dylan’s ridiculous “your useless and pointless knowledge” on the same album he namechecks Ezra Pound and TS Eliot. This may be some post-Hemingway hangover (a writer whose attractions I cannot begin to fathom), or maybe even a (Woody Guthrie?) socialist one – this idea that the working classes possess superior virtue to the effete, morally-compromises middle classes.

    Not that Gerber isn’t intelligent. Far from it. It just feels like his influences are probably more earthy than Woody Allen’s. I see Gerber somewhere around Vonnegut and Heller and Pirsig. Allen, though, always seems (when he’s not doing his New York archetype) more European. And Allen is never anti-intellectual.

    Also, Allen is much more inward looking than Gerber. Much of Allen’s films seem to be about dissecting Woody Allen. Gerber faces outwards: it’s the world which fascinates and outrages him. We don’t see much or Steve except as it’s piped through Howard’s personality.

    “Woody Allen is a humourist, Steve Gerber a satirist. Discuss.” Now that’d be a fun assignment.

  7. I’m gonna have to come back to this yet again, because I think you’ve hit quite near the mark there, Priene — and you’ve got me considering that a casual anti-intellectualism often gets employed in the name of democratic virtue (or non-luxuriousness, if I can get away with that), in this part of the world at least. Mind you, I don’t think it’s anything as straightforward as “class prejudice” plain and simple: like you, I wouldn’t interpret Gerber’s occasional anti-intellectualism as scorn for intelligence, education, or thoughtfulness…Gerber will never ask us to cheer on a brute, for example, obviously. No Tony Sopranos for him; he’s not confused about how to tell luxury from virtue, or an ironic stance from a hypocritical one.

    Well, Woody’s not all that confused about it either: but you’ve got me thinking, in the context of this “ducking out” that they both do, that Howard’s remark to Oprah could be compared with Woody’s comments (his romantic rhetoric?) to Diane Keaton at the end of Sleeper, about the unreality of science’s elbow patches and pipe-smoking, etc…because that isn’t anti-intellectualism, quite the opposite. Whereas what Howard “really believes in, deep down”, is something that has a much more empirical flavour to it: a duck may look at a king, and all that.

    Still somewhat fuzzy about this, though. Must come back to it. Good call!

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