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Monsters: A Fan's Dilemma

by Claire Dederer

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
2711096,532 (3.95)15
"In this unflinching, deeply personal book that expands on her instantly viral Paris Review essay, "What Do We Do With the Art of Monstrous Men?" Claire Dederer asks: Can we love the work of Hemingway, Polanski, Naipaul, Miles Davis, or Picasso? Should we love it? Does genius deserve special dispensation? Is male monstrosity the same as female monstrosity? Does art have a mandate to depict the darker elements of the psyche? And what happens if the artist stares too long into the abyss? She explores the audience's relationship with artists from Woody Allen to Michael Jackson, asking: How do we balance our undeniable sense of moral outrage with our equally undeniable love of the work? In a more troubling vein, she wonders if an artist needs to be a monster in order to create something great. And if an artist is also a mother, does one identity inexorably, and fatally, interrupt the other? Highly topical, morally wise, honest to the core, Monsters is certain to incite a conversation about whether and how we can separate artists from their art"--… (more)
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English (8)  Dutch (1)  Italian (1)  All languages (10)
Showing 1-5 of 8 (next | show all)
This book was back and forth between artists who were "monsters" and memoir. There is a lot to think about and I came away as confused as before I started it. ( )
  ellink | Jan 22, 2024 |
This was a fine dive into an ever more relevant, increasingly thorny issue: what do we as fans, consumers of art and media, do when the artist behind our beloved movie, book, music, whatever, is revealed to have done something shockingly heinous and morally repugnant? I appreciated the author’s erudite and honest approach to this topic, there are no easy answers here, no ironclad rules for this sort of thing. Instead this book offers only an intellectual framework, a more nuanced way of looking at the whole messy business of morally terrible people and their artistically great works. On the whole this was an interesting mediation, I think the strongest writing was at the beginning but it was an interesting read throughout. ( )
1 vote Autolycus21 | Oct 10, 2023 |
This terrific and terrifically irritating book starts out with the question of how should we think about great art produced by bad men, and proceeds through a much wider landscape. In the end, she is dealing with how do we deal with the problem of human evil, in others and in ourselves. I disagreed with a fair bit of what she says (on cancel culture and late capitalism in particular) and agreed intensely with some of what she says (no spoilers). But when I finished the book, I felt that my perspectives had shifted a little, that I had learned something. And that's a gift. ( )
1 vote annbury | Sep 9, 2023 |
I was eager to read this and thought it was an excellent topic for a book but unfortunately it fell short for me. I wanted a neutral, well presented analyses of the issue and what I got was the author’s personal opinions and personal examples. In all fairness to Dederer, it says right in the blurb that it is “a deeply personal book” so I can’t fault her for delivering exactly what the book blurb says you will get. She covers a lot of good material and she does it well, in her own way. It just wasn’t the book I was hoping to read. ( )
  Iudita | Aug 19, 2023 |
I have mixed feelings. First of all, much of this is literary criticism, and I read books like eating potato chips, stuffing myself with one after another not fully tasting any of them, so I am inadequate at literary criticism. We're all wondering now about what to do about artists who turn out to be monsters, can we still consume their work? Can we still love them? Dederer analyzes these monsters but includes people who are not active defilers of other people but are just imperfect. So she has Roman Polanski, Miles Davis, and Picasso mixed in with J. K. Rowling and women who don't devote their entire attention to their children because they want also to pursue art. Then way at the end of the book, we realize that the reason she includes herself in the monster category is not that she left her teenage son for a month in order to attend a wonderful artist workshop but that she is a recovering alcoholic. It's hard to own our own monstrosity, but at last, she does. For me, the most meaningful part of the book was the part emphasizing economics. Capitalism wants us to think that we as individuals have to judge the monsters. Our paltry consumption or refusal to consume their art will make a difference just as our recycling can manage global warming. Capitalism and the patriarchy are the ones in charge, so she ends by saying, as does Woody Allen, "the heart wants what the heart wants." ( )
1 vote Citizenjoyce | Jul 31, 2023 |
Showing 1-5 of 8 (next | show all)
Famed composer Richard Wagner’s anti-Semitism was an obsession:

"'[For Richard Wagner, anti-Semitism] was more than a bizarre peccadillo, beyond a prejudice: it was an obsession, a monomania, a full-blown neurosis. No conversation with Wagner ever occurred without a detour on the subject of Judaism. When, towards the end of Wagner's life, the painter Renoir had a sitting with him, Wagner interrupted his own pleasant flow of small talk with a sudden unprovoked denunciation of Jews which rapidly became rancid,' [said Simon Callow].

"Wagner also wrote at length about his obsession -- that essay Fry would have liked to forestall, 'Judaism in Music,' was pub­lished anonymously in 1850, the same year Lohengrin premiered. It describes the nature of 'the Jew musician' -- we've barely got­ten started and we're already in choppy waters. The use of the word 'Jew' as an adjective is generally speaking not a good sign. My friend Alex Blumberg once observed to me as we walked through the Chicago neighborhood historically known as Jew Town: 'The word Jew is fine as a noun, starts to be a problem as an adjective, and is totally not okay as a verb.'
"Writes Wagner, 'The Jew -- who, as everyone knows, has a God all to himself -- in ordinary life strikes us primarily by his outward appearance, which, no matter to what European nation­ality we belong, has something disagreeably foreign to that nationality: instinctively we wish to have nothing in common with a man who looks like that.'

"Wagner is ramping up, working himself into a frenzy, and the modern reader in turn feels a mounting abhorrence, as well as a kind of lofty disdain for what we perceive as his clueless­ness. But we tell ourselves he didn't know better.

"And yet Wagner bases his entire rant on the fact that he did know better. He positions his screed as a dose of Limbaugh­esque real talk in the face of liberal platitudes calling for an end to anti-Semitism: 'We have to explain to ourselves the involun­tary repellence possessed for us by the nature and personality of the Jews, so as to vindicate that instinctive dislike which we plainly recognise as stronger and more overpowering than our conscious zeal to rid ourselves thereof.'

"He's making the point that he and his brethren don't want to revile Jews. This is some real 'I'm the victim here' shit. Wag­ner insists that he possesses -- we all possess -- a 'conscious zeal to rid ourselves' of the 'instinctive dislike,' but an honest man must wrestle with these feelings of 'involuntary repellence,' Hey, man, he's just describing how everyone really feels. Inci­dentally, this is an example of how insidious the word 'we' can be -- by employing it, Wagner normalizes and universalizes his own demented and hateful perspective, and suggests that all those fighting against anti-Semitism are simply deluded or eva­sive when it comes to their own natures.

"From Wagner's perspective, to say one is not anti-Semitic is to lie: 'Even to-day we only purposely belie ourselves, in this regard, when we think it necessary to hold immoral and taboo all open proclamation of our natural repugnance against the Jewish nature. Only in quite the latest times do we seem to have reached an insight, that it is more rational (vernünftiger) to rid ourselves of that strenuous self-deception' -- he means here the self-deception that we actually might not be repelled by Jews­ -- 'so as quite soberly instead to view the object of our violent sympathy and bring ourselves to understand a repugnance still abiding with us in spite of all our Liberal bedazzlements.'"
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Epigraph
Who has not asked himself at some time or other: am I a monster or is this what it means to be a person?
—Clarice Lispector
It is always tempting, of course, to impose one's view rather than to undergo the submission required by art—a submission, akin to that of generosity or love. . .
—Shirley Hazard
Dedication
For Lou Barcott and Wil Barcott, my best teachers
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It all began for me in the spring of 2014, when I found myself locked in a lonely—okay, imaginary—battle with an appalling genius.
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"In this unflinching, deeply personal book that expands on her instantly viral Paris Review essay, "What Do We Do With the Art of Monstrous Men?" Claire Dederer asks: Can we love the work of Hemingway, Polanski, Naipaul, Miles Davis, or Picasso? Should we love it? Does genius deserve special dispensation? Is male monstrosity the same as female monstrosity? Does art have a mandate to depict the darker elements of the psyche? And what happens if the artist stares too long into the abyss? She explores the audience's relationship with artists from Woody Allen to Michael Jackson, asking: How do we balance our undeniable sense of moral outrage with our equally undeniable love of the work? In a more troubling vein, she wonders if an artist needs to be a monster in order to create something great. And if an artist is also a mother, does one identity inexorably, and fatally, interrupt the other? Highly topical, morally wise, honest to the core, Monsters is certain to incite a conversation about whether and how we can separate artists from their art"--

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