Tuesday, May 26, 2009
I was interested in Circus Monkey's comment on Synecdoche, New York - 'Sounds like a load of pretentious rubbish to me. Does Private Eye still publish its Pseuds' Corner?' As I responded, I used to appear in PC all the time, but no longer. O tempora! O mores! Sorry, bit pretentious that. But what is pretension? Unearned intellectual display, I'd say, just as sentimentality is, according to Joyce, unearned emotion. Well, I reckon Charlie Kaufman earned his emotion and intellectual display, others may differ but I think they would miss the point of the film. It is incontinent and self-indulgent because that's what it's about. The wider point is: who decides what is or is not earned? Private Eye, obviously and quite often accurately. But the danger is that any intellectual display attracts the charge of pseudery. Then nobody can say anything serious about anything for fear of being called pretentious. This may be seen as a desirable outcome but, on the whole, I don't think so. There is, in fact, a kind of pretension in seeking out and lampooning pretension since it implies the seeker is claiming a more competent level of intellectual judgment that his target. How, otherwise, would he know the display was truly unearned? A false accusation of pretension can be a serious thing; in the case of Kaufman it defames a real artist. And what, anyway, does it mean to say he is pretentious - that he doesn't deliver cinema's predictable cheap thrills and low optimism? Yet jeering at pretension is often a necessary thing. Fake intellectual displays debase the coinage for us all. I could give you a hundred examples from an hour or so's output on the web. But, personally, I'm in favour of pretension. It lifts the spirits and is a valuable source of the fibre of irony.
Posted by Bryan Appleyard at 5:04 pm