Monday, December 22, 2003

Life of a Salesman

Steve Sailer reviews Big Fish in the most recent American Conservative. It's not on-line, unfortunately. But this is just too good to share:

Nobody is more scorned in theory than the salesman, especially since Miller's 1949 drama, in which Bernard, the straight-A nerd next door who is Miller's alter ego, gets his revenge on the all-American (and thus doomed) Loman family by becoming a Supreme Court litigator, while the Lomans' sports and business ambitions shatter. Yet, nobody is more popular in real life than the successful jock-turned-salesman.

Speaking of Miller, the December Commentary has an essay by Carol Iannone which contains this assessment of the playwright.

Though Gottfried acknowledges that most of Miller's later plays are filled with characters spouting wildly unrealistic, politically inflected dialogue, he fails to see the single animus that has long driven Miller's work-the willed resentment toward American society, th overwrought, obdurate sense of condemnation and outrage. In Miller's hands, tragedy consists not in the individual's encounter with solemn powers greater than himself. Rather, tragedy is the failure to stand against patent corruption and foolishness, in the form of such life-crushing American villains as demanding fathers, witless salesmen, and witch-hunting antiCommunists. The idea that society might represent something more than betrayal and wasted sacrifice, that authority properly wielded might be admirable, that the dutiful son and quiet hero might deserve even more honor than the creative types who challenge every stricture-all this seems beyond the imaginative capability of our "greatest living playwright."

Gottfried calls Miller a "typical liberal." It would be fairer to say that he is a strange artifact of an American Left whose formulaic slogans were once a fixture on the cultural scene but whose fortunes in recent decades seemed to have waned somewhat (at least at home). The comeback of Arthur Miller suggests that, like the hackneyed dramas embodying them, these slogans have neither died nor fallen away, but only lain dormant.

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