Whether writing about the genesis of his plays, such as Aunt Dan and Lemon; discussing how the privileged world of arts and letters takes for granted the work of the “unobtrusives", the people who serve our food and deliver our mail; or describing his upbringing in the sheltered world of Manhattan’s cultural elite, Shawn reveals a unique ability to step back from the appearance of things to explore their deeper social meanings. He grasps contradictions, even when unpleasant, and challenges us to look, as he does, at our own behavior in a more honest light. He also finds the pathos in the political and personal challenges of everyday life.
©2009 Wallace Shawn (P)2010 Wallace Shawn
Full of what you might call conversation starters: tricky propositions about morality... politics, privilege, runaway nationalist fantasies, collective guilt, and art as a force for change (or not)...It’s a treat to hear him speak his curious mind.” (O Magazine)
“Wally Shawn’s essays are both powerful and riveting. How rare to encounter someone willing to question the assumptions of class and the disparity of wealth that grows wider every year in this country. To have such a gentle and incisive soul willing to say what others may be afraid to is considerably refreshing.” (Michael Moore)
“Wallace Shawn is a bracing antidote to the op-ed dreariness of political and artistic journalism in the West. He takes you back to the days when intellectuals had the wit and concentration to formulate great questions - and to make the reader want to answer them.” (David Hare, playwright)
Like probably a lot of people, I know Wallace Shawn best from his roles in "My Dinner with André" and "Princess Bride". I've never seen one of his plays, and although I suppose I must have read one or more of the essays that originally appeared in "The Nation" I don't remember them. That should have tipped me off that the essays are, in fact, pretty unmemorable. I was hoping for more wit and play of intellect, but Wallace Shawn is basically a semi-intellectual: he knows his way around the neighborhood of ideas but hasn't built many original ones. This is abundantly clear in the interview with a genuine intellectual, Noam Chomsky, that is included here, the best thing in the book I'd say: even if you loathe Chomsky's politics you have to concede his brilliance in marshalling evidence and putting together an argument. Shawn, in contrast, stays at the level of generalities in most of these pieces.
—Second, even if you're a huge fan of Shawn you might be better off with the printed version of the book. Unless you have excellent hearing, this is not an audiobook for the car or anyplace with much background noise: Shawn's dynamic range goes way up and down, and if you set a volume that won't hurt your ears during his forceful passages you're likely to miss half of a sentence when he drops back to near a whisper.
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