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A true ironist in an era of ersatz irony
March 31, 2011 9:57 AM   Subscribe

Fran Lebowitz: Reflections on Austen

The monologist and sometime writer (previously) was the subject of a Martin Scorsese documentary last year. Here she is talking about it and her life on Charlie Rose. Here she is in 1995 reading and answering questions. Here is an interview with Time about various things.
posted by Potomac Avenue (29 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
This is fantastic. Thanks.

Jane Austen was one of the greatest thinkers on the human spirit in her or any time. It's consistently annoying to me that people miss the fact, for example, that her best books explicate some very deep and profound observations on the possibility of faith in the world as it is and the approach a noble person must take toward a society of despicable human beings.
posted by koeselitz at 10:10 AM on March 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


I really had no idea
posted by kuatto at 10:17 AM on March 31, 2011


I parsed that somehow as "Fran Drescher" and suspect you of having uncovered one of the great internet finds of all time.

What you actually have here, it's not bad - it's quite good, in fact - but it's not quite the glorious weirdness I briefly hoped it would be.
posted by mhoye at 10:28 AM on March 31, 2011


Fran Lebowitz is an old favorite, and I love watching her speak. The HBO movie linked in the FPP, Public Speaking, is great. Worth seeking out.
posted by hippybear at 10:36 AM on March 31, 2011


"breathtaking" is right
posted by victors at 10:39 AM on March 31, 2011


I searched for Public Speaking on Netflix and came across this unlikely photo.
posted by alzi at 10:42 AM on March 31, 2011 [4 favorites]


Fran Lebowitz: Literary Robot Boxer.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 10:45 AM on March 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


I know lots of pretty obsessive Jane Austin fans, and not one of them thinks that she's a girly Victorian romance writer. I usually hear her praised for her wit, cynicism and insight. Perhaps my friends are unusual?
posted by Dreadnought at 11:03 AM on March 31, 2011


"True fear is when you can't even think about it"

What a ...perfect way to describe my last few weeks. I love this, thank you.
posted by The Whelk at 11:03 AM on March 31, 2011


I've been trying to explain to a (male) friend of mine why Austen is so brilliant but he seems to have been put off by the way in which Austen tends to be depicted in the popular media. It's really sad to be that he seems to be so resistant to reading her. I'd send him this video but he tends to be very stubborn and it would probably just make him dig in his heels more.
posted by peacheater at 11:14 AM on March 31, 2011


I've been trying to explain to a (male) friend of mine why Austen is so brilliant but he seems to have been put off by the way in which Austen tends to be depicted in the popular media. It's really sad to be that he seems to be so resistant to reading her. I'd send him this video but he tends to be very stubborn and it would probably just make him dig in his heels more

I used to feel this exact same way before I read Pride & Prejudice in my first year university English course. The perception that it is this flowery romance overshadows the issues I found most intriguing, commentary on class, education, family, so much more.
posted by Fizz at 11:26 AM on March 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


Dreadnought: “I know lots of pretty obsessive Jane Austin fans, and not one of them thinks that she's a girly Victorian romance writer. I usually hear her praised for her wit, cynicism and insight. Perhaps my friends are unusual?”

Well, for example, nowadays we seem to be surrounded by stuff like this.
posted by koeselitz at 11:38 AM on March 31, 2011


Sigh,

I am embarrassed to admit this, but my first thought was, "wasn't she killed in a kiln explosion?".

Thanks for an interesting topic. I will use my shame to learn something today.
posted by oshburghor at 12:14 PM on March 31, 2011


Northanger Abbey is very funny and very mean.

Even more so if you had be dragged kicking and screaming through Jane Eyre.
posted by The Whelk at 12:39 PM on March 31, 2011


The Whelk, it's even funnier when you've read The Mysteries of Udolpho. Actually, The Mysteries of Udolpho is pretty hilarious on its own (albeit unintentionally so).
posted by orrnyereg at 12:49 PM on March 31, 2011


like the Long and Fatal Love Chase for my intentionally hilarious Romances-wit-a-capital-R
posted by The Whelk at 12:50 PM on March 31, 2011


It's probably not worth trawling through Udolpho just to get a few more of the jokes in Northanger Abbey, however.
posted by tigrefacile at 1:23 PM on March 31, 2011


She says people love Austen because they think she writes girlish Victorian romances? Codswallop. No one I know who loves Austen thinks that.

That's said, her comment about American irony being ersatz is brilliant and I loved "you have only to meet a writer to not really care about meeting writers."
posted by CunningLinguist at 2:26 PM on March 31, 2011


Actually, The Mysteries of Udolpho is pretty hilarious on its own (albeit unintentionally so).

Agreed.
posted by thivaia at 2:44 PM on March 31, 2011


I developed a whole new appreciation for Jane Austen, and Fran Lebowitz's take on her, after I moved to the UK and went to a few posh cocktail parties. Those over-the-top awful characters -- Caroline Bingley, Fanny Dashwood, Mrs Norris -- you thought were the product of poetic license and Austen's delightfully quirky imagination? Drawn from life. Still around.

Thank God she'd prepared me. Jane Austen: It Gets Better.
posted by stuck on an island at 2:57 PM on March 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


She says people love Austen because they think she writes girlish Victorian romances? Codswallop. No one I know who loves Austen thinks that.

Ditto that. Where does she get her data points?

And what's this about there "would (will?) never be" an era where Americans are ironists because irony is a "very un-American position"? Again with the codswallop. Lord knows we've had them before, no reason to suppose we won't again. I think immediately of Twain, Fitzgerald, just off the top of my head. (And is she assuming that all regency England was without optimism? That won't fly either.)

Perhaps more was lost in the editing, but it seems Ms Lebowitz is kind of selling both Austen and the reading public short. What makes Austen a perennial favorite even of the non-lit majors? For one thing, her astonishingly good sense of pacing. It never flags, never slackens, it just keeps going on, Energizer Bunny like. That's have the game for any best seller, even, or perhaps especially if they are not otherwise any good.

I enjoy listening to Ms Lebowitz, as I do Camille Paglia, but both of them suffer from the curse of the motormouth. There are occasional flashes of genuine (and sometimes ersatz) wit and insight, but largely what they say is dazzling just because of the fluid performance. A good deal of what they actually say it is either obvious or sheer nonsense.


I've been trying to explain to a (male) friend of mine why Austen is so brilliant but he seems to have been put off by the way in which Austen tends to be depicted in the popular media.


Point out that Hollywood and literature are rarely if ever the same thing. Also, try the back door method. See if you can get him into Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey Maturin books, which are about as close to Guy Stuff Austen as you can get. If he enjoys the jokes there, he might appreciate Austen later on.
posted by IndigoJones at 5:28 PM on March 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


CunningLinguist: “She says people love Austen because they think she writes girlish Victorian romances? Codswallop. No one I know who loves Austen thinks that.”

Again, you need only watch and/or read The Jane Austen Book Club to see that she's generally right about this. I don't doubt your friends are smarter than the average reader. That skews it a bit, methinks.
posted by koeselitz at 6:07 PM on March 31, 2011


"and not one of them thinks that she's a girly Victorian romance writer"

Yeah, nthing this. I read (and admired) Austen in high school, college, and grad. school and I never came across this notion. A friend of mine who actually writes Austen fan-fic (yes, I know) is all about the insights and quips and drollness of Austen, and the deep understanding of human motivations above all else. You'd have to be really stupid to mistake her works for bodice-rippers.

And the first thing to know about her is that she wasn't a Victorian, she was of the Georgian/Regency era.

So, attempt at literary strawman fail.
posted by bardic at 9:35 PM on March 31, 2011


koeselitz: "Well, for example, nowadays we seem to be surrounded by stuff like this ."

I actually really enjoyed The Jane Austen Book Club and thought it had a really well-developed cast of characters with thought provoking interactions. Beyond meta-commentary by the author regarding her own opinion of Austen, I thought the fact that the characters use a journey through Austen's work to move through some of their own personal problems a charming tribute to Austen rather than a cheapening thereof.
posted by Phire at 10:26 PM on March 31, 2011


What I have to say is almost certainly going to piss of anyone who takes the time to read it.

I don't understand why Fran Lebowitz is considered worthy of recording or noting. She invariably comes across as pretentious and entitled and idle rich.

I can't see that Lebowitz's take on Austen is any different than Alvy Singer's take on Sylvia Plath in Annie Hall: "Interesting poetess whose tragic suicide was misinterpreted as romantic, by the college-girl mentality."

Jane Austen is funny because she's a truth teller? That just doesn't strike me as insightful. Why is Fran Lebowitz well-regarded?

I don't understand Lebowitz's claim that we don't live in an age of irony. Fran Lebowitz must never have visited 4chan, or seen any decent stand-up comedy. Louis C.K. does a joke about wondering how soon after 9/11 it was okay to masturbate. If that joke and the fact that it finds an American audience isn't evidence of an iron-clad fortress of irony in the American public, what is it?

Also "There is a love of Victorianism that never seems to die."? What does this even mean?

I mean no disrespect to anyone who likes Fran Lebowitz, and I really don't even mean to be rude to Ms. Lebowitz. I just don't understand why she's considered notable. I'd gladly listen without stubbornness to anyone who would tell me why they enjoy her work, if it can be so called.
posted by chanology at 10:44 PM on March 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


Have you read her books? They're the reason she's notable.
posted by escabeche at 11:10 PM on March 31, 2011


She invariably comes across as [...] idle

Given Fran's many writings on the joy of sleep and the inconvenience of doing things, that's probably accurate, but not insulting. And it's not much of a supporting argument, but i like her work because it makes me chuckle.
posted by robself at 1:58 AM on April 1, 2011


She's witty and a quick thinker. Because of that, she's incredibly entertaining. She's not much else, unfortunately. Her infamous decades long writer's block can be explained by the fact that it is hard to write a whole book using just witty one-liners.
posted by falameufilho at 6:08 AM on April 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


you need only watch and/or read The Jane Austen Book Club to see that she's generally right about this.

Different population, I would wager. There's them as read the books compulsively and for the reasons we do, and them as watch the movies instead or in preference. But they are not the same thing nor designed for the same audiences, and to conflate the two, as Ms Lebowitz does, is a mistake.

Me, I like the movies fine (except for that Keira Knightly rubbish - that ain't acting, that's pose striking) but mostly because I like the look of costume drama.
posted by IndigoJones at 10:40 AM on April 1, 2011


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