Skip to main content

Retreat

Welcome to the third and final session of the Salon Reading Club for Jonathan Franzen's novel "Freedom." Last week, we took the discussion up through Page 382, and now it's time to consider the book's conclusion.

[. . .]

I'm a little ambivalent about the ending of "Freedom." While it was definitely satisfying to see Walter and Patty reunited, part of me thinks it's not very realistic. But perhaps that's the point; if those characters had done what most divorced couples do and kept moving on to new lives, they'd be exercising the American-style freedom about which Franzen is clearly so ambivalent.

[. . .]

What did you think of the way Franzen depicts the political climate of the mid-2000s? Walter's road trip with Lalitha to promote Free Space is a Magical Hysteria Tour of the endemic rage of the period, which Walter regards as "loony," even though it is, in a fashion, a reflection of the repressed anger he's been nursing since his boyhood in the motel. There's a strong sense that Americans have been making their politics carry an emotional load displaced from their personal lives -- it's a lot less destabilizing to rant on the Internet about Dick Cheney or Bill Clinton than to get into it with your spouse and parents, let alone your own messed-up self -- to the detriment of public life.

[. . .]

In fact, the whole little neighborhood drama about the cats and the songbirds at the end deftly encapsulates the themes of the book: Walter is right, but in the wrong way. Linda is a monster, but taking her cat to the pound only makes him one, too. But, again, I'm not sure I'm optimistic enough to believe in Patty's solution -- even if I'd like to. (Laura Miller, Road trips, political rage and catnapping,” Salon, 18 Sept. 2010)

Retreat

Freedom, apparently, is something we pursue until the point where we can chase down what we really want -- rapprochement -- under our terms. All this early consideration of the rape, as if it were a "rosebud" moment, when what it was was a vehicle to leave parents behind you -- justifiably -- so that you can explore / be carried along the currents of the times that move / accompany your adulthood, and rejoin your heritage later as an encounter between one who has experienced and lived and those who have been kept back. Patty doesn't only find her way back into old patterns; she pins down as much as possible both parents on points that have always concerned her. With neither of them is there much potential for an enlarged conversation -- which is just fine if the point is to momentarily enjoy your ability to stand before them undaunted, witness their fainting back and retreating, and thereafter without complication just savor their ties to old assured ways and old strengths before admitting you're -- alas -- confined to always be one of them, intent as you are now to merge back into them.

To this particular contemporary reader, the book feels like (I experienced it as) an accurate account of the last 20 years of liberaldom. A good stretch at first of other-daunting, hells-bells, frontier-like freedom -- ethical households multiplying out of nowhere in run-down neighborhoods -- experienced as without doubt, as pushed forward, as is any first opening of a frontier ("Good neighbors"). Then, Iraq, and terrible self-damning experiences of guilt for voting in a near unified swath of Democratic politicians who supported the war, of seeming as oil-stained as any ol' coarse Republican ("Mountaintop," "Bad News"). Rescue, with Obama -- dramatic re-imagination of image -- ("Fiend of Washington") but troubles still with the economy, with the first couple years, especially, where no one was really confident that the sorts of people who were most going to go under had crystallized (first struggles between Walter, alone, and Linda). And then at the end some sights of a gradual awakening to a realization that a certain class of liberals were going to do okay, to the sense that a certain, specific kind of target was desired, and that you actually have more freedom than you think to move about, to err, and, apparently, to be arrogant (Walter's soul-saving, other-diminishing tirade; then more confidently Patty's expertly managed sequence of pseudo-kindness to Linda, sudden total abandonment of her, and signed, departing "gift" of a cat-balking, bird-turd enclosure), because your central concern for self-abnegating rapprochement over freedom, your overall willingness to cooperate in favoring the downing of emerging age-designated targets -- even if not always with fervor or without regret -- has been repeatedly noticed and unerringly proven to ensure you aren't one of them, and that the way ahead will shortly be guaranteed for you and as gratifyingly delimited, denatured, and era-defining (other drama-obfuscating) as is a settled-upon war (Tea-baggers vs. the Obama-loyal; mangy cats vs. implacable birds).

Walter is a monster for steeling himself to kill the cat, but he sees and recollects Bobby's individuality, and through it, Linda and her family's own personhoods. Patty "maturely" desists in attacking her daughter's blog postings, choosing instead to restrain her true response to it, to her, and just support her enthusiastically with bland, unfocussed praise. To me, our near last sight of Walter was our last glance of something maybe opening up, before a terminus that sealed down everything that might otherwise have been challenged and pithily grown.

Link: Road trips, political rage and cat-nappings

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Superimposing another "fourth-wall" Deadpool

I'd like to superimpose the fourth-wall breaking Deadpool that I'd like to have seen in the movie. In my version, he'd break out of the action at some point to discuss with us the following:
1) He'd point out that all the trouble the movie goes to to ensure that the lead actress is never seen completely naked—no nipples shown—in this R-rated movie was done so that later when we suddenly see enough strippers' completely bared breasts that we feel that someone was making up for lost time, we feel that a special, strenuous effort has been made to keep her from a certain fate—one the R-rating would even seemed to have called for, necessitated, even, to properly feed the audience expecting something extra for the movie being more dependent on their ticket purchases. That is, protecting the lead actress was done to legitimize thinking of those left casually unprotected as different kinds of women—not as worthy, not as human.   


2) When Wade/Deadpool and Vanessa are excha…

"The Zookeeper's Wife" as historical romance

A Polish zoologist and his wife maintain a zoo which is utopia, realized. The people who work there are blissfully satisfied and happy. The caged animals aren't distraught but rather, very satisfied. These animals have been very well attended to, and have developed so healthily for it that they almost seem proud to display what is distinctively excellent about them for viewers to enjoy. But there is a shadow coming--Nazis! The Nazis literally blow apart much of this happy configuration. Many of the animals die. But the zookeeper's wife is a prize any Nazi officer would covet, and the Nazi's chief zoologist is interested in claiming her for his own. So if there can be some pretence that would allow for her and her husband to keep their zoo in piece rather than be destroyed for war supplies, he's willing to concede it.

The zookeeper and his wife want to try and use their zoo to house as many Jews as they can. They approach the stately quarters of Hitler's zoologist …

Full conversation about "Bringing Up Baby" at the NewYorker Movie Facebook Club

Richard Brody shared a link.Moderator · November 20 at 3:38pm I'm obsessed with Bringing Up Baby, which is on TCM at 6 PM (ET). It's the first film by Howard Hawks that I ever saw, and it opened up several universes to me, cinematic and otherwise. Here's the story. I was seventeen or eighteen; I had never heard of Hawks until I read Godard's enthusiastic mention of him in one of the early critical pieces in "Godard on Godard"—he called Hawks "the greatest American artist," and this piqued my curiosity. So, the next time I was in town (I… I was out of town at college for the most part), I went to see the first Hawks film playing in a revival house, which turned out to be "Bringing Up Baby." I certainly laughed a lot (and, at a few bits, uncontrollably), but that's not all there was to it. I had never read Freud, but I had heard of Freud, and when I saw "Bringing Up Baby," its realm of symbolism made instant sense; it was obviou…