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Lee Siegel (1957 - )

Lifespan: 1957 -

Related: cultural criticism - American literature

Falling upwards: essays in defense of the imagination (2006) - Lee Siegel
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Lee Siegel (born December 5, 1957) is a New York writer and cultural critic. -- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lee Siegel [Sept 2006]

We have Freud to thank for the prestige of film

Has cinema changed the nature of literature?

Below is an excerpt from the Lee Siegel article quoted in Dan Green's 2005 post. Siegel holds that "we have Freud to blame for the long-drawn-out extinction of literary character" and that "[film] has replaced the novel as the dominant art form in our culture" and "we have Freud to thank for the prestige of film.":

Thus the postwar rise of the nouveau roman, with its absence of character, and of the postmodern and experimental novels, with their many strategies -- self-annulling irony, deliberate cartoonishness, montage-like ''cutting'' -- for releasing fiction from its dependence on character. For all the rich work published after the war, there's barely a fictional figure that has the memorableness of a Gatsby, a Nick Adams, a Baron Charlus, a Leopold Bloom, a Settembrini. And that's leaving aside the magnificent 19th century, when authors plumbed the depths of the human mind with something on the order of clairvoyance. Of course, before that, there was Shakespeare. And Cervantes. And Dante. And . . . It seems that the further back you go in time, away from Freud, the deeper the psychological portraits you encounter in literary art. Nowadays, often even the most accomplished novels offer characters that are little more than flat, ghostly reflections of characters. The author's voice, or self-consciousness about voice, substitutes mere eccentricity for an imaginative surrender to another life.

But if we have Freud to blame for the long-drawn-out extinction of literary character, we also have Freud to thank for the prestige of film. The depiction of fictional people's inner lives is not the strength of the silver screen. Character gets revealed to us by plot turns, camera angles, musical scores -- by abstract, impersonal forces, much like Freud's concepts. In a novel, character is shaped from the inside out; in a film, it's molded from the outside and stays outside. How many movie characters can you think of -- with the exception, perhaps, of Citizen Kane -- whose names have the archetypal particularity of Isabel Archer or Sister Carrie? --http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=940DE0DA1031F93BA35756C0A9639C8B63 [Jun 2006]

If anything, Lee Siegel's article maintains that film has substantially altered the nature of literature. Which is ironic since Freud is supposed to have said of film:

"The Kino is a vulgar modern entertainment and I doubt if it can tell us anything serious about the modern condition."

See also: Freud - film - literature

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