Author Topic: I see Charlie Kaufman's after writing a novel  (Read 9226 times)

Mister Six

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Re: I see Charlie Kaufman's after writing a novel
« Reply #60 on: October 18, 2020, 02:19:21 PM »
Have none of you heard of an unreliable narrator before, or the notion of a character's views not reflecting the author's?

I'm somewhere around chapter 15 now and from the beginning, B Rosenberger has been a neurotic, confused narrator wracked by self-loathing, insecurity and a mercurial habit of changing his opinion on a dime. After the hospital stay he's even less reliable, and his memories and perceptions are constantly shifting.

He's also clearly a man who is nowhere as witty or (intentionally) funny as he thinks he is, so that remark about Kermode is totally in character as a bitter little dig. B is also antisemitic (possibly a self-loathing Jew), prejudiced against nonbinary people and holds patronising views of black people. You're not supposed to agree with, or even sympathise with him.

Book has been great so far - at least a few chuckles every page, and frequently loud guffaws. I get the feeling Kaufman was making it up as it went along and it might not hold together, bit from moment to moment it's hugely enjoyable.
« Last Edit: October 18, 2020, 05:02:21 PM by Mister Six »

Chriddof

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Re: I see Charlie Kaufman's after writing a novel
« Reply #61 on: October 18, 2020, 05:46:12 PM »
B is also antisemitic (possibly a self-loathing Jew), prejudiced against nonbinary people and holds patronising views of black people. You're not supposed to agree with, or even sympathise with him.

I get that, and I think others do too - it's just at the current point in time, there are so many people who hold such views for real, and are similarly inconsistent in what they say (either as a deliberate act of attempting to destabilize discussion, or because they're trying to win an argument at any cost) that having to read even a fictional version of it is too much to put up with right now. It just feels very ill-timed and ill-advised all round, really - like if Odeon Cinemas were showing "Outbreak" with Dustin Hoffman as their big comeback movie after (the first) lockdown.


Mister Six

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Re: I see Charlie Kaufman's after writing a novel
« Reply #62 on: October 18, 2020, 06:04:32 PM »
There's a wave of anti-Kermode sentiment?

Ominous Dave

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Re: I see Charlie Kaufman's after writing a novel
« Reply #63 on: October 18, 2020, 06:17:19 PM »
Kermode's peak was in the late 90s/early 00s when he was genuinely responsible for bringing some interesting alternative cinema onto UK TV (though he famously did spoil the ending of 'Ringu' in his intro its first UK TV showing, which to be fair he's subsequently apologised for.). But then so did Mark Cousins, who's a much better critic. Since then Kermode has become increasingly insufferable while Cousins has become really a interesting documentary filmmaker.

(This has nothing at all to do with Charlie Kaufman's book does it? Unless it's a clever postmodern digression which is probably the sort of thing he'd like. But Synechdoche New York is a masterpiece even if I can't be bothered to google how to spell it properly.)
« Last Edit: October 18, 2020, 07:42:14 PM by Ominous Dave »

Re: I see Charlie Kaufman's after writing a novel
« Reply #64 on: October 18, 2020, 07:40:19 PM »
I don't think anyone here is confused by the idea of the unreliable narrator. But the fact that it's a book written by Charlie Kaufman, screenwriter and director, is an important part of the book and the experience of reading it. It's definitely one of the most meta books I've read in that regard. I guess he stops short of the Vonnegut thing of actually inserting himself as a character into the story, but you are supposed to be aware that B is a character being written by Charlie Kaufman. If you ignore that context, you're going to be missing out on quite a lot of the jokes throughout the book.

I think B at times reflects Kaufman's views, at other times he clearly doesn't (as in all the times he starts ranting about how talentless Charlie Kaufman is, or starts rhapsodising about the genius of Judd Apatow). B's all over the place in his thoughts; he's not consistent from one minute to the next. But I think it's often quite clear when Kaufman is using him to express his own views (whether directly, or indirectly by having him say the exact opposite of what you'd expect Kaufman's opinion to be, and in a very sarcastic way), and I don't think he's giving himself away accidentally. I think they're very deliberate jokes.

So yeah, the Kermode thing makes sense in the context of B's confused and bitter thoughts, but it also makes sense as being a self-aware meta joke at Kaufman's own expense, because he's petty enough to use his character to call someone he doesn't like an asshole. And I guess I do agree with Retinend as well that he's also just straight up calling Kermode an asshole[1], so I'm not surprised that Kermode took it personally, especially as there is apparently a bit of an awkward history between the two of them.
 1. It makes me think of that Stewart Lee bit, I can't quite remember the context of it, but it's something like, "It was just a joke, however, coincidentally, it's also what I actually think."
« Last Edit: October 18, 2020, 07:54:14 PM by selectivememory »

Mister Six

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Re: I see Charlie Kaufman's after writing a novel
« Reply #65 on: October 19, 2020, 04:20:04 AM »
I think B at times reflects Kaufman's views, at other times he clearly doesn't (as in all the times he starts ranting about how talentless Charlie Kaufman is, or starts rhapsodising about the genius of Judd Apatow). B's all over the place in his thoughts; he's not consistent from one minute to the next. But I think it's often quite clear when Kaufman is using him to express his own views (whether directly, or indirectly by having him say the exact opposite of what you'd expect Kaufman's opinion to be, and in a very sarcastic way), and I don't think he's giving himself away accidentally. I think they're very deliberate jokes.

So yeah, the Kermode thing makes sense in the context of B's confused and bitter thoughts, but it also makes sense as being a self-aware meta joke at Kaufman's own expense, because he's petty enough to use his character to call someone he doesn't like an asshole. And I guess I do agree with Retinend as well that he's also just straight up calling Kermode an asshole[1], so I'm not surprised that Kermode took it personally, especially as there is apparently a bit of an awkward history between the two of them.
 1. It makes me think of that Stewart Lee bit, I can't quite remember the context of it, but it's something like, "It was just a joke, however, coincidentally, it's also what I actually think."

Seems like you're trying to have your cake and eat it here. "It's hard to tell when B is parroting Kaufman's views, except in this one instance where he definitely is." Given how unsympathetic and dim his protagonist is written, surely if he wanted to get a dig in at Kermode Kaufman would make B an ardent admirer?

Just all seems very silly to me - the only way it works is with a lot of mental gymnastics about Kaufman playing 5D chess with matryoshka dolls.

Re: I see Charlie Kaufman's after writing a novel
« Reply #66 on: October 19, 2020, 11:00:34 AM »
Seems like you're trying to have your cake and eat it here. "It's hard to tell when B is parroting Kaufman's views, except in this one instance where he definitely is."

That's not what I said, but OK...

Just all seems very silly to me - the only way it works is with a lot of mental gymnastics about Kaufman playing 5D chess with matryoshka dolls.

It is very silly. It's a very silly and convoluted book, and only gets more so as it goes along. I don't really see it as Kaufman playing 5D chess. I think for the most part he's just having fun with it, and as you said earlier on, it does sometimes feel like he's making it up as he goes along. But fair enough. That was just my reading of it. The Kermode discussion is a bit boring anyway. It's just one throwaway line in a very long book. I think we're only talking about it because Kermode himself drew attention to it in the first place.
« Last Edit: October 19, 2020, 11:34:45 AM by selectivememory »

Chriddof

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Re: I see Charlie Kaufman's after writing a novel
« Reply #67 on: October 19, 2020, 02:29:45 PM »
To make things clear, I wasn't talking about Kermode - I was referring to the main character's racism and stuff. But I don't really have any kind of stake in this topic so I won't argue it any further. Just giving a reason why I and some others don't feel like reading it, while being fully aware that it's an unreliable narrator character and all that. I don't think Kaufman's some massive fascist, obviously.

Wet Blanket

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Re: I see Charlie Kaufman's after writing a novel
« Reply #68 on: November 13, 2020, 12:10:13 PM »
I enjoyed it and found it an easy read for such a big, self-consciously difficult book. There are laughs on every page, although the Trump stuff towards the end already seems a bit old hat.

Mark Kermode should be pleased he's in the same company as Richard Roeper and AO Scott. I think his inclusion for insult suggests more that Kaufman sees him as a big shot rather than has a personal beef with him.

I would say that, if you only read one surreal, satirical showbiz caper filled with quasi-factual burns and unexpected lurches into real insight, read Norm Macdonald's Based on a True Story. He does it much better and in a fifth of the space.

Mister Six

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Re: I see Charlie Kaufman's after writing a novel
« Reply #69 on: January 03, 2021, 01:12:33 PM »
Finally finished this the other day after drifting in and out of it for months - which isn't really a criticism, as the book's total lack of any coherent narrative, consistent characterisation or worldbuilding means that dipping in, chortling at a few chapters and hopping back out is probably the best way to take it in.

Retinend's approach - breaking down the story into discrete elements to be tracked and analysed for deeper/wider meanings and significance - is exactly the wrong thing to do, I think. This isn't a "proper" narrative with a meaningful plot to be tracked or a coherent thesis to be eked out of the text. Rosenberg's memories don't shift because reality is breaking down or he's suffering from a mental disease - they shift because he's a fictional character being tortured by Charlie Kaufman for the author's (and our) amusement. Rosenberg doesn't step into Ingo's film or end up in a bizarre post-apocalyptic hellworld because this is a magic realist text - he does it because he's as fictional as everything else in the novel, and there's no meaningful distinction between the world of the protagonists and the other fictional worlds he experiences within his own supposed "universe". It's all just words dressed up as meaning.[1]

I'm not saying the individual parts are totally without meaning - the book does circle around Kaufman's usual preoccupations (metafictional silliness, the effect of artist on art and vice versa, the nature of adaptation, the dividing line between a simulacrum and the object it represents, the gulf between others as we see them in our heads and who they really are etc etc etc) and there are bits and pieces of genuine satire.[2] But at heart it's basically the novel equivalent of a Monty Python episode, drifting from sketch to sketch with only the most dreamlike, shifting sense of continuity and logic.

To that end, the best thing you can do is read the bits you like and skim-read the rest. After a while, I started skimming lightly over the interminable Mudd and Molloy bits - I've never particularly liked Abbott and Costello, so life's too short to a thousand variations of Who's On Next - and didn't get the impression from the rest of the book that I missed much.

Aside from a little bit of time-twisting/meta fuckery at the end of the book, I'm pretty sure Kaufman just accumulated this novel rather than writing it as such, adding bits to it every now and again, introducing new characters and situations as they occurred to him and ditching them once he got bored, without too much attention paid to structure or form.

Yes, it's ridiculously self-indulgent and though Kaufman says the editor made him cut 200 pages, I think it could easily stand to lose 200 more - although in a curious way I'm glad it didn't. There's at least one worthy gag on each page, usually more than that, and once you grasp that nothing means anything, you can go with the flow and just bob in the eddies and currents of Kaufman's prose. It's certainly funnier than most other novels I've read in the past few years.

Oh, and I haven't changed my mind about the Kermode thing being a storm in a teacup. Rosenberg is a consistently unreliable narrator who is constantly misidentifying directors, film titles and even people in his own life and inhabits a shifting, liminal world in which nothing stays fixed and very little makes sense. He's also clearly supposed to have atrocious taste in cinema and literature, and spends pages rambling on about the intellectual brilliance of Judd Apatow films, so the idea that Kaufman suddenly uses him as a mouthpiece for his own anti-Kermode sentiment in this one bit of the book is absurd.
 1. In this respect it's similar to the book of I'm Thinking of Ending Things, and I can see why that novel spoke to Kaufman.
 2. I'm pretty sure the war between a group of awkwardly progressive SJW clone-children who applaud one another's pompous speeches and a gang of Donald Trump-aping robots, held to the soundtrack of corporate slogans as the entire planet burns, is basically a metaphor for Twitter.
« Last Edit: January 03, 2021, 01:23:26 PM by Mister Six »

Retinend

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Re: I see Charlie Kaufman's after writing a novel
« Reply #70 on: January 03, 2021, 02:50:39 PM »
In my defense, I wasn't consciously "approaching" the novel in a specific way, I was just trying to keep up with the insane plot as I went through.

Retinend

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Re: I see Charlie Kaufman's after writing a novel
« Reply #71 on: January 03, 2021, 03:48:26 PM »
Quote
Rosenberg's memories don't shift because reality is breaking down or he's suffering from a mental disease - they shift because he's a fictional character being tortured by Charlie Kaufman for the author's (and our) amusement.

Why is this a more valid interpretation than the interpretation that he is insane?

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Re: I see Charlie Kaufman's after writing a novel
« Reply #72 on: January 04, 2021, 01:05:58 AM »
Finally finished this the other day after drifting in and out of it for months - which isn't really a criticism, as the book's total lack of any coherent narrative, consistent characterisation or worldbuilding means that dipping in, chortling at a few chapters and hopping back out is probably the best way to take it in.

Retinend's approach - breaking down the story into discrete elements to be tracked and analysed for deeper/wider meanings and significance - is exactly the wrong thing to do, I think. This isn't a "proper" narrative with a meaningful plot to be tracked or a coherent thesis to be eked out of the text. Rosenberg's memories don't shift because reality is breaking down or he's suffering from a mental disease - they shift because he's a fictional character being tortured by Charlie Kaufman for the author's (and our) amusement. Rosenberg doesn't step into Ingo's film or end up in a bizarre post-apocalyptic hellworld because this is a magic realist text - he does it because he's as fictional as everything else in the novel, and there's no meaningful distinction between the world of the protagonists and the other fictional worlds he experiences within his own supposed "universe". It's all just words dressed up as meaning.[1]

I'm not saying the individual parts are totally without meaning - the book does circle around Kaufman's usual preoccupations (metafictional silliness, the effect of artist on art and vice versa, the nature of adaptation, the dividing line between a simulacrum and the object it represents, the gulf between others as we see them in our heads and who they really are etc etc etc) and there are bits and pieces of genuine satire.[2] But at heart it's basically the novel equivalent of a Monty Python episode, drifting from sketch to sketch with only the most dreamlike, shifting sense of continuity and logic.

To that end, the best thing you can do is read the bits you like and skim-read the rest. After a while, I started skimming lightly over the interminable Mudd and Molloy bits - I've never particularly liked Abbott and Costello, so life's too short to a thousand variations of Who's On Next - and didn't get the impression from the rest of the book that I missed much.

Aside from a little bit of time-twisting/meta fuckery at the end of the book, I'm pretty sure Kaufman just accumulated this novel rather than writing it as such, adding bits to it every now and again, introducing new characters and situations as they occurred to him and ditching them once he got bored, without too much attention paid to structure or form.

Yes, it's ridiculously self-indulgent and though Kaufman says the editor made him cut 200 pages, I think it could easily stand to lose 200 more - although in a curious way I'm glad it didn't. There's at least one worthy gag on each page, usually more than that, and once you grasp that nothing means anything, you can go with the flow and just bob in the eddies and currents of Kaufman's prose. It's certainly funnier than most other novels I've read in the past few years.

Oh, and I haven't changed my mind about the Kermode thing being a storm in a teacup. Rosenberg is a consistently unreliable narrator who is constantly misidentifying directors, film titles and even people in his own life and inhabits a shifting, liminal world in which nothing stays fixed and very little makes sense. He's also clearly supposed to have atrocious taste in cinema and literature, and spends pages rambling on about the intellectual brilliance of Judd Apatow films, so the idea that Kaufman suddenly uses him as a mouthpiece for his own anti-Kermode sentiment in this one bit of the book is absurd.
 1. In this respect it's similar to the book of I'm Thinking of Ending Things, and I can see why that novel spoke to Kaufman.
 2. I'm pretty sure the war between a group of awkwardly progressive SJW clone-children who applaud one another's pompous speeches and a gang of Donald Trump-aping robots, held to the soundtrack of corporate slogans as the entire planet burns, is basically a metaphor for Twitter.

Great post, you’re making me want to give it a bash.

Mister Six

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Re: I see Charlie Kaufman's after writing a novel
« Reply #73 on: January 04, 2021, 05:04:12 PM »
Hooray, cheers! I hope you enjoy it if you do.

Why is this a more valid interpretation than the interpretation that he is insane?

Because Kaufman keeps pointedly injecting himself into the story, unless it's supposed to be a coincidence that B keeps suffering horrible pratfalls every time he complains about Synecdoche, New York or whatever (not to mention the bit where B slips away and Kaufman himself bemoans losing his protagonist). And the circumstances of B's life are too bizarre to plausibly have real-world events occurring in the background that he is misinterpreting/misunderstanding.

But maybe I'm wrong, I dunno. I don't mean to piss on your parade, or how you engage with the novel or anything. The author is dead and all that. I just think most people who approach this as a coherent narrative to be approached in the manner of a traditional A-B-C novel are going to struggle to get through it, and that a lighter touch will help them appreciate it more.

Retinend

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Re: I see Charlie Kaufman's after writing a novel
« Reply #74 on: January 05, 2021, 10:39:49 AM »
Well I insist I do not have an approach, since I was merely summarizing the literal content of the narrative, but I take your point in the spirit intended: Kaufman certainly does have a devil-may-care attitude towards narrative, as evidenced both here and elsewhere in his oeuvre, let's say.

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