Sunday, November 25, 2012

Fran Lebowitz

There are some days, which come up randomly,  when you're a little off, not blue or sad so much as just off, as though the square peg of you isn't fitting into the round hole of the world that day, as though for ostensibly petty reasons the universe that day isn't unfolding as it should. (The reasons may seem elusive and small but I have a hunch that if we drilled into them some we'd discern them and wouldn't love much what we discerned.)

Today started as such a day for me for reasons I choose not to drill into. This afternoon had my wife doing good works, as she often does, today volunteering at, I think, the recurring Toronto Jewish Film Festival. I had plans to meet some friends but they  got put off. So, restless, I did what I often do when visited by a certain restlessness, I jumped in my car got a coffee, drove and listened to the radio. 

With each passing mile and sip of coffee, I felt better, the usual effect of so doing. And then a favourite program of mine came on the radio, on the CBC, a radio hour called Writers And Company, hosted by the incomparably gifted Canadian broadcaster and literary intellectual Eleanor Wachtel. She had as her guest for the hour Fran Lebowitz, with whom I have some familiarity, more aware of who she is, more having seen some snippets of her being interviewed, more having read snippets of her writing, than having taken her in and having paid her some concentrated attention. 

What a lapse and gap that's been!! 

Interviewed for an hour, I found her to be an archetype of a certain kind of New Yorker, sardonic and mordant on stilts but that leavened by tremendous and penetrating wit, straight talking, curmudgeonly to a fault but that too with the same tremendous leavening, incredibly smart and incisively insightful--for example saying that literature doesn't lend itself to abstraction the way painting does because the medium of words requires thought in itself the way other media of the arts, painting music, whatever do not, and therefore she has little patience, same with me, with writers who do twists and turns with language, and that writers can't write without knowing things and so in writing we don't have extremely youthful prodigies the way other kinds of art do. 

(By the way her analysis of what AIDS in the early eighties in wiping out so much of the gay population wrought for understanding gay art, the gay bohemian cultural sensibility, and, fascinatingly, the rapid acceptance of gay marriage is telling.)

This is a powerful intellect and as powerful a wit, and she distinguishes nicely between wit and comedy, which doesn't suffer fools; and she doesn't bear the flaws of some autodidacts, and she is one, a high school dropout, who in my experience often know a lot of varied things but can't marshal what they know.

Lebowitz has the incisive, orderly, metonymic mind of a great lawyer, but her wit, intelligence, learning, completely unabashed honesty about herself and the world and range of interests take her far, far beyond what most great lawyers think, write and say. 

So as I was listening to the hour so richly full of her, my own mood ascending of its own accord started to change into exultance on enjoying her wonders.

Above's a podcast of the interview. The minute after I post this I'm going to download stuff of hers to read. What tremendous serendipity this all was.

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