Friday, November 30, 2018

A Note To A Friend On Justified, The Extended Crime And Law Enforcemet Series

Just finished watching last season,

It may not be artistically the best extended dramatic television series.

I can see arguments for its flaws.

I can see how its violence, indiscriminate and plentiful and often throw away killings and many contrivances can count against it.

But, I’ll distinguish between best and favourite, and say it’s my very favourite extended tv series.  

I love how shot through it is with the characters, plot twists, themes, dialogue, voice, idiosyncrasies  and generally the spirit and artistic sensibility of Elmore Leonard. 

I love the scene in which Raylan Givens lends his fellow Marshall a battered paperback copy of George V. Higgins’s The Friends Of Eddie Coyle and tells him it’s so beat up because, he says, if he’s read the novel ten times that would be low. Elmore Leonard said George V. Higgins was his biggest literary influence, his master. I see Higgins’s books as literature. I’m starting to think some of Leonard’s novels are too. 

Another thing striking about the series is its fantastic sense of place, the mountains, valleys, hills and hollers of Appalachian Harlan County, Eastern Kentucky, its local colour, as evident in the characters, the language, rhythms and idioms of their speech—that’s simply magnificently done—its recreation of place and time and in the cinematography of the land. 

Tabling its ultimate aesthetic worth, I’d put it artistically over Breaking Bad, which I like but don’t love, and on a par with The Sopranos. 

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Literary Criticism: Going By Feel: Huck Finn, The Merchant Of Venice

So we’re good then. 

You agree with me?

Glad to have helped.

Seriously, how does a difference like this end? How does one person get the other to change their mind? is it a matter of making specific arguments that then get assessed, accepted or refuted? Or is the whole thing mission impossible? When I reread the longer thing I may have sent you, then I became even more convinced that I have a unique insight that unlocks the whole meaning of the novel in light of its ending. And I got it writing an essay on Huck Finn for my class in American Lit taught by Ross LaBrie. He thought it was an original and stimulating insight.

But I can see the other way of looking at it. It reminds me of my dissatisfaction with The Merchant of Venice. The portrayal of Shylock is so strong, his plea for his dignity is so potent, his righteousness so apparent, his daughter such a bauble, those around him so flat and uninspiring, that the end’s prosecutorial skewering of him, the reduction of him to and the dispatching of him as, a low, wounded cur and the ending of blissful coming together—the hallmark of romantic comedy in Shakespeare—seems dramatically off and emotionally discordant, in sum a huge let down. My theory is that Shylock got away on Shakespeare and became a greater dramatic presence and force than Shakespeare intended. Ultimately the play doesn’t work.

Is that comparable to Huck Finn, them on the river reaching such transcendent heights, Huck condemning himself to Hell in helping Jim, such that the ending is a sad unsatisfying burlesque?

What can I tell you: I don’t think so for among the reasons I’ve said. 

But this is where I came in: no one gets convinced. We go by feel, hopefully informed feel, and agree or disagree. It’s an art not a science, is literary criticism. And done nicely, that’s a richness.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

For Then Against Then Maybe For Again The Death Penalty

Where I am with this issue is as follows.

I began favoring death penalty for horrific crimes. In such cases, my thinking is, the retributive pillar of criminal sentencing—the others, rehabilitation, specific deterrence and general deterrence—overwhelms the others. It rightly channels the community’s rage by the most grave and awesome act, the death penalty, the act that shows the greatest reverence for life in its ultimate response to the extraordinarily shocking taking of innocent life.

I’ve kept to that rationale but have worried over mistakes and condemning to death innocent accused wrongly convicted. That worry has formed the basis of my opposition.

But of late my opposition is getting jiggly and wobbly. The reasons are: my shuddering anew at overwhelmingly brutal homicidal crimes; the improvement of forensic evidence like DNA leading to absolute certainty of guilt in some cases and generally to a lessening of error; and this—calculated death seems built into certain policy choices so that raising or lowering speed limits, for one example, are guaranteed to save or cost lives; so why not the same reasoning with the death penalty? If an innocent life is lost that’s the foreseeable cost of a desired policy. I feel there’s something wrong with this last argument, something ghoulish in fact, but I can’t put my finger on it.

In all of this, though, my view of the moral appropriateness of the death penalty, its deontological rightness, hasn’t wavered.