Tyler Jones's Reviews > Essays

Essays by Wallace Shawn
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's review
Apr 03, 2012

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bookshelves: essays, drama
Read in April, 2012

I had a very difficult time deciding on a rating. Three stars or four? For two days now I have considered both and finally just now flipped a coin: heads - three stars, tails four stars. It came up heads.

I think it deserves three stars because Shawn just repeats himself so much. The book opens with a four star essay, but then he basically writes the same essay two more times. Yes, American affluence is sustained through economic subjugation of the poor nations. Gotcha. The individual cannot separate himself or herself from the intellectual and cultural debate that shapes America - another good point. I understood both these ideas the first time Shawn presented them and just got annoyed when he kept bringing them up. Does a 161 page book really need to pad itself out like this?

I was also put off by the fawning love-in that passed as an interview with Noam Chomsky. Sure I might agree with a fair bit of what they say (although I don't consider Bill Clinton to be a war criminal. I guess that makes me stooge.) but just because I agree doesn't mean I think it is a persuasive argument. This kind of smugly certain possession of the "truth" leaves a bad taste in my mouth, particularly after Shawn's earlier essays which warn against blindly following the herd.

But then there his writings about art and drama, which are fantastic, and his interview with Mark Strand, which may be one of the best pieces I have ever read when it comes to expressing what poetry is and why it is vital. The final piece, Writing about Sex, killed me.

So I'd give Shawn five stars for his writing on the arts - brilliant and original ideas cleverly expressed. But the political essays, in which he merely echoes much of the anti-Bush arguments we all were drowning in during the first eight years of this century, are unoriginal. As much as I agree with him, I won't say these essays are very good.

So how do I rate this book? Flip a coin. Three stars seems fair, but four would have been fair too.

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