Bravery in Art

Charlie Kaufman“The Post Postmodern Comedy Hour” is a television series that I’ve created. I’ve written two episodes for it. The extent of my illusions regarding it is that if I ever finish six episodes, I may take it down to public access and see if some people would like to try to do it. Along with a couple of short stories I’ve written, it is the best work that I’ve ever done. But more important, it is the only work that I’ve ever written that is exactly the kind of art that I want to see.

On its surface, it is a silly work: Captain Kangaroo for adults. It combines puppets, social satire, documentary, and comedy. But the back story is very dark. It is basically the same back story I used in my second novel, although without all the drug addiction. But it is worse, because in “Treading Asphalt,” Brian survives and manages to make his way in the world. Steve, in “The Post Postmodern Comedy Hour” lives in a fantasy land. Without his sister to shape a world around him, he would be lost. He has a childhood friend who has never grown up. And who doesn’t like him. It’s not that Steve is delusional. Reality simply terrifies him, and he wouldn’t go outside if he didn’t have to. If his sister died, he would probably starve himself to death like Kurt Gödel did after his wife died.

I was thinking about this last night while watching, Synecdoche, New York. I can’t conceive of writing anything as large as that. It probably represents the sum total of every fear that Charlie Kaufman has. And I share those fears. But I can’t get past the one fear that most defines my life: anxiety. It’s the fear of fear itself. It is meaningless. It is the fear of Jean-René in Romantics Anonymous, “Let’s hope nothing happens to us.” It is the fear of the threshold — the fear that any change will make us less happy, and we are very clear that we are already unhappy enough.

No one would ever get any of that from “The Post Postmodern Comedy Hour.” And I think the reason is because I am a coward. I obviously don’t mind talking about my many and varied psychological dysfunctions. But this is just talking. How does one create worlds that accurately express our souls? Forget about talent, the more important thing that separates me from Kaufman and David Foster Wallace is bravery. Art can be used to express reality or paper over it. Papering over is what hacks do.

Now if I were a total hack, I might be more successful. But I am always aware of just how terrified everyone is — or at least how terrified I am. And that is what I write. Cocooned in his studio with his imaginary friend, Steve can be a full person. With the help of his sister, he can play roles in the real world. But he’s never right with the terrifying outside. I don’t think anyone is. I think you’re all a bunch of liars — just like me. And if we talk privately, you’ll admit it. Because lying is what we do to make it through the day to buy food to eat and not live on the street. But it isn’t supposed to be what art does.


On the other hand, I’d be lost if it weren’t for things like this:

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