Vanessa Place Vs. AWP, Woody Allen, and more

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Just as the controversy over PEN America’s award to Charlie Hebdo recedes into the distance a new issue has erupted over at AWP concerning the placement of Vanessa Place on a subcommittee. A petition at Change.org opens:

“We find it inappropriate that Vanessa Place is among those who will decide which panels will take place at AWP Los Angeles. We acknowledge Place’s right to exercise her creativity, but we find her work to be, at best, startlingly racially insensitive, and, at worst, racist.”

It did not take long for AWP to agree to the demand:

Woody Allen is in the news for statements made at Cannes over the weekend about his upcoming Amazon series. Allen called the project, “a catastrophic mistake for me.” Of course, these comments need to be seen within the context of the director’s worldview, which remains bleak and pessimistic. Later during the same appearance Allen offered his views on life and art:

“We’re all gonna wind up in a very bad position one day sooner or later. The only way to deal with it as an artist is to try to come up with something to explain to people why life is worth living. You can’t really do that without conning them because in the end it has no meaning. Everything you create or do is going to vanish. The sun is burning out and the universe will be gone. Everything that Shakespeare or Beethoven created will all be gone no matter how much we cherish it. So it’s very hard to sell people a bill of goods that there’s any good to this.”

The Baffler has what they think is an English translation debut of the first interview the poet Joseph Brodsky gave after being exiled from the Soviet Union in 1972. Brodsky discusses his view of then Soviet culture, his surprisingly harsh thoughts on the Prague Spring as well as his ruminations on poetry and art:

“The longer art exists, the more time passes, the harder it is to practice, because, among other things, art requires not only what the artist has to say, but new means, new tools and so on. And this is not simply an internal process, but is also in a kind of competition with the past, with what’s been already said. And in this regard the writer is, of course, in the most difficult situation.”

How artists should respond to Soviet totalitarian control is one of Brodsky’s themes in this interview and elsewhere. The issue remains raw today as demonstrated by a current controversy over a decision to perform Shostakovich’s pro-Stalin compositions in public for the first time in years.

Richard Abowitz is the editor of The Smart Set. Get in touch at rabowitz@drexel.edu.

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