Synecdoche, New York

Ever since a particular morning visit to a park with my daughters in St Peters in 2001, when I caught myself contemplating the layer of pine-bark soft-fall in the children’s playground, thinking how awful it was that the bark was just sitting there slowly rotting, and that it would eventually have to be scooped up and thrown away and replaced, and how futile this all was – and, yes, I was already taking antidepressants, they were working just enough for me to be aware of how ridiculous I was being – ever since that moment, pessimistic artists have, for me, been divided into two groups.

On the one hand, there are those artists who seem to be comically or grotesquely unaware of how much their mordant and penetrating vision of the tragic nature of existence is contingent upon their own outlook or personality. Examples include W G Sebald, most of Pynchon, Infinite Jest, the Joy Division of Closer, The The, Michel Houellebecq and H P Lovecraft.

And then there are the ones who I still enjoy: Beckett, Cioran, Kafka, Swift, Flaubert, Ballard, The Crying of Lot 49, most of the rest of David Foster Wallace, the Joy Division of Unknown Pleasures and The Smiths.

Straight after seeing Synecdoche, New York I wasn’t sure whether Charlie Kaufman fell into the first or second categories. I won’t be entirely sure until I’ve seen the film again, but I think he’s one of the good ones. It’s a shame that one of the film’s best jokes seems to have been lifted from an episode of The Simpsons. There’s an elegiac playfulness to the film which reminded me of Barthelme.

The question of how much of the action is actually taking place seems to be answered by the appearance of a zeppelin, following the Hindenburg Uncertainty Principle. In fact, this film made me wonder whether the uncanny and infantile weirdness of airships – at once breastlike and unaggressively phallic, dreamily floating – is why they are only possible in fantasy worlds. If the Hindenburg hadn’t been going to crash it probably would have been sabotaged by guerilla psychoanalysts.


One response to “Synecdoche, New York

  1. Peter J Casey

    At the start of this year, I struggled to teach my Year 12s about metonymy and synecdoche. I also showed them ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’, in a quest for more assignments demonstrating some evidence of a plot. Then this film came out. So Kaufman’s definitely one of the good ones for me.

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