Unreal Nature

December 16, 2014


Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:53 am

… To unburden the heart is to use confession as a weapon, as personality insurance …

This is from ‘Steig’s Gallery: Review of The Lonely Ones by William Steig‘ (1943) found in Clement Greenberg: The Collected Essays and Criticism, Vol. 1, edited by John O’Brian (1986):

We are all lonely. Marx predicted us almost one hundred years ago: alienating society with its alienated members. But we still have some sort of culture in common, and with attitudes popularized by reading and elevated conversation each dramatizes and justifies his loneliness. The titles of Steig’s drawings — Who Are All Those Others?, I Can’t Express It, I Recreated Myself, I Do Not Believe in Misleading People, Why Pick On Me? — are not, as Wolcott Gibbs claims in the foreword, simply chichés expressing the private obsessions by which odd types set themselves off from everybody else. They are the means of self-defense and self-assertion that we all resort to in the various times of our various humors. For just who are the other boys and girls whose humors, according to Mr. Gibbs, are not quite like these? If the “rest of the world” really exists and is not just a class distinction, then Steig’s drawings do not mean so much as they seem to. But I think Steig has got us all down, the whole well-informed class of us who read the liberal magazines, the New Yorker, and Modern Library books, whose hearts are in the right things.


Never in all history has there been so lonely a mass of people. The peculiar social form this loneliness takes is the convention of unburdening the heart. Tell all, disarm others, and assert yourself. It must be realized that before the eighteenth century there was hardly such a thing. Confession was the furthest one could do. To unburden the heart is to use confession as a weapon, as personality insurance, and not for relief. The gift-bearing Greeks in Steig’s gallery are self-assertive even when in postures of surrender.




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