Friday Buzz - Woody and the Meaning of Life

Two new books recently have caught my eye. Oddly enough, both wrangle with philosophical issues --in entirely different ways.

Woody Allen's new book is, well, very Woody. Admittedly, I've cooled a bit toward Woody Allen ever since he married his 20-year-old daughter. (Who knew you could make a double entendre out of "robbing the cradle"?) There is no disputing his genius, however, when it comes to filmmaking and writing.

Take this excerpt from his new book, “Mere Anarchy," as reviewed in The New York Times:

“The land is arable and found primarily on the ground,” Mr. Allen writes, about a lonely burg located “just above the bluffs that form Planck’s constant.” ...just above the bluffs that form Planck’s constant.

“She loved fresh lightbulbs,” a former housekeeper says of a victim called Mrs. Washburn. “The linens we did once a year.”

As to the perpetrators of this heinous crime, the story concludes: “Whether the death penalty acts as a deterrent remains questionable, although studies show that the odds of criminals committing another crime drops by almost half after their execution.”

Pretty keen observations on the absurdities of our criminal justice system.

In addition to Mere Anarchy, this summer also sees the release of The Insanity Defense, a reprint combining Allen's three other humor collections (“Without Feathers,” “Side Effects” and “Getting Even” -- I've read the first two.)

I sort of envy those people who will come long after us and Mr. Allen have departed. They won't be subjected to the sordid details of his private life; they will just be able to bask in the lasting brilliance.

On another note, this book looks interesting: The Meaning of Life by Terry Eagleton. (Not to mention his book Literary Theory: An Introduction.)

For one thing, it's relatively short. (Heresy!) And for another, Eagleton is writing from the perspective of a literary theorist. Hence, his love and understanding of linguistics color his viewpoints, as demonstrated in this excerpt from the Salon review by Laura Miller:

For those who don't believe in God, or at least in a God with a plan for the human race, the question "What is the meaning of life?" seethes with puzzles. Can existence mean anything at all without someone (i.e., God) to mean it? Those famous 100 monkeys, pounding away on 100 typewriters for eternity, might eventually produce the exact text of "Hamlet," but they won't mean "Hamlet" the way that the man who intentionally wrote it did.

Eagleton brings contemporary linguistics-based theory to bear on the idea of "meaning," pointing out that it takes several forms. I might mean (that is, intend) to say the word "poisson" ("fish") to a French waiter, but I might actually say "poison," which in turn means (that is, signifies) something else entirely. ("Poison" has the same meaning in French, actually, as it has in English.) There's what I intend to signify or communicate when I speak, and then there's what my words mean in a larger system, such as a language. For linguists, the first kind of meaning is an "act" and the second is a "structure."

Whoa. I don't know about you, but I'm going to have to spend the rest of my Friday mulling over that tidbit.


Rebecca H. said...

The Eagleton book looks interesting -- it takes guts, doesn't it, to write a book called "the meaning of life"?

Anonymous said...

Not overly relevant to this post, but I saw this and thought of you!

Bobby D. said...

Woody had some very humorous short stories published some years back.

Anonymous said...

I just found out about Woody's new book today. I've been waiting for something like this for 15 years, which is when I first read his first three humor books. This one doesn't sound like it's quite as good, but I'll probably get it soon.

As far as his personal life goes, I take words on the page as just that. Woody could have become a serial killer and it wouldn't make the words he wrote any less funny.