Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

What Shakespeare knew about Robert Durst

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Very interesting New Yorker column by Adam Gopnik:

One of the strangest things to observe in recent weeks has been the hold on what used to be called the popular imagination of Robert Durst’s final monologue in Andrew Jarecki’s documentary series, “The Jinx.” As nearly everyone knows by now, Durst, while on a “hot mic” in a bathroom, either did or did not, exactly, confess to the three or so murders of which he has long been suspected (and has denied and, in one case, been acquitted of having committed). His words, two parts Shakespeare to one part Samuel Beckett, seem likely to be burned onto our period’s memory: “There it is. You’re caught. You’re right, of course. But you can’t imagine. Arrest him. I don’t know what’s in the house. Oh, I want this. What a disaster. He was right. I was wrong. And the burping. I’m having difficulty with the question. What the hell did I do? Killed them all, of course.”

Durst’s overheard speech has inspired an entire vein of interpretation. Some are exculpatory, or try to be: perhaps he was imagining others saying these things about him, rather than saying them about himself. But, more often, his guilt has been assumed, and its mechanism explored.“In art, illumination comes in many guises: the soaring strings, the poetic monologue, the soul bared suddenly in a glance,” one interpreter wrote in the Los Angeles Times, adding that Durst “creates a deeply disturbing prose poem to the human drama, culminating in what sounds eerily like the call and response of good and evil.”

The risk in this kind of thing, of course, lies in aestheticizing what were, after all, sordid murders, of inexpressible pain to the victims’ families. (Rebecca Meadhas already argued that the spectacle, and its extraction, compromises both the viewers and the filmmakers.) But there is a difference between treating evildoing as entertainment and struggling to understand why some moments of reflection—if not confession—do indeed mesmerize us, even if as only the blackest kind of humor. For, by doing so, they presumably point to some truth that we would rather not face; in this case, the limitless human resource, even in extremis, for self-justification and the normalization of the abnormal. It is the banalities that Durst so casually throws into his confession—the burping alongside the bleeding, so to speak—that astonish us.

Many people have pointed out the eerie resemblance of Durst’s words to a Shakespearean soliloquy. Actually, only one kind of soliloquy—the villain’s kind—takes this form. Durst’s words are not at all Hamlet-like, as some have said. They recall, instead, the soliloquies of Iago, in “Othello,” and of Edmund, in “King Lear”—the moments when an evil man speaks out loud of his own capacity for evil, and then assures us that there’s nothing really shocking there. It’s just the burping.

That’s the thing that distinguishes Shakespeare’s confessions from their more commonplace counterparts in conventional crime fiction and drama: while the television bad guy usually sweats as he confesses to the terrible thing, the keynote in Shakespeare’s villains’ self-directed speeches isn’t . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 March 2015 at 11:06 am

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