Arthur Miller on the Best Work

“The best work that anybody ever writes is the work that is on the verge of embarrassing him, always.”–Arthur Miller

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A Year in Books/Day 131: After the Fall

  • Title: After the Fall A Play in Two Acts/Final Stage Version
  • Author: Arthur Miller
  • Year Published: 1964/This edition: 1987 (Penguin Books)
  • Year Purchased: 1990/1991
  • Source: Unknown
  • About: No matter how hard I want it to be otherwise, After the Fall has always left a bad taste in my mouth. Although he’s not my favourite American playwright, I love Arthur Miller. I do. My love even survived not only reading Death of a Salesman (which I adore) in my high school AP English class, but watching multiple film and television adaptations over the course of a few days. That’s asking too much, yet my love and respect remained intact. After the Fall, based on his relationship with second wife Marilyn Monroe, goes a step too far for my taste. The whole enterprise, although undoubtedly cathartic for Miller, is tainted by the too-fresh dirt of his ex-wife’s grave. All writers write, to one extent or another, about people they know and experiences they have. (I’m no different.) I’d like to think that most of us are sensible or compassionate enough to do it from behind at least a slightly opaque veil, without dozens of raw and neon-bright references to friends and family. Especially when they were-and remain-one of the most famous people in the world. If you were to reduce the play to just Maggie’s lines, it would almost read like an autobiographical monologue by Monroe. Unless you do that to yourself, it’s a bit icky. Now here’s where I must pause and tell a tale on myself: if After the Fall was top-notch Miller, I’d probably be more forgiving. I know I’m a hypocrite but great writing gets me every time. This isn’t great writing; it’s a curiosity piece, an exercise in egoism, condescension and hand-washing. It’s not a good look for one of America’s best playwrights.
  • Motivation: I’ve loved plays for nearly as far back as I can remember; not just in performance, but in text. I would read aloud all of the parts, like some sort of egocentric table reading. I guess I was theatrically inclined even then, loving the interplay between words and action that is missing from straight fiction. I wrote my first play in the 5th grade. Even though the short story is my (near exclusive) fiction medium, I write with play craft in mind.
  • Times Read: 3 or 4
  • Random Excerpt/Page 84: “That decency is murderous! Speak truth, not decency. I curse the whole high administration of fake innocence! I declare it, I am not innocent-nor good!”
  • Happiness Scale: 6 for subject matter and over all execution/10 for the few passages where Miller’s writing soars
    Arthur Miller, American playwright

    Arthur Miller, American playwright (Photo credit: Wikipedia)