Commonplace book: Jules Feiffer

Poster from the 1967 Broadway premiere of Jules Feiffer’s Little Murders.

It’s very dangerous to challenge a system unless you’re completely at peace with the thought that you’re not going to miss it when it collapses.

Alfred, in Jules Feiffer’s Little Murders

Feiffer’s comedy about the human cost of alienation, mistrust, and arbitrary violence in American cities, Little Murders, opened at Broadway’s Booth Theatre on April 25, 1967, and closed four days later; its cast included Elliott Gould, David Steinberg, Barbara Cook, and Heywood Hale Broun. Two years later, it opened off-Broadway for a rather more successful 400-performance run, this time directed by Alan Arkin and featuring a cast that included Fred Willard, Linda Lavin, and Vincent Gardenia. It is a chillingly dark comedy, and I would recommend that you search the 1971 film version out, but it’s exceedingly hard to come by, unavailable for streaming or DVD purchase in the U.S. despite a limited-edition 2018 U.K. restoration. Arkin directed the film, which gathered the best performances from both the Broadway and off-Broadway casts, and Arkin himself contributed a cameo performance as a police lieutenant, originally portrayed on Broadway by the great character actor Phil Leeds. Also appearing in the below clip (which contains Arkin’s full performance) are Elliott Gould as Alfred, Vincent Gardenia as Carol Newquist, and Elizabeth Wilson as Marge Newquist.

Claudio Magris in Budapest

The eclecticism of Budapest, its mixture of styles, evokes, like every Babel of today, a possible future swarming with the survivors of some catastrophe. Every heir of the Hapsburg era is a true man of the future, because he learnt, earlier than most others, to live without a future, in the absence of any historical continuity; and that is, not to live but to survive. But along these splendid boulevards, in a world as lively and elegant as this, a world which does not display the melancholy of the Eastern Bloc countries, even survival is charming and seductive, magnanimous and maybe, at times, almost happy.

Danube (page 266)

Claudio Magris on irony and the Central European mind

Here the Danube is young, and Austria is still far off, but clearly the river is already a sinuous master of irony, of that irony which created the greatness of Central European culture, the art of outflanking one’s own barrenness and checkmating one’s own weakness; the sense of the duplicity of things, and at the same time the truth of them, hidden but single. Irony taught respect for the misunderstandings and contradictions of life, the disjunction between the recto and the verso of a page that never meet even though they are the selfsame thing between time and eternity, between language and reality … Tolerance of the imbalances and deformities of the world, of its parallel lines that never meet, does not diminish our faith that those parallels meet at infinity, but it does not force them into meeting any earlier.

Danube (1986/89), p. 58
Translated by Patrick Creagh