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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Jane and Nanette

The following is a link to my post from a few days ago about an extraordinary worldwide cultural event, that I bet a number of you have already heard about, and some of you have also experienced: the debut a month ago on Netflix of Nanette, the 1-hour "comedy" performance by Hannah Gadsby:

If you Google “Hannah Gadsby”, you'll find 3 dozen articles written in the last month in major ezines, and new ones being published every day, now that her Netflix special has gone completely, wildly viral --and deservedly so. On Twitter you will find hundreds of Tweets every day, including several of her most memorable quotes therefrom, especially from the fiery rhetoric of her closing argument:
“I want my story heard because, ironically, I believe Picasso was right. I believe we could create a better world if we learned to see the world from all different perspectives--as many perspectives as we possibly could. Because diversity is strength. Difference is a teacher- fear difference, you learn nothing. Picasso’s mistake was his arrogance. He assumed he could represent all of the perspectives. And our mistake was to invalidate the perspective of a 17-year-old girl because we believed her potential would never equal his. Hindsight is a gift. Stop wasting my time. A 17-year-old girl is never in her prime. Ever. I am in my prime. Would you test your strength out on me?”

This is an excerpt from the beginning of my post, which I wrote 3 days ago:
“…as Gadsby’s one-hour performance progressed, it grew steadily in power and impact, until, at its emotional crescendo -- to borrow Mark Knopfler’s phrase – it exploded in my heart (and mind)! When it ended, I hit “Restart” and watched it again in its entirety; and that rewarded me with a much better sense of Gadsby’s astonishing rhetorical alchemy. (I’ve since watched it a third time, last night, when I shared the gift of Gadsby, so to speak, with my wife, and I have it on in the background as I write now)."

If any of you have already, or in the near future do, watch Nanette, too, I'd love to talk here about it --in particular, I'd like to explore the extraordinary parallels I now see between Gadsby and Jane Austen. For starters, I suggested the following in my above linked post:
"The Great Gadsby & The Great Austen: I see a crucial, ironic difference between how a great female and great male artists have been romanticized. As Gadsby brilliantly argues, male artists are romanticized by muting and rationalizing his worst character defects, in service of adulation of his artistic reputation; whereas with a female artist, especially one of the past like Jane Austen, it is still all too common to minimize their artistic achievements and aspirations. It might seem to those who haven’t studied Austen that Gadsby’s message and Austen’s message were worlds apart. The prevailing impression of Austen’s stories is that she was the greatest purveyor of  sophisticated heterosexual romance, in which a smart, clear-thinking young heroine winds up with the man she loves despite all obstacles. Turns out that under the official surface, my research has shown me a thousand times that Austen’s ‘shadow stories” are mostly LGBT, that Austen was a connoisseur and collector of female literary voices, even as she satirically deconstructed male narratives.  If Austen were living today, I’d like to think she and Gadsby would collaborate, and rock the world even more together."

And today I woke up wondering about an even more intriguing possible parallel between Austen and Gadsby, suggested to me by reading the following about Gadsby yesterday: "Hannah Gadsby on how Picasso is the Donald Trump of the art world, and why we need to rethink art galleries" by Dee Jefferson
"...While a degree in art history and curatorial studies helped, Gadsby says she also has an advantage when it comes to identifying systemic patterns. "I've got Asperger's. I come at things from sideways," she says"My mind is built to see patterns. And my area of interest is art and history. "So that's why I am able to connect the dots — and why I'm shouting and getting angry about them," she laughs. "I'm like 'Guys! Guys! Have a look! This is terrible!..."

" ‘I broke the contract’: how Hannah Gadsby's trauma transformed comedy" by Jenny Valentish
"Three years ago, she was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. “It’s clarified why the comedy lifestyle is so difficult for me,” she says. “It’s a lot of noise and moving around.” A child wails, as if on cue, and she flinches. Gadsby explains that people with autism have an increased sensitivity to traumatisation due to their difficulty in communicating and regulating emotions. They are also more vulnerable to becoming victims in the first place. A Swedish study this year revealed that women who screened positive for autism are nearly 3 times more likely to have experienced sexual abuse. When the Australian TV celebrity Don Burke was at the centre of #MeToo allegations last year, he blamed autism for his actions – and Gadsby took aim on social media. “If there’s one thing that a spectrum brain is great at, it is identifying patterns,” she wrote....she points out that Nanette was built from her ability to see patterns. “Having the framework of autism boils down to not looking out to the world to see how I should exist, but knowing I don’t actually have to be social, knowing that it exhausts me and that I will get confused and look like an idiot,” she says. “Because I also know that I understand things a lot deeper than a lot of people.”

In a nutshell, the Hannah Gadsby I see on the TV screen in Nanette -- who fires elegantly composed, epigrammatic darts of razor-sharp irony out at her audience -- perfectly, even uncannily, fits the famous, spot-on description of Jane Austen by Mary Russell Mitford in 1815: 
a friend of mine, who visits her now, says that she has stiffened into the most perpendicular, precise, taciturn piece of “single blessedness” that ever existed, and that, till Pride and Prejudice showed what a precious gem was hidden in that unbending case, she was no more regarded in society than a poker or a fire-screen, or any other thin upright piece of wood or iron that fills its corner in peace and quietness. The case is very different now; she is still a poker – but a poker of whom every one is afraid. It must be confessed that this silent observation from such an observer is rather formidable. Most writers are good-humoured chatterers – neither very wise nor very witty: – but nine times out of ten (at least in the few that I have known) unaffected and pleasant, and quite removing by their conversation any awe that may have been excited by their works. But a wit, a delineator of character, who does not talk, is terrific indeed!"

And so, for the first time, I begin to wonder if I was wrong when I did not take seriously the possibility that Jane Austen may actually have had Asperger’s -- as Anielka Briggs briefly suggested in 2009 in the Janeites group, and then Ellen Moody advocated for more specifically a few years ago:

Ellen in Janeites: 
"I think Austen had Aspergers traits. I'm quite serious about this. Burney had none. It accounts for Austen's jaundiced attitude in the letters, for her keeping close to her family the way she did, not getting sexually involved and some of her characterizations. It's what the movies work to eliminate. Maybe not diagnosable by which I mean were you to have her before you and go through the modern 6 categories you would not be able to check off 2. That's the criteria: there are six categories and you can to check off two in each. We can't know. We have but one letter from someone to Austen and (Ironically I suppose) it's by someone whom Austen is said to have disliked; it's apparent he does not know this or her well. No family description of her, say, at a party. And Henry is so defensive…The book by [Bottomer] was onto something. We have seen it in the letters. but there is such a stigma she backed away from the obvious."

Gadsby’s matter-of-fact description of herself as a savant of pattern-recognition rings so true. And if there’s any single gift that, for me, best characterizes Jane Austen, it’s her once-in-a-century ability to spot, analyze, and depict character and patterns of behavior in small groups at close quarters.

Which all leaves me with the growing sense that had Hannah Gadsby been born into Jane Austen’s life, she might have written something like the six novels; and had the reverse been the case, then Jane Austen would be the star of her version of that Netflix special.

In 2002, I wrote the following in the Janeites group:
“Mr. Bennet would have been a GREAT standup comic were he alive today. Which means, JANE AUSTEN would have been a great standup comic were SHE alive today. Dontcha think? Can you just imagine? I'd love to see a really talented female standup comic with an encyclopedic knowledge of JA and a gift for mimicry give that one a go. Hal Holbrook made a career out of doing Mark Twain. Stuart Whitman did Harry Truman. Has someone ever "done" Jane Austen?”

Hannah Gadsby, are you listening? Wouldn’t Jane that be a great followup to Nanette?

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

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