When asked about his politics, Woody Allen, whose film career and private life need no introduction, famously remarks via his character in Stardust Memories (1980), “I’m for total honest democracy. I also believe the American system can work.” What is left of the “American system” once the illusion of “total honest democracy” is exposed is an immensely complex quagmire of competing forces, all of which fall more or less under the sway of political maneuvering. Politicians and the wealthy strive for power and more wealth while the relatively less privileged do the same on a smaller scale, the general course of which relies on a desire for the fundamental establishment of socially sanctioned identities. Obviously there are countless modes of experience between “total honest democracy” and the “American system,” a multitude of communities with their own unwritten charters for the scaffolding of empowered, or simply legitimized, subjectivity, but this ubiquitously gray area falls more in line with realist narrative than with the comedy of polar oppositions. While there are plenty of fascinating examples to the contrary, when realism does veer toward humor, it often does so by narrowing in on banality, which, it could be argued, always has something of the tragic about it insofar as banal preoccupations are represented as being diametrically opposed to grand aspirations, leisure that might allow for depth of experience and meaning, notable accomplishment, cultural fulfillment— in short, the power of human agency to shine in its social context.
KeywordsAmerican System Notable Accomplishment Political Maneuvering North American Literature Polar Opposition
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