The cigar takes time

Yesterday evening, I watched Larry Eats a Pancake, the first episode of Seinfeld's Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. I was thrilled by the little zen twists to the art of his comedy about nothing. I also noticed subtle Woody Allen references. I didn't watch Seinfeld when it came out, I once shunned the TV. Later, I appreciated the series for its distinctive New York traits.
Namely, the fraternising with unexpected characters: e.g. I used to eat Spanish beans with a soap star who'd grown up on a commune, a yoga teacher, and an artist who worked for BR. There is something about this slice of life, with people at different intersections trying to figure life out for themselves, amateur thinkers, who collect books on obscure art movements from The Strand and study the psychoanalysis of space and who go to the odd harp concert held by their friends, if grudgingly. They comprise the tapestry of New York.
In a beautiful little book called The Unfinished City, NYU Prof. Bender explains that New York was initially modeled after Paris. While it became something quite different, it continued to look to Europe perhaps more than it looked to the rest of America. Bender describes New York as a city of pragmatic pluralism. I think that part of what made Seinfeld and Allen's films is part of this pragmatic pluralism, where odds and ends can be laughed off as eccentricity, summed up beautifully in Bender's phrase: "Intellectual and cultural life in the age of P.T. Barnum was a free-for-all," and a Henry James passage he selected, describing the "alien" in Central Park, "there in all his 'singleness of expression,' yet also sharing in a common 'possession of the park.'" "The social compound that is New York does not fit easily the dominant notions of the [mythical] meaning of America."
What I find fascinating about Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee is that the pluralistic park has shifted from New York to LA. Indeed, Bender makes the observation in his book that today, America looks more like New York - as opposed to New York not fitting in the "America" of before. We can see this trend in the relatively recent launch of the LA Review of Books.
The other thing about Comedians is the quelque chose de France. Subtle elements of this were present in Seinfeld's comedy about nothing. Which aspects? I will now borrow from the Sorbonne's Prof. Truchet, whose summary of 20th century French literature includes: an interest in the process of writing itself (Seinfeld is a comedy about a comedian writing comedy); the literature of entertainment and consumption - sometimes exemplified by "easy" comedy, often referred to as "of the boulevard." A feature of these trends was that there was something for everyone: everyone could find something of interest. Prof. Truchet points out that this literature was not the kind that was given priority by universities - and did not warrant much commentary. We can infer that it was entertainment for entertainment's sake, one step removed from Horace's dulce et utile.
Which brings me back to Comedians. It approaches le Woody Allen in that there are one or two maverick philosophical turns of phrase - like the one in the title of this post. There is even a zen reference to not working, which I am sure you agree is not very "American," in its Puritan telling.
But the strength of the comedy is in the ability to retain our attention in the most trivial of topics. There is something absurd in this, and yet I am inclined to believe that there is grace in finding something worthwhile in the most mundane of tasks. Finally, I would have to say that this is a new American trait: to imbue the most trivial with something worthy of our gaze. Norman Rockwell once wrote: "When I go to farms or little towns, I am always surprised by the discontent I find. And New York, too often, has looked across the sea toward Europe. And all of us who turn our eyes away from what we have are missing life." It is perhaps in engaging the most trivial of details that there is hope that we aren't missing the life that we have.

Washi tape: pugly pixel.

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