Archives for category: criticism

This is … something: Hanya Yanagihara on Lolita.


I initially had quite a bit of trouble figuring out what Hilton Als was getting at in his review of a production of the musical version of “Sunset Boulevard.” Then, in the last paragraph, I encountered this, and it clicked:

… it takes a long time for Norma to express her masculine rage …

Apparently we are, indeed, to read Als’s line of argument literally: he truly is evaluating how well Glenn Close portrays a man in drag playing the role of Norma Desmond. And this makes sense to him as the right approach because he truly is asserting that the character’s femininity is based not on some extant model of femininity associated with, you know, women, but rather on (a particular brand of) drag, which is (his term!) sui generis.

(I’m reminded of this perplexing comment about drag that appeared in the same magazine in another context:

… it’s all about dressing up and being pretty without the baggage of gender coding.

Sure. And minstrelsy is all about dressing up and being funny without the baggage of the Triangular Trade.)

To sum up: Als’s take is that, despite the repeated casting of women in the leading role, “Sunset Boulevard” is actually about a man, mistreated by men, and played to a male audience.

OK then. Just so we’re clear.

Moving on: it seems that Mary Beard has persisted in writing and publishing articles, despite warnings and explanations. Oh, this is interesting:

… my basic premise is that our mental, cultural template for a powerful person remains resolutely male.

You think this kind of “mental, cultural template” might have something to do with Als’s characterization of Norma’s rage as “masculine”?

[W]e have no template for what a powerful woman looks like, except that she looks rather like a man.

And Als doesn’t even like “Sunset Boulevard.” Jesus.


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