On 2001 after 50 years


When my work is on the table at a writers’ group meeting the first question I hear from young writers who still need to be propped up is the old shibboleth “Who’s your audience?” To this I say, if I’m in a certain mood, that I don’t know. It annoys people when someone flouts the rules. If I feel more forgiving I will say also that it’s not my business to find my audience but to create it. To annoyance this elucidation adds variously combative disbelief, puzzlement, dismissal.

In a recent New Yorker article on the reception, now fifty years ago, of Stanley Kubrick’s film 2001, Dan Chiasson writes concerning the ending that

“The film took for granted a broad cultural cultural tolerance, if not an appetite, for enigma, as well as the time and inclination for parsing interpretive mysteries. If the first wave of audiences was baffled, it might have been because 2001 had not yet created the taste it required to be appreciated. Like Ulysses or The Wasteland or countless other difficult, ambiguous modernist landmarks, 2001 forged its own context. You didn’t solve it by watching it a second time, but you did settle into its mysteries.” (4/23/2018 p43)

This probably won’t help with the workshoppers either. Suffice it to say that there is a lot of social criticism embedded here which to my mind is a little acid, probably because I was myself a young writer when the film was released, eager to say I didn’t give a damn what it meant, and the persistent tiresome search for meaning was nothing more than the old fear which must give way to something new if life and culture were to move on, and about time too. After fifty years’ persistent pursuit of an audience it’s apparently back to the future.

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