|Ryder: a curious diagnosis|
|Carson: nostalgic through and through|
|Wharton: supremely objective?|
|Kundera: the State lays claim to Memory|
“This is the great private problem of man: death as the loss of the self. But what is this self? It is the sum of everything we remember. Thus what terrifies us about death is not the loss of the past. Forgetting is a form of death ever present within life…But forgetting is also the great problem of politics. When a big power wants to deprive a small country of its national consciousness it uses the method of organized forgetting."
These conflicting worldviews may have discombobulated Daniel Day-Lewis, the Irish-English actor who played the hero Newland Archer in The Age of Innocence, and had five years before starred in the adaptation of the Kundera novel, The Unbearable Lightness of Being. The New York Times landed a rare interview with the acclaimed method actor as he prepared for the Scorsese film.
“[Day-Lewis] had been studying books on 19th-century etiquette as background for his character, Newland Archer, in Edith Wharton's novel about beau-monde New York during the Gilded Age. Already, he sounded happy to be ‘drawn into the vortex’ of Archer's life – ‘his subtle hypocrisies, his realization of those hypocrisies, the self-detestation…’ As the conversation in the restaurant drifts back to "The Unbearable Lightness of Being," a film he finds too bleak to think about, it becomes apparent how deeply he inherits what he reads and acts. ‘He actually changed my way of looking at things,’ he says of Kundera. ‘For a long time afterward I was very disoriented. I wasn't strong enough to resist him.’"
Q: Countess Olenska likes to shatter conformity and convention. Is that true of you?
A: I don’t know. Perhaps shattering things, yes. [She laughs.] I don’t know that I’ve ever consciously gone about doing that. I know that I’ve fought in my work against being pigeonholed… All actors are limited to a degree by the way they look. I think if you want to reach beyond the obvious roles that somebody might cast you in, you have to work for it.The observation about an actress’s appearance sounds refreshingly candid. And the necessity of having to earn something beyond the expected seems like solid advice for thespians, theologians and theoretical physicists alike. The self-effacing Pfeiffer, when asked about one of her co-stars, the aforementioned Winona Ryder, replied, "She’s terribly sophisticated for her age. She’s a strange combination. I felt kind of maternal toward her."
“…an incessant, undefinable craving, like the sudden whim of a sick man for food and drink once tasted and long since forgotten… He simply felt that if he could carry away the vision of the spot of earth she walked on…the rest of the world might seem less empty.”
There is also a philosophical resonance that adds to the pleasure of re-reading or contemplating the scene. Wharton in 1908 told a friend that she enjoyed Beyond Good and Evil by Friedrich Nietzsche, according to Carol Shaffer-Koss. The author allowed that she had indulged in “a glance” at the German iconoclast’s Thus Spake Zarathustra, which offers the concept of the Eternal Return, or the Eternal Recurrence, according to your taste in repetition.
“What has always stuck in my head is the brutality under the manners. People hide what they mean under the surface of language. In the subculture I was around when I grew up in Little Italy, when somebody was killed, there was a finality to it. It was usually done by the hands of a friend. And in a funny way, it was almost like ritualistic slaughter, a sacrifice. But New York society in the 1870’s didn't have that. It was so cold-blooded. I don't know which is preferable."
“To progress in your chosen career, William, you must remember that a good servant at all times retains a sense of pride and dignity that reflects the pride and dignity of the family he serves. And never make me remind you of it again.”
She also encouraged the cross-examination of even happy memories and finds those most sound who have carefully reflected on others’ sacrifices and deference so they “…could see that their own good experiences were in some ways dependent on unjust social arrangements, or on bad experiences for others.”