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Sunday, February 13, 2005

Sorry Adam, but you're wrong about Miller

Adam Daifallah says "I would be remiss not to note the death Friday of the great playwright Arthur Miller, who passed away at the age of 89." I question the need to note his death, especially without mentioning his politics, and object to the idea that he was a great playwright. Good, maybe but not great. But amid all the wonderful things said with Miller's passing we should not forget the cause to which he put his limited talents. He was a communist sympathizer (in the least) and diehard liberal.
Several years ago W.O. Mitchell passed away and I was shocked by the news because I thought he had already been long dead. The only reason I knew Miller wasn't dead was that he penned some nasty missive about President George W. Bush, made speeches against Bush, campaigned for John Kerry, defended Bill Clinton during the impeachment proceedings and visited Fidel Castro. Contrary to Daifallah's claim that Miller went into "total seclusion" in recent years, Miller was forever make public appearances and pronouncing on this or that political matter.
The New Criterion several years back said Miller spouted (if I remember correctly) "radical-chic cliches." The occasion to write about Miller was his confirmation in a British paper that the inspiration for The Crucible, ostensibly about the Salem witch trials, was Senator Joseph McCarthy and the House Committee on Un-American Activities. The Crucible wasn't about the witch hunts but the hunt for communists. In 2003, contra Daifallah's claim that Miller went into seclusion, he made one of his many public pronouncements about the War on Terror saying that The Crucible is as relevant in the time of George W. Bush as it was when Senator McCarthy was in Washington.
And lest you think that my problem with Miller is purely political, I have never been a fan of his art. He was tolerable but hardly anything to get excited about. And while plays are meant to be watched and not read, no less an authority than Terry Teachout said of the playwright, he "hasn’t a poetic bone in his body." Playwrights need not be poets but it helps.
Daifallah was outraged that the headline on the Globe and Mail obit for Miller noted first that he was once the husband of Marilyn Monroe. Perhaps one day he will be better known for his famous wife than his plays. And that would be justice. It would be better, yet, if his repugnant politics were exposed. But I'm not holding my breath.

(Cross-posted at Sobering Thoughts)

Posted by Paul Tuns on February 13, 2005 | Permalink


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While I generally agree with Tuns' literary criticism, he oversimplifies Miller’s politics when he calls him, "a communist sympathizer (in the least)..." After a visit to Czechoslovakia evaporated the last remnants of his wishful thinking, Miller w... [Read More]

Tracked on 2005-02-16 10:07:42 AM


Miller, Budd Schulberg, Kazan, et al.

On The Waterfront; The Hook; Senator McCarthy; etc. & etc.

Lots of Google stuff on it.

Schulberg on the Commie party is riveting reading.

Miller was a hoax; always in left field. Say goodnight, Arthur.

Posted by: maz2 | 2005-02-13 6:25:20 PM

No, Adam was right about Miller. Miller was a great playwright, even if you and Teachout don't think so. Unless you have some very good reasons to think otherwise, the rest of us might prefer to accept the general consensus amongst those who would know about such things. In this case, Miller is considered a great playwright. And I don't think you've offered good reasons to think otherwise.

There's a reason why Death of a Salesman is, as Adam points out, a highschool standard. It's also a great read.

I should point out that your post is in somewhat poor taste. It's fine to point out that the man played for the bad guys. No problem. But to add, "oh, and his plays suck too" seems petty.

Posted by: P. M. Jaworski | 2005-02-14 7:09:38 AM

"There's a reason why Death of a Salesman is, as Adam points out, a highschool standard. It's also a great read."

As are "Catcher in the Rye" and "Lord of the Flies" - both terrible books.

In my OAC English class, I was allowed to do my major paper (worth a whopping 15% of my final grade) on any writer from a given list that included Steven King, Tom Clancy and V.C. Andrews. I hear their books are great reads too.

Point is, being a great read or being put on a high school reading list is not grounds for being a great book/play. Furthermore, having one decent work does not make you a great writer, especially when everything else you write sucks. "Death of a Salesmen" was by far Miller's best work, and it is notable not for its great literary qualities, but for its novelty. And the novelty it does have is not due to creativity but rather to the pure obviousness of its message. Other books say the same sort of thing in much subtler and complex ways. Miller says it by throwing it in your face and if you don't get it, by throwing it in your face again. Perfect for anyone trying to promote a politcal ideology or for anyone who wants to read a book and think their smart because they understand it. Unfortunatly, it makes for lousy writing.

Being entertaining, popular or on the "right" side of a political movement does not make you a good writer. Neither does being on a list.

Posted by: Pat C | 2005-02-14 7:58:57 AM

Pat: Too bad about your OAC major paper. My teacher allowed us to pick any writer, and I chose Ayn Rand.

Posted by: Adam D | 2005-02-14 9:52:43 AM

Well, at least he died happy, knowing Bush was re-elected.

Posted by: lrC | 2005-02-14 3:43:11 PM

When a Canadian emigrates to the States he increases the liberal nature of both countries

Posted by: Scott Reid | 2005-02-14 5:19:18 PM

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