The Browser recently scored an interview with Woody Allen for its “Five Books” series. Of the five Allen discussed, the one that really caught my attention was a novel called Epitaph of a Small Winner, and I’m planning to order a copy:
Let’s turn to a comic novel written in 1880 by Brazil’s Machado de Assis. Tell us about it and how you came to love this work.
Well, I just got it in the mail one day. Some stranger in Brazil sent it and wrote, “You’ll like this.” Because it’s a thin book, I read it. If it had been a thick book, I would have discarded it.
I was shocked by how charming and amusing it was. I couldn’t believe he lived as long ago as he did. You would’ve thought he wrote it yesterday. It’s so modern and so amusing. It’s a very, very original piece of work.
The memorable last line of the novel reads: “I had no progeny, I transmitted to no one the legacy of our misery.” You shrug off the notion that your work leaves an artistic legacy. Can you at least acknowledge a cultural one? What I have in mind is that more men today follow the model of romance established by Alvy Singer than those established by Romeo, Darcy, or Casanova.
When it comes to romance, when it comes to love, everyone is in the same boat. The issues that Euripides and Sophocles and Shakespeare and Chekhov and Strindberg struggled with are the same unsolvable problems that each generation deals with and finds its own way of complaining about. . . .
I may have different cosmetics, but in the end we’re all writing about the same thing. This is the reason why I’ve never done political films. Because the enduring problems of life are not political; they’re existential, they’re psychological, and there are no answers to them — certainly no satisfying answers.