Of all the insane things I could ever wish for, I suppose one of the strangest is to be the intellectual equal of Wallace Shawn. The man has the ability to say the most rational things in the most agreeable terms (not that I’m always irrational and disagreeable). He can point out our own accountability for future history and current social situations without pointing a finger of blame. If we listen to what he says, really listen, we experience “aha” moments from what may seem the most commonplace observations. He brilliantly accepts and details his responsibility, making us realize ours.
Wallace Shawn is not a writer I can recommend to staunch conservatives, although he transcends liberalism and speaks from a humanistic base. Ironically, I’ve always thought of Shawn as a funny, appealing guy. Yeah, intellectual, but not in the lofty sense of academia and furrowed brows.
In the recently released audio book, Essays by Wallace Shawn, the listener is afforded the opportunity to experience samples of Shawn’s literary output spanning several decades. Some of the selections are short — one is only six and half minutes — some exceed a half hour. In all, there are 17 essays on four disks.
Shawn’s topics include two ex-taboos, politics and religion (their prohibition in polite conversation kept dinner and cocktail parties civil for the most part, until about 40 years ago), as well as art, education, privilege, loyalty, love, nationalism, and insanity. What’s most interesting is the moral emphasis that imbues his opinions. While not embracing the role of activist, Shawn confronts the issue of human rights in many of his essays.
He discusses genocide, but he also explores the not always subtle class differences in our society. He may have always been comfortable (and he appreciates that fact) but he has a respect for those who haven’t and who may never be.