Welcome to the latest issue of Subtle Maneuvers. Previously: Hayao Miyazaki, creativity, and selfishness.
Fran Lebowitz (b. 1950)
I’ll be honest: I delayed starting the new Fran Lebowitz Netflix series that everyone’s been talking about, because, having just finished a four-part documentary about Japan’s irritable genius of animation, I wasn’t really in the mood for another tortured-artist type groaning about, well, whatever. But once I finally put on Pretend It’s a City, on Friday, I discovered what everyone else has been saying: It’s an absolute delight! Lebowitz may be the world’s most famous sufferer of writer’s block, and she may play up her persona as the ultimate neurotic New Yorker—but what surprised me is how at peace she seems, how not tortured she is, and how much fun she seems to be having.
This comes across perhaps most clearly in an exchange about guilty pleasures near the beginning of episode six. Asked if she has any, Lebowitz says:
No. I have no guilty pleasures, because pleasure never makes me feel guilty. I think it’s unbelievable that there’s such a phrase as guilty pleasure. In other words—like, unless your pleasure is killing people! My pleasures are absolutely benign, by which I mean: No one dies. No one is molested. You know? And, I think: No, I don’t feel guilty for having pleasure! We live in a world where people don’t feel guilty for killing people, they don’t feel guilty for, like, putting babies in cages at the border. They don’t feel guilty for this, but I should feel guilty for—what? For having two bowls of spaghetti? For reading a mystery?
Lebowitz continues (and here I’m switching to screenshots because it gives you some sense of her delivery, which is of course part of the pleasure of watching the series):