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Dennett’s Ark

P.N. Johnson-Laird, 1 September 1988

The Intentional Stance 
by Daniel Dennett.
MIT, 388 pp., £22.50, January 1988, 9780262040938
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... despite the best efforts of certain philosophers to persuade them otherwise. As Descartes (or Woody Allen) might have said, ‘I know that I think, therefore I am an intentional system.’ This capacity for self-awareness distinguishes us qualitatively, I am happy to say, from thermostats. It depends on consciousness – Dennett’s other main ...

Swinging it

Mark Ford, 7 July 1988

S.J. Perelman: A Life 
by Dorothy Herrmann.
Simon and Schuster, 337 pp., £14.95, November 1987, 0 671 65460 8
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Don’t tread on me: The Selected Letters of S.J. Perelman 
edited by Prudence Crowther.
Viking, 372 pp., £14.95, October 1987, 0 670 81759 7
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... has overtaken the comic writer,’ he complained. In fact our greatest living comic, Woody Allen, derives directly from Perelman’s intellectual schlemiel routine. Perelman ended up feeling rather out of touch with the times. After the death of Laura he precipitately sold the farm in Pennsylvania and tried to settle down in London. All his ...
Cary Grant: A Class Apart 
by Graham McCann.
Fourth Estate, 346 pp., £16.99, September 1996, 1 85702 366 8
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... making it hard even for her to feel settled within any single identity.’ In his book on Woody Allen (1990) he expands: ‘Many observers have been content to settle on the fairly contemptuous belief that movie stars “play themselves” – as if playing oneself were easy, given the complex, contradictory material at hand and the problem of ...

Nothing goes without saying

Stanley Cavell, 6 January 1994

The Marx Brothers: ‘A Day at the Races’, ‘Monkey Business’ and ‘Duck Soup’ 
introduced by Karl French.
Faber, 261 pp., £8.99, November 1993, 0 571 16647 4
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... were really lecherous they would no longer be funny. (Adam Gopnik was making such a point about Woody Allen a couple of months ago in the New Yorker.) Being parodies of lechery, they enact claims on the part of each human creature (‘All God’s chillun’ is how they name them in A Day at the Races) to be loved, for no reason. Harpo would not know ...

Like a boll weevil to a cotton bud

A. Craig Copetas, 18 November 1993

New York Days 
by Willie Morris.
Little, Brown, 400 pp., £19.45, September 1993, 0 316 58421 5
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... is seeing the bloodiest street fighting since the clam-linguini war that followed revelations that Woody Allen had slept with his wife’s adopted daughter. Eastside, Westside, all around the town’s British-controlled perimeter Louis Lapham and his humiliated forces meet like a collegium of Soviet generals to plan a counter-attack in the pages of the ...

Who ate the salted peanuts?

Jerry Fodor, 21 September 2006

The Human Touch: Our Part in the Creation of a Universe 
by Michael Frayn.
Faber, 505 pp., £20, September 2006, 0 571 23217 5
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... something worth reporting, we’d be long gone before the stars got the news. There are those of a Woody Allen temperament who find this revised worldview not bearable. Angst and dread overcome them; they languish in existential loneliness. Or at least they tell me that they do. I guess I sympathise, though it’s not a mood I find it easy to get into. If ...

What happened to Flora?

Michael Wood: Nabokov’s Cards, 7 January 2010

The Original of Laura: (Dying is Fun) A Novel in Fragments 
by Vladimir Nabokov.
Penguin, 278 pp., £25, November 2009, 978 0 14 119115 7
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... abandoned, and we can enjoy Flora’s company because we’re not married to her and because, as Woody Allen would say, she’s only fictional. Into this mix Nabokov clearly planned to insert a novel written by the narrator of the opening pages – that is, a person who knows (and sleeps with) Flora and turns her into a thinly disguised character called ...

It’s Mister Softee

Namara Smith: In Love with Roth, 19 July 2018

by Lisa Halliday.
Granta, 275 pp., £14.99, March 2018, 978 1 78378 360 1
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... of Duck Soup; she dances around him singing the nonsense song from Modern Times. They could be Woody Allen and Mariel Hemingway in Manhattan, or, from an earlier era, the Little Tramp and the Kid, alone together against a hostile world. Ezra most obviously correlates with Roth when we discover he is also a decorated veteran of the sexual ...


Jamie Martin: Nudge Theory, 27 July 2017

The Undoing Project: A Friendship that Changed the World 
by Michael Lewis.
Allen Lane, 362 pp., £25, December 2016, 978 0 241 25473 8
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... They make good characters themselves: Kahneman – self-effacing, insecure and moody (‘like Woody Allen,’ as one colleague put it, ‘without the humour’) – grew up in Vichy France, in hiding. His father, a chemist, had been saved from deportation to a concentration camp by the intervention of his boss, the founder of L’Oréal ...

His Own Peak

Ian Sansom: John Fowles’s diary, 6 May 2004

John Fowles: The Journals, Vol. I 
edited by Charles Drazin.
Cape, 668 pp., £30, October 2003, 9780224069113
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John Fowles: A Life in Two Worlds 
by Eileen Warburton.
Cape, 510 pp., £25, April 2004, 0 224 05951 3
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... of the heart. I noticed, too, that I am out of napkins. Will it never stop?’ That’s Woody Allen: he is joking. You can imagine what it’s like when Fowles is diagnosed with amoebic dysentery: ‘Not altogether an ill wind; so many depths would have been unplumbed.’ It is never a good idea to live next door to a writer, because they tend ...


John Banville: Exit Zuckerman, 4 October 2007

Exit Ghost 
by Philip Roth.
Cape, 292 pp., £16.99, October 2007, 978 0 224 08173 3
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... the personals column of the New York Review of Books, placed by a young couple straight out of a Woody Allen movie, who want to swap their house and flee post-9/11 New York for the comparative safety of the countryside; on impulse, Zuckerman offers them his house, on condition that they move out straight away. And finally, after re-establishing contact ...

Weirdo Possible Genius Child

Daniel Soar: Max Porter, 23 May 2019

by Max Porter.
Faber, 213 pp., £12.99, March 2019, 978 0 571 34028 6
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... of my attention may have been heightened by the fact that sitting in the row behind me were Woody Allen and Soon-Yi Previn; I couldn’t help watching them watch, in my head at least, and therefore – as it felt – watching more, and more closely, myself. At the interval, naturally, I was as curious as any stargazer to see where ...

Who had the most fun?

David Bromwich: The Marx Brothers, 10 May 2001

Groucho: The Life and Times of Julius Henry Marx 
by Stefan Kanfer.
Penguin, 480 pp., £7.99, April 2001, 0 14 029426 0
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The Essential Groucho 
by Groucho Marx, edited by Stefan Kanfer.
Penguin, 254 pp., £6.99, September 2000, 0 14 029425 2
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... rediscovered not only by the Dadaist fringe of the 1960s antiwar movement but by Dick Cavett, Woody Allen and other literate and nostalgic entertainers. He appeared now as the honoured guest in public celebrations and televised specials which showed his energy waning but his mischief fundamentally unchanged. He presided over the rehearsals of ...

That Wooden Leg

Michael Wood: Conversations with Don Luis, 7 September 2000

An Unspeakable Betrayal: Selected Writings of Luis Buñuel 
translated by Garrett White.
California, 266 pp., £17.50, April 2000, 0 520 20840 4
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... gaiety.Buñuel likes some contemporary directors, but not many. American films, he says. Woody Allen. Stanley Kubrick. ‘That film with those shots of the man’s eye.’ ‘A Clockwork Orange?’ ‘That’s the one.’ Nice thought, coming from the man whose film career began with the image of an eye slashed by a razor. Buñuel tells me a ...

Sympathy for the Devil

Michael Wood, 16 October 1997

The Master and Margarita 
by Mikhail Bulgakov, translated by Diana Burgin and Katherine Tiernan O’Connor.
Picador, 367 pp., £20, August 1997, 0 330 35133 8
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The Master and Margarita 
by Mikhail Bulgakov, translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky.
Penguin, 412 pp., £7.99, May 1997, 0 14 118014 5
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... can’t have written this novel, or any novel we could read, because he’s only fictional, as Woody Allen would say, and fictional authors have even more trouble finding real publishers than flesh-and-bones authors do. But then imagining the Master has written the novel fictionalises us, pulls us into his world rather than puts him in ours. In this ...

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