REDEMPTION TWO: BETTER THAN EVER OR BETTER OFF DEAD?
In this mini-series the saga of redemption, as frequently manifested in the form of “comebacks,” is investigated. REDEMPTION ONE is here.
II. EMPIRICAL EVIDENCE
a. Better Than Ever: Two Cases of Successful Redemption
If anyone successfully gave more than enough of himself to the public, it was Anthony Weiner. With explicit twitpics some of us never saw and some of you will never forget, the former congressman’s actions led to a shameful resignation following the virtual “unfaithfulness” to his spouse, Huma Abedin. Weiner did not code the public humiliation of his private life as the ending of his career. On the contrary, he interpreted, and continuously interprets, his public mistake as an opportunity for future growth and greater strength.
The married lives of politicians have always been crucial foundations to their public perception. An extensive cover interview for NYT Magazine in April depicted Weiner and Abedin’s marriage as a normal one, still recognizing the vast impact of the incident on their marriage. Particularly, the demise of the power-couple as it was in quest of a private truth–whether Weiner’s account was hacked–became the first step to achieve a private, family-based redemption. After returning to trust privately, the next challenge for the couple became reaching the redemption that would mark its return to political respectability and place Weiner’s wrongdoings in the past.
Following the scandal, Weiner’s course of action has primarily worked to his advantage, at least according to the press. He asserted that the reason he initially lied was to avoid telling Huma. Once the lie was undeniable, he owned up to his mistake by attributing it to an obscure, but under no circumstances unrealistic, cybersex habit. The fact that he did not realize the sexual acts in question, but constrained himself to the imaginary, undoubtedly ameliorated the position he found himself in following the event.
The news coverage makes it abundantly clear that Weiner has reflected meaningfully on the event and has learned some valuable lessons. He adheres and celebrates the need to prioritize his spouse’s emotional happiness by remaining utterly faithful. He admits that his involvement in cybersex was dishonest and disrespectful. Overall, it seems like the couple was, indeed, able to put this behind them, even if their recognizability requires them to put it behind them again and again. In a cynical media setting, this can only reflect positively on Weiner’s career: he will always be given “extra” attention due to the scandal, but this attention can be directed towards forming a firmer, “truer” public image. He was able to move on, his wife was able to move on and, more importantly, they were both able to move on together.
The strongest argument made in favor of why Weiner deserves a second chance to run for office was made by his brother, Jason. “I wouldn’t stand for other people saying this about him, but there was definitely a douchiness about him that I just don’t really see anymore,” he stated. Weiner’s case highlights how fucking up is the best way to progress in a public position; his past only makes him more adequately prepared for the future.
Weiner’s douchiness may be questionable, but there are few public people–especially writers–whose statements could be considered as magically douchey as Renata Adler’s prose. The ruthlessness and depth of her dark neuroses, as documented by her literary persona, make her a literary powerhouse. There is nothing endearing about her manicness either, yet the writing is addictive in its bravado: such is the refined elegance of her prose.
Adler’s two experimental novels Speedboat and Pitch Dark have recently been reissued by NYRB Classics, and the entire literati community is either obsessed or–at least–mildly entertained. The epilogue in the current edition of Speedboat comes from Guy Trebay, almost like a wink to the intended readership that this is good, controversial content. It feels peculiar to have these two books, which were first published in 1976 and 1981 respectively, crystallize our current status quo. How is it possible for this woman to have so effectively been “the Internet” ahead of its time?
The overwhelming majority of reviews confirm the brilliant intensity of Adler’s books. There seems to be an unspoken agreement between all reviewers to use the words “mordant” and “aphoristic.” The most entertaining piece to read on Adler’s return to visibility is certainly Prickett’s insightful comparison of Adler to another powerhouse of equivalent intensity: Azealia Banks. Whether today’s Pauline Kael is Rita Ora or Angel Haze, the similarities between Banks and Adler are there: both talented, too honest, polemical and fearless. Fearless to the extent that they burn bridges in moves of quizzical strategic insight: Adler with her audacious “epitaph” of The New Yorker with Gone (1999), Banks with her impromptu public expression through Twitter.
Adler’s formidable talent with words did not suffice to save her from her excessive honesty. Reading her protagonists’ monologues does validate the theories of her harshest critics: she frequently, and rarely realistically, thought herself the outsider. Her excessive over-thinking, in many ways destroyed her: the biggest fight is the one she picked with herself, it seems. At the same time, it is very likely that this very same over-thinking is why “mordant” and “aphoristic” keep recurring in describing her writing.
Having spent time outside of the city that enabled her over-thinking to takeover, Adler has been living in Connecticut. Adler remains unapologetic on the record, but her interviews shyly imply that she might have done things a tad differently today. She proudly announces that when it came to her plethora of notorious takedowns “Fear didn’t come into it. Maybe it should have.” Maybe if fear came into it Gone: The Last Days of The New Yorker, Adler’s memoir which chronicled her time at The New Yorker, would have done less harm in alienating her and labeling her as the prototype of the writer who is being disagreeable for the sake of being disagreeable. With Gone, Adler provided a negative inside story of the corporate infrastructure of The New Yorker, her employer of decades. The book was especially disparaging in its descriptions of William Shawn, who was a persona grata of the literary community.
Adler’s redemption case presents an unusual example. She, too, is an individual whose own actions led to public scrutiny, and possibly her ostracization from publishing for the past decade. But in the successful redemption of the writer her apologizing for her past has been secondary, perhaps even irrelevant. She has not expressed sorrow for offending, or brusquely criticizing, her former employer and colleague(s). Instead, time and maybe the suburbian distance Connecticut provided functioned as the prime tools in Adler’s redemption. Time served a purpose of “punishing” her and removing her from the literary scene, the audience reminisced about her powerful prose. Absence became the mechanism that gave the polemical writer the empathy of the audience and resulted in her successful return. She rises more contemporary than ever in the cyber-climate that constructs our reality today, in which her hyperbolic feelings do not seem too unusual.
 Abedin is also in a high-status, public position, as a US deputy chief of staff and aide to former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.
 Banks’ beef with Perez Hilton being the most ill-received outburst of anger.