July 2nd, 2013 / 1:10 pm
Behind the Scenes & Massive People



In this mini-series the saga of redemption, as frequently manifested in the form of “comebacks,” is investigated. REDEMPTION ONE is here. 

In honor of Lindsay Lohan’s birthday, REDEMPTION TWO arrives early.lindsay_lohan-birthday_party-460x250


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[1]. 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[2].

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.”[3] 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.

[1] 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.

[2] Banks’ beef with Perez Hilton being the most ill-received outburst of anger.

[3] http://www.believermag.com/exclusives/?read=interview_adler

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  1. deadgod

      I like Weinerdog’s attacking progressive voice. I hope he comes back politically from transgressions that I doubt are wicked enough to be redeemed from.

      I don’t think Adler was a douche-bag in her strongly negative cultural criticism. I also don’t think her tailing-off of publication and long (public) near-silence were the result of her enemies’ efforts or her own sense of journalistic or personal transgression. She doesn’t seem to think she needs redeeming for the hostile criticism she was modestly notorious for; I don’t, either.

      I think of “redemption” in a couple of ways. a) In a worldly-results sense, athletes, for example, can ‘redeem’ their (perceived) sports failures through persistence and improvement of skills. Think of Jordan coming back from (his first) retirement, getting embarrassed by Orlando’s journeyman guards in a 93-pound-weakling playoff exit, and coming back with Jackson, Pippin, and a reconstituted team to three-peat a second time, or of Elway sticking with football for many years after his team had gotten hammered in three championship games, and, finally, winning a couple of Bowls.

      b) In a moral sense, a villain can make better, if not as it was, what she or he had spoiled. The insurance-executive-turned-whistleblower Wendell Potter is a fine example of this kind of redemption.

  2. elias tezapsidis

      hey, i agree w/ what you are saying. i do not think adler needed to redeem herself, but my understanding is that the masses held that view. does that make sense?

      mostly i was viewing redemption in terms of being “welcomed”/ “widely accepted” by the public as a figure. it is certainly not an absolute quantitative or measurable argument nor exploration of the theme.

      the villain would have been a super-interesting tangent to look into, but the morality/ ethical connotations going w/ that might get tricky. is wendell potter redeemable or is he a rat? i ve always been superinterested in anti-money laundering & white collar crime investigations and how tricky they are, ethically.

  3. deadgod

      Yes, redemption narratives usually are either post-downfall comebacks–hardly counts as “redemption” if the comeback was from inactivity or just a fallow period–or ‘character’ rehabilitations — each somewhat a popular-culture imagining or (self-?)representation.

      I was more thinking of the (regrettably) spiritualized sense of “redemption”: ‘making up for something shitty you did’. (As I say, either a non-moral failure–for example, a sports loss–, or a gross irresponsibility to others.)

      Potter’s something of a hero (to me, anyway): a fabulously over-compensated insurance exec who, somehow, decided that insurance rackets are demonic and that his responsibility as a morally rational person was to say, with inside acquaintance of how the levers of power are pushed in and by insurance companies, exactly what he knows is happening in health care from the insurance-company angle. Easy to say, well, sure, you don’t get credit for doing what you’re supposed to do; but that’s a myopic way to consider how people generally justify doing whatever ‘compensates’ them best.

      Not sure how that particular case is ethically twisty! –or those of, say, David Stockman, or the guy (whose name I forget) who called Anita Hill ‘a little bit nutty and a little bit slutty’. These are people who did shitty things and decided, I am that guy, but I ain’t gonna be any more — at at least monetary cost to them. They didn’t rat out crooks they were in league with to get out from under punishment; they gave up privilege for the sake of ethical comfort (or, yes, ethical self-satisfaction). Why shouldn’t doing the right thing feel good? –and if a guy like Potter walks away from evilly-gotten $$ to feel better about himself: to me, even better.

      When some police outfit pinches a crook and he turns ‘angel’ to minimize the blow, sure: dubious. I don’t think that’s Potter’s story. ?

  4. elias tezapsidis

      i don t really agree. i see how potter specifically can be seen as a hero, but the “somehow” that changes in how people decide that what they used to do everyday no longer is “good” and needs organic changes is ethically ambivalent. whistleblowing is–to me–ethically twisting. bc once you are inside the system of order that–possibly needs change–i assume you have chosen to be a part of it.

      i totally see what you are saying, i just don t agree that much on the possibility of people being driven primarily by their “responsibility as a morally rational person.”

      i believe only sociopaths are driven by the need to seem like they re morally rational.

      inherently they are not

  5. deadgod

      (By “something of a hero” I meant to indicate ambivalence about heroism in general: for whom? for what?)

      My understanding is that Potter–for example–had chosen to be part of the system of paying for health care through insurance premiums, and was completely part of that system. He was an executive, not a secretary or janitor or telephone jockey in an office, so he wasn’t just feeding his family with the best job he could get: he knowingly invested himself in an egregiously anti-human reverse-ATM.

      But his exposure of industry methods, tactics, and goals did him no favors–indeed, he shut himself out of continuing to prosper as an exec/investor by telling the truth about how insurance companies work. I mean, he made it impossible for himself to continue to benefit from his (former) position. I don’t know that he gave back all the money he ever made as an executive, but, by exposing it, he stepped completely out of that system.

      Maybe he feels guilty, and confession makes him feel better. Good for him! –and for me, who would benefit from a bottom-to-top reengineering of how health care is paid for. It’s “redemption” that’ll MAYBE have a concrete beneficial effect for people other than Potter.

      I doubt that seeming to be morally rational is all that important to this guy. Instead of doing the right thing from the get-go, he did shitty things — and he changed or discovered his mind about what he really wants in life, and started doing an unusually right thing.

      Maybe I’m misunderstanding where we disagree?

  6. elias tezapsidis

      this make sense.

      the main disagreement issue we have is i think here: “I don’t know that he gave back all the money he ever made as an executive, but, by exposing it, he stepped completely out of that system.”

      of course, i am perhaps being cynical about him a little bit. it just seems like there was ample time for him to decipher what he was a part of was rotten. is that too unfair?

  7. Richard Grayson

      Weiner and Adler are, of course, both Jews who grew up familiar with Jewish concepts of redemption.

      One is the “pidyon ha-ben”, the redemption of the first born son. This is a very
      joyous event that is performed after the birth of the first born son. This tradition is based on the divine command to redeem the firstborn. The source of this is in the Torah in Numbers 18:15, which states that “all that open the womb of the flesh that be offered to G-d, be it an animal or man, shall be yours; however, the first born of man you shall redeem and the first born of unclean beasts you shall redeem. The redemption shall be from a month old according to the valuation of five shekels of silver, according to the shekel used in the Temple, twenty gerahs of value.” Neither Weiner nor Adler is the first-born son in their families, but the notion that redemption can be achieved by “paying off” authorities with what is a relatively modest sum — and thus obtainable fairly easily, almost routinely — is something that they would be familiar with.

      Another instance of redemption in Judaism is “olam ha-ba,” the world to come. Although the concept may more traditionally be associated with “the afterlife,” as the scholars Craig L. Blomberg and Sung Wook Chung noted in “A Case for Historic Premillenialism, “In certain sources, Olam Ha-Ba is uniquely associated with teachings about collective redemption and resurrection.” Generally, in traditional Jewish theology, both Jews and non-Jews alike can achieve redemption, no matter what else they do, if they follow the Seven Laws of Noah. Neither Weiner nor Adler seem to have broken any of these Seven Laws, at least in terms of the “transgressions” stated by the writer of this article in discussing their redemption.

      Redemption also is a part of mystical Judaism and the Cabbala. The Zohar says: “The redemption of Israel will come about through the mystic force of the letter Vov,” which has the numerical value of six (6). There are six letters in “Weiner” and in “Renata.” Weiner tweeted sexual pictures to six women. Adler’s first book was published in the Sixties.

      But both Weiner and Adler are more word people than number people, So it’s instructive to note that the difference between the words גולה—golah (ex­ile) and גאולה—geulah (redemption), is the presence of the letter alef (aleph, A). If you insert an alef into the word גולה (go­lah/exile), exile is empowered and transformed into גאולה (geulah/redemption). Hav­ing been given the alef, the Jewish people are empowered to move from exile to redemption.


      […] in the form of “comebacks,” is investigated. REDEMPTION ONE is here. and REDEMPTION TWO is here. Read REDEMPTION ONE before REDEMPTION THREE, inserting REDEMPTION TWO between […]