Night Thoughts

Wallace Shawn

Book cover

I picked this up after reading a great interview with Shawn in Jacobin. While, like most people, I know him from the Princess Bride, actually my most extended exposure to him is as Grand Nagus Zek on Deep Space 9! Although I love DS9, Zek is a pretty annoying character (by intent).

“Night Thoughts” is really an essay more than a book, but its style and content match what interested me in his interview. I found his intentional use of plain language interesting, particularly in light of some recent discussions and readings in my revolution study group about the use of quasi-academic terms such as “neoliberal.” He says in the interview that he tries to write in the same voice he uses to talk, that he doesn’t want to alienate readers with abstruse (whoops) terms, and that he doesn’t want to use terms with disputed or ambiguous definitions. Hence his reliance on the simple distinction between “lucky” and “unlucky.” At first it seems a little clunky or patronizing, but I got behind it after a while. It’s certainly a different style than most writers of a similar viewpoint, and maybe that’s what we need. It reminded me of Daniel Quinn’s use of “leavers” and “takers” in Ishmael.

I also appreciated the way Shawn integrated his experience as an actor and a playwright into his analysis. He emphasizes the way that society encourages us to identify with the roles it places us into, which in turn normalizes that sorting (the successful see their own hard work paying off, the unsuccessful feeling that they are somehow lacking). Perhaps an actor has a stronger ability to recognize this, having done it more explicitly many times; certainly we could all use a little more actor’s consciousness of the roles we are being asked to play.

My Goodreads rating: 4 stars