Monsters: A Fan’s Dilemma–Claire Dederer’s Provocative Book

Monsters: A Fan’s Dilemma, published April 25, explores the audience’s relationship to the work of Roman Polanksi, Woody Allen, and others.


In 2017, Claire Dederer published essay in The Paris Review titled “What Do We Do With the Art of Monstrous Men?” and it immediately went viral.
It was less than 2 months after the first Harvey Weinstein exposés went live, and the critic examined the work of Polanski, Wood Allen, and Bill Cosby through the lens of their transgressions. “They did or said something awful, and made something great,” she wrote. “The awful thing disrupts the great work.” As the essay swept across the Internet and social media, Dederer was in the midst of completely an entire book on the topic — one that, presciently, was in the works several years before the #MeToo movement hit Hollywood.
Dederer speaks about her own fandoms that inspired the book, how society judges the work of men and women, and how she wants the book to be used.

Art-vs-artist dilemma after Harvey Weinstein?

I had written a memoir called Love and Trouble, about the sexually predatory nature of the 1970s, and it looked at my own experiences of growing up as a girl who was predated upon in that era. Part of that included an open letter to Roman Polanksi — I love his work, and I found I was still able to watch his films and I thought, ‘well this is really interesting.’ All of my books are preoccupied with the question of how to be good, and what is goodness, so it all sort of came together.

The nice thing about being older author who is further along in your career is when something comes along that has a lot of juice, you recognize you could spend a few years thinking about the topic.

Initial internal dialogue on Polanksi?

Kanye West comes up a few times?

I was originally going to have an epilogue that would just be called “Litany,” and I would list everybody who had been accused of something from the time I started writing the book. But the project of the book was always to talk about the audience experience, so adding that veers into that catalogue of monsters it was never meant to be.

Difference in the way in which we consume art of bad actors versus bad thinkers?

Question of ethics and art?

I might be different from other people in that when that sort of discussion happens. I’m excited to see how everyone thinks about the questions of ethics in art. I understand the problems of the outrage machine I just discussed, but there’s a place for those discussions to lead the way for many voices of people who aren’t traditionally heard, to be heard. As a person in my 50s, who engages with young people, I try to access it that way rather than just shaking my head at it.

The memoir voice, and writing about my own experiences, was necessary to get at the felt experience of the audience memoir. It was also important to undermine critical authority. Often times, the so-called “objective” art critics are the white male viewpoint. It’s white men making work for white men, and then reviewed by white men.

Your years as film critic?

I was the little guy throwing stones at the giant apparatus of Hollywood, because I was an alternative-weekly movie critic. I could sort of say whatever I wanted, I could reside in my subjectivity without thinking about what it meant for the artist. And then I became a book critic, and books are less powerful and it’s one person, so I had to start thinking about what it is to be a generous critic. Another thing is that critics are worried about what other critics are saying. There’s inherent lack of self-trust in a lot of criticism. I remember writing about Grosse Point Blank and really loving it and wanting to lift it up, but feeling like, was it too feminine? Was it basically unserious?

Men considered monstrous are those who enact violence?

How being a critic changes the way you consume things?

“Succession” is just brilliant? Their pacing and the way it leaves you with tension in your whole body. But, I had brief period when I quit movie criticism where I couldn’t watch films, but I think it was partly the unremitting violence of that era. It was the mid-Tarantino era, it was so bloody. One of the things I try to do in my own life is to have joy in what I’m consuming. I try to have my relationship with art be untouched by the idea of authority–I think you will be a better critic if you can return to the art as an audience member and not an authority.