Woody Allen and Philosophy: You Mean My Whole Fallacy Is Wrong?

By Mark T. Conard; Aeon J. Skoble | Go to book overview

4
Arguing Interpretation:
The Pragmatic Optimism of
Woody Allen

IAN JARVIE

Woody Allen is a pragmatic optimist. “Pragmatic” because to go on making thoughtful films is to affirm optimism by action. Allen's optimism is not to be identified with that expressed by some of his characters.

The standard rubrics of optimism and pessimism yield fruitful interpretations of several of Allen's later films. How best to argue for such interpretations? The arguments to be preferred are those that appeal neither to some pronouncement of, or biographical fact about, the author; nor to the predilections of the interpreter. Allen's work helps us avoid both of these moves: the biographical fallacy and the reading in or “eisegetic” fallacy (reading a meaning into the text, rather than interpreting what the text might have to say),1 because he presents the alternatives of optimism and pessimism in dramatic rather than discursive form. This enables Allen the author to stand at one remove from positions defended in the works, clearly apparent in his deployment in the drama of what I shall call secret knowledge—knowledge shared by the audience but not by all of the characters. The dramatic use of secret knowledge should alert the audience to the pitfalls of naively identifying author and work, author and character. This does not mean that Allen's views are hidden. There is

1 For my discussion, I draw on some of the criteria of interpretation proposed
in my Philosophy of the Film (London: Routledge, 1987). where earlier Woody
Allen films are discussed.

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