Colin Marshall sits down in Westwood with William Flesch, professor at Brandeis University and author of Comeuppance: Costly Signaling, Altruistic Punishment, and Other Biological Components of Fiction. They discuss José Saramago’s way with obscure Biblical episodes; literary Darwinism and its discontents; why and how we get concerned with what happens to fictional characters at all; the difference between stories we care about versus stories we don’t; how we recommend books, films, and shows to friends, thus caring about how they care about how characters care about one another; Michael Haneke’s scary Funny Games viewed with an audience and Michael Haneke’s ludicrous Funny Games viewed at home; what’s so great about Wittgenstein; the trade-off between humanizing and monsterizing your villains, as with Hitler in Max and The Boys from Brazil; the perfect biological pitching of Onion‘s 9/11 headline “Hijackers Surprised To Find Selves In Hell”; what makes the 19th-century novels of George Eliot, Anthony Trollope, Charles Dickens, and William Makepeace Thackeray so gripping; our desire to feel we’ve misjudged characters; Buffy, Angel, and our bets about liking them; and characterization and reversion to type all the way from Shylock to Stewie Griffin.
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