The Paris Review: What Do We Do with the Art of Monstrous Men?

Hemingway’s girlfriend, the writer Martha Gellhorn, didn’t think the artist needed to be a monster; she thought the monster needed to make himself into an artist. “A man must be a very great genius to make up for being such a loathsome human being.” (Well, I guess she would know.)

As you know, this is bothering me right now. I ask myself why I can so easily erase Polanski, but still respect Picasso. Perhaps because I was introduced to Picasso as 'great artist' first in my youth, Polanski first as a troubled genius/rapist in my adulthood. Woody Allen has always driven me bonkers. "Sleeper" is about the only Allen (with himself in it) film I could sit through ... my urge to stuff a sock in his mouth and drop him off at a bus station is just too strong.

Ethics are not supposed to be easy. And they're always worth contemplating. I am concerned about how my choices affect my overall character. Is it not true, that if we can rationalize the output of a monster ... then we can rationalize slavery, the medical experiments on concentration camp survivors, etc.?

I can't bear to do that. Again, we run up against moral consistency as being virtual handcuffs, and moral relativity looking awfully seductive but ultimately deadly to modern society.

Context can help. But when the context is expired, when the monster is dead ... then what? I look to the fact that Hitler is long burnt, but we have Nazis in our streets ... the same streets that housed those who so valiantly defeated the scourge.