The overall emphasis of Woody Allen’s short fiction is summarized by the title of his second book-length collection, Without Feathers. The title alludes to an Emily Dickinson line: “Hope is the thing without feathers. ” The particular hopelessness with which Allen deals, in his mirthful way, is that described, defined, and passed down by such philosophers and literary figures as Friedrich Nietzsche, Søren Kierkegaard, Albert Camus, and Franz Kafka. It is one in which the death of God, existential meaninglessness, and surreal distortions of time and space are the norm. In this world, anxiety abounds, human reason is essentially flawed, and truth disappears into the twin vacuum of moral relativism and perceptual uncertainty.
While Allen demonstrates an instinctive grasp of the issues raised by such a worldview, his treatment is, as one might expect in a humorist, always tongue in cheek. Allen is no scholar, nor is he trying to be one. He accepts the more or less existentialist premises that inform his work and seems to believe in them. He does not take them seriously enough to ponder systematically. In fact, he makes fun of people who do so, particularly those who do it for a living. Nor does Allen sink into despair. Instead, he uses the philosophical and literary atmosphere of his time as a convenient springboard for laughter. In essence, his work transforms the uncertainty of a Godless universe into fertile ground for his free-flowing...
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