Tuesday, November 30, 2010

When the good-parent Dumbledore is artfully being shown the door

How Should the University Evolve?, part 1 of 2 from BLSCI on Vimeo.

and the Q&A is here:

I’m in the midst of Thanksgiving prep so don’t have time to contribute my own commentary. Basically we were a bit at cross purposes. Siva gave a theatrically impassioned and well-supported defense of the traditional university and I tried to make the point that I don’t care much what happens to the traditional university. I come neither to bury nor to praise it, but to talk about the needs that learners have (whether students or no) and how those needs might best be met (using both technology and traditional forms and new hybrids of the same).

This discourse was pronounced both “empowering” and “bullshit” on Twitter, and rightfully so I think. Kyra Gaunt, an anthropology professor at Baruch, a TED fellow, and a hero of mine, gave out more truth at the microphone during the Q&A than I heard coming from the stage all night. She correctly intuited”My sense: @sivavaid who really liked your book was doing the academic devils advocacy thing which I hate. #debateisnotengagement”

At some point academics end and you have to take a stand on stuff. My fave Tweet was this one:

@unboundstudent: @anya1anya @sivavaid DIYU Takeaway? future of higher ed is a conversation of the ppl! (Anya Kamenetz, “Video of Debate with Siva Vaidyanathan at Baruch College on 11/18,” 24 Nov. DIY U)


At one point you mentioned that no thing was guaranteed (to last, to remain), and were okay with that, and Siva responded that he hoped university could be, that is must be. I sided with Siva here a bit. I think you’ve got a high self-esteem, and it is this that makes it so that for you now the disappearance of ostensible societal necessities — wiki or what-not — needn’t automatically register as if your safety blanket was suddenly lost to you. You’re more like, well, okay, something substantial did just go down -- but is it possible that what remains and is now better exposed to view, is actually better? And if it is, you’re glad the older, more primitive form is lost, and get to making the more mature and evolved forms reach their potential ends. And if it isn’t, you point out the current flaws, and get back what was wrongly disposed of. You’re fair, appropriately excited by what could and should be, and just as appropriately impatient with the mediocre and insufficient in its loud fight to on-and-on-and-on still-prosper. But most people don’t strike me as healthy as you are, as secure as you are, and actually need some secure place that can withstand their own storms as well as outside ones — some Hogwarts — to exist, for them to have some chance of not becoming mostly survivalist, feral, truly lost — incapable of doing much interesting with sophisticated technology, open acess, not out of unfamiliarity, or from being priced out, but because they haven’t at any time in their lives known the lengthy period of guaranteed support that enables everything else worthwhile (including openness to risk, to loss) to develop. Even if they don’t make it to university, have no plans “thereof,” they intuit and are to some extent buoyed by the overall nurturing, good character of a society, if it is pronounced in its fight to erect and support institutions (government, universities) primarily UNDERSTOOD as for, well, guarantees, respite, fellowship and support.

For you it’s something stodgy, elitist, and inhibiting being rightly challenged by what is vital, most democratic, and promising. But for most of the public my guess is that this conversation will be about whether it wants to eliminate the good parent Dumbledore (the university) for an environment that leaves more and more children unsheltered, exposed to errant mischance (the free market, as it understands it now), with less of a chance of any child misunderstanding it for different (for us to create such a world, what must we truly think of you, dear child?). University that is more aloof, and harder to reach, and the rest of it a wild of perhaps pot-luck success but mostly scammers. My concern is that their increasing support of you (DIY U and such) will not be born of caught-sight of a perhaps better way, but because they think their children deserve a more desolate, less certain environment to unlearn them of their fixed spoiledness. Whatever your hopes, America has in mind to make of your righteous cause, further means to hurt its kids. It’s that sick. Even many of its liberals.

Link: Video of Debate with Siva Vaidyanathan at Baruch College on 11/18 DIY U

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Sauron thrived when things grew dark, too

Hillenbrand's second book, seven years in the making, is "Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption" and likely to be as big a hit as "Seabiscuit." The theme is identical -- the triumph of an indomitable underdog in the face of titanic obstacles -- but this time the protagonist is human: Louis Zamperini, an Olympian in his own right (he ran in the 1936 games in Berlin), war hero, POW camp survivor and inspirational speaker.

[. . .]

Those hopes were, of course, pulverized by the outbreak of war, and Zamperini became a bombardier in the Army Air Corps, stationed in Hawaii. The book's exciting descriptions of foot races give way to even more exciting accounts of bombing raids and airborne battles.

[. . .]

Zamperini and Phillips' luck ran out when, while on a rescue operation, their plane conked out and crashed at sea. Only the two of them and a third serviceman survived, floating on rafts through shark-infested waters for 47 days, a record. They survived on snared sea birds and collected rain, and after a Japanese fighter plane peppered their raft with bullets, they had to simultaneously bail, fight off sharks and patch the holes until it was restored to a fragile seaworthiness. Miraculously, they finally floated toward land -- only to be captured by the Japanese.

And so "Unbroken" segues once again, from man-against-the-elements survival yarn to an even darker tale of human cruelty and defiance.

[. . .]

When the war ended, Zamperini returned home in triumph, only to have the terror and impotent rage he felt in the camps come back to him every night in his dreams. The greatest generation (and you can only regard this moniker as thoroughly earned after reading "Unbroken") suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, too, and Zamperini's desperate efforts to overcome this final and perhaps most challenging trial serve as a pointed reminder of the difficulties so many of the current generation's vets are facing right now. (Laura Miller, “‘Unbroken,’ ‘Seabiscuit’ author’s latest triumph,” Salon, 14 Nov. 2010)


Juiced?

I'm quite sure that every nation that went to war has examples of such men. They were all -- Americans, Germans, Brits, Italians, Egyptians, Russians, Japanese -- I suppose, members of the greatest generation. But one has to wonder who it was who brought about this ready heroism-enabling, life-destroying war about in the first place? Sure, they fought off some sharks, but for collectively seeing the necessity of wasting away millions of lives, maybe an asterisk beside their extraordinary tales of heroic perseverance?

Remember Goldhagen ("Hitler’s willing executioners") -- it's not (just) the leaders: it's (primarily) the people, what they want.


Patrick

You would have preferred the alternative to the fight.

You would have been a Loyalist 235 years ago in the name of peace. On yur knees MFer. You would have preferred allowing the South to secede, splitting the Union and continuing their slave industry in the name of peace. You would have stood aside 68 years ago railing against the French Resistance as violent extremists. You're pathetic. (oda7103sf)


oda

The Greatest Generation was a generation that got heroism, but out of war. That's sick. They were sick. With this tale, near makes me root for the sharks ... and I hate sharks.


- - - - -


Can the same person "care for the soul," who would hack their arm off to survive? Or is this just the province of the beastial?

It is true that what you've given here is what you denied in your anti-National Novel Writing Month post. A whole generation is worthy for their mostly anonymous replication of the kind of marathon struggling people like this dude demonstrated. Some of these very same people who forced their way to 50 000 words in a month, might just in the future be the ones to marshal their way through a war/depression-induced hell of obstacles. (I couldn't do 50 000 in a month, and you're not going to remember me for hacking off my arm to save my life, either.) Given the power of your previous impress, you come pretty close to implicitly making war into the missing backdrop. (i.e. Their mistake is not that they would as a horde show fantastic perseverance at the cost of discretion and care, of denying themselves the ripened ability to enjoy other people's artistic talents, but that they are doing as much outside of a context which would instantly awe all outsiders to their exhausting performance.)

How about try instead, a whole generation left the experimental, original (19) 20s for depression and war ravishment. When you take any two who used to converse profitably but fall into squabble, there may still be something exciting in their coming to and lasting through blows, but boy does it pale compared to what they had going before they broke down into squabbling and self-cover. I don't really want to hear about those who survived or heroiced their way through bleak striving: there must be something savage in them for them to accustom themselves so readily to that much bleakness; and it's an insult to those who might shrivel up some then, but who naturally blossom when people SHOULD naturally do so -- when the atmosphere is allowing, patient, gentle, kind.

Link: “Unbroken,’” “Seabiscui”’ author’s latest triumph (Salon)

Kindness

Conservative commentators have been bemoaning the decline of the American man almost as long as the American man has been in existence. As it turns out, they are right: Men these days are a mere shadow of what we once were. We've become physically weaker than our ancestors. We're slower runners. We can't jump as high as we once did. As Peter McAllister, an archaeologist with the University of Western Australia and the author of the new book "Manthropology: The Science of Why the Modern Male Is Not the Man He Used to Be," puts it, we might be the "sorriest cohort of masculine Homo sapiens to ever walk the planet." I, for one, blame guyliner. (Thomas Rogers, “The dramatic decline of modern man,” Salon, 14 Nov. 2010)


Ice Age aboriginal tribesmen, he discovers, were able to run long distances at approximately the same speed as modern-day Olympic sprinters. Classic Grecian rowers could attain speeds of 7.5 miles an hour, which today's rowers can only attain for short bursts of time. Our culture may be obsessed with muscles: He notes that, since 1982, G.I. Joe's Sgt. Savage has gotten three times more muscular and Barbie's Ken now has a chest circumference attainable by only one in 50 men, but the luxuries of our contemporary lifestyle have caused a steady decline in genuine physical power.

[. . .]

Up until about 20,000 years, Homo sapiens were very, very robust in comparison to what we are these days. It's not that we're so different from those robust Homo sapien males, but our bodies are actually geared up to respond to pressures that we don't get anymore. There's the example of aboriginal runners who, we know from fossilized footprints, could run as fast if not faster than [Olympic sprinter] Usain Bolt. And the reason why is that they did it from a very early age. The Greek trireme rowers could do feats that can't be duplicated by modern rowers. Greece was a very tough country to make a living in. Everybody walked everywhere. The people lived as shepherds, it was a very rough existence. Our bones are about 40 percent less mass than the bones of Homo erectus, but genetically ours are not that different. It's just that we don't get put under that kind of pressure. Arm bones of tennis players, for example, are almost as thick as those of Homo erectus.

There are some interesting statistics there about how hard people could work during the Industrial Revolution -- these rather small, malnourished men were able to wield these incredibly heavy sledgehammers all day, and the same phenomenon still applies to Nepalese hill porters. These little guys of about 55 kilos carry 90 kilo weights for about 75 miles over a period of days. It doesn't seem to have any degenerative effects on them as well.

[. . .]

There's been this movement all through history. The dandies, the macaronis and other feminized males were popular during times of great assurance, when England ruled the waves. That people want those stronger, more masculine figures in times of crisis makes sense to me.

[. . .]

It says something about the substitution of pomp and show for real manliness. There is an inherent male and female attraction to muscularity -- it's an instinctual thing. Big muscles are very, very sexually attractive. There's no doubt about that.

[. . .]

I've cited some studies of children of the Viking Berserkers [a group of notorious Norse warriors known for their aggression], and found that these are hyperviolent men and actually did have more children than comparable warriors in that society.

[. . .]

Nearly every group I've ever come across does it [i.e., hazing] in some way, and the fact that the civilized, affluent West still does it shows that it's, for want of a better word, a very natural practice. One of the paradoxes is that this very violent, abusive treatment actually serves to greatly heighten the need of the initiate to belong to that group. It strips away their own personal power and individuality, it makes them crave belonging to the group and it makes them bond more tightly to it. I'm not arguing, at all, in favor of hazing. I'm just pointing out that it does seem to have a very strong resonance within the heart of masculinity.

It seems to be a very deep, masculine thing. I think it relates to human societies being so patrilineally based. And incidentally, we could argue that's largely why there's malaise among men these days, because we're naturally so geared to being a part of a band of brothers. It seems to be a very deep, inherent thing. At the moment, I'm in an area of Australia called the Little Sandy Desert, and I'm dealing with Martu aboriginal men. In about a month, they're going to round up all the young men from all the settlements and they're going to take them out to the bush and circumcise their penises. Just a little way over they actually subincise them. (Peter McAllister, interviewed by Thomas Rogers, “The dramatic decline of modern man,” Salon, 14 Nov. 2010)


Displaced into the city

RE: "I'm dealing with Martu aboriginal men. In about a month, they're going to round up all the young men from all the settlements and they're going to take them out to the bush and circumcise their penises. Just a little way over they actually subincise them."

I wonder how this would look if we replaced the periods with exclamation marks?

"I'm dealing with Martu aboriginal men! In about a month, they're going to round up all the young men from all the settlements and they're going to take them out to the bush and circumcise their penises!! Just a little way over they actually subincise them!!!!"

Yes, as I thought, more honest. I hope you enjoy the show of what finely-muscled Martu men can do to boys they've taken out into the bush (take a break to sneak-peak on the boys just a little way over "actually being subincised"!?). Remember, though, if ever back in the city you see a lot of men rounding up street kids for maybe something similarly penile-related, you probably ought to switch modes and report it rather than report ON it. I'm sure they're actually just being made manly men, but displaced into the less virile, less vigor-appreciating city, it'll be deemed wrong.


- - - - -


What do we expect from anthropologists?

Anthropologists find that our earliest ancestors were greater athletes, less "weak," than we are. It seems near frustratingly difficult to argue for the virtues of apparently effeminate civitas, in their company. But what should we expect with those who stayed all the way? For if at some point before certification they judged their studies' brawny performance a bit of a no-thing, juvenile, a bore, wouldn't they have soon-thereafter abandoned apish men for the couth and actually interesting?

Could it be that once modern wo/man is finally past all its primitiveness fetishizing, its astute angling over others amongst the civilized, s/he will conclude that there is in fact nothing much interesting to be learned from past shells, our discards? Rather than just evolution taking us a different way, maybe we just grew moral, considerate and considering, and moved on ... for a reason.


- - - - -


Shakespeare's 2 cents

"Let me have men about me that are fat; Sleek-headed [i.e., bald] men, and such as sleep o' nights. Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look; He thinks too much: such men are dangerous."

"Julius Caesar" (Act 1, Scene2) (austinboy, response to post)

*

This article is exhibit one.

What a dumb premise. How do we define fitness? Brawn? Speed? Virility? Then why aren't the chimps running things?

And which ancestors? Paleolithic, neolithic? The romans? From this perspective it's been nothing but downhill since the days that H. erectus was cock of the walk with their weakling smartypants use of fire and refined toolmaking and cooked food. (dogu44)

*

"The British archers at Agincourt could draw a longbow at about 150 lbs with good accuracy. This is more than twice the draw of modern longbows of about 60 lbs. The archers started training as young boys."

This is true (though you may have overstated the draw weight of those bows).

Yet, the English would eventually put aside the longbow in favor of the musket, even though your average musketeer was less deadly than your average longbowman (until rifled cartridges became more available).

So why the change? Because musketeers were a more reliable option. Lost longbowmen could take upwards of a year to replace; musketeers a matter of weeks. This made armies that utilized musketeers more effective, since losses could be replaced much easier.

My point? Longbowmen may have been physically strong and effective specialized troops, but technology (in this case, muskets) made an average man the match of a highly trained longbowman. Society doesn't need to count on large numbers of men to be exceptionally strong or athletic, thanks to technology. (moidalize)

*

Society's Development and Evolution

This article completely ignores the fact, as a society...we have evolved to the point where intellectually man can develop since he is no longer tasked with basic needs every day.

This specialization has allowed development since innovation happens around those circumstances.

The non-scientific humour seems trite and precocious to me.

Thank you for wasting my time, Thomas Rogers.

You made no mention of the size of mankind's brain dwindling, just the size of his dick. Thank you for that. (Ra_earth_wind-Fire)

*

One example that came to my mind is that in the running of the first "marathon", the runner died. After running 26 miles. Today, tens of thousands compete in marathons without ill affect. If ancient men were so fast, fit and hearty, shouldn't a long run like that have been a piece of cake? Or the death noted as really unusual?

One thing you can't argue with it that people used to live far shorter lives -- nasty, brutal and short. Again, as Silence points out, generation after generation of men killed themselves in pointless, endless wars of aggression. Women died in childbirth. The average lifespan was roughly 45-50, and THAT assumes you didn't die in childbirth or from some infection or plague, or got killed in war. Women didn't even live long enough, on average, to go through menopause. (Laure1962)


Tough times

It could have been that our ancestors were not in fact stronger and faster than we are, anthropologists could have uncovered that by 20 they were in fact so beat upon they had the constitutions of modern-day 90 year olds, bones of brittle not hard metal, so long as we concerned about perhaps lost virility no one who once ranged about the plains, prepared to prey on or otherwise be preyed upon by beasts and other men, can easily be apprehended by the brain as "weak." For me, it doesn't do to show how those physically-softened but strong-in-mind are truly more potent, or to show how the flabby are more predictable and less riseable -- and therefore actually better for the overall health and maintenance (the sturdy constitution) of the "commonwealth": our complaint must rest with those concerned to make the "issue" about strength and weakness in the first place, for such people are orienting / priming, setting parameters around a debate which will leave no room for valuing things most valuable about our finally becoming civilized.

Men don't become "strong" when, rather than abuse their boys through the kinds of "hardening" rituals they themselves might have been subject to, they instead seek to free them from all that trauma and seek another way -- they grow kind, compassionate. When we start finding extreme physical exertion a bit exhausting to watch / experience, and hard to imagine anyone want doing / celebrating, we haven't gone soft, but become a bit more mature in our tastes. Chimps weren't our ancestors, but I would suggest that when we're in the right frame of mind there's nothing about virile homo erectuses or now-"redeemed" bone-hardened 4 ft- tall Victorian factory workers that should draw us to agree to recognize much of a link with them either. Our concern is how to make our world more kind and fun -- not more virile or more fit. I know that the 18th-century liberal Brits fended off their conservative "kin" by arguing that you could have as much, a nation of shopkeepers, of fanciful fops, and still also the strongest navy and most assured nation ever known, but this still tipped the hat too much to those primitive-enough to still insist at-bottom it has to be about meek and strong, meek and strong: as if to move too far away from that, is to lose all that is most truly, assuredly, human. Their fancy is okay, but BECAUSE it's proved itself just another variant of the strong: the first stretches of a kind, welfare state -- the 18th-century genteel were for animal rights, child-safety, against slavery -- may have been defended by such thinking, but it wasn't born out of it.

If we agree to this, to argue in terms of virility and strength, we are agreeing to enter into a darker period of human existence: for no age built on commerce, entertainment, experimentation and self-growth, is not ever surely insusceptible to being charged luxurious and fallen -- better to go back into base mode, less ample mode, more restricting, more striving mode, where just being part meant demonstrating you had it in you to live in tough times. But later, a more mature generation will emerge, that will shirk you off like the Tudor courtiers did their numbskull, French (effeminacy)-fearing, dark age ancestors. They might relapse too into numbskullery, but at some point humanity will streamline, and then just grow, peacefully on.

Link: The dramatic decline of modern man (Salon)

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Spending time with better people

Welcome to the second session of Salon's Reading Club, everyone. For those just joining us, we're discussing Jonathan Franzen's new novel, "Freedom." Last week, we talked about the first part of the book, "Good Neighbors," through the end of Patty's "autobiography" (pages 1 through 187). This week, we'll consider half of the second part, "2004," reading through the end of the chapter titled "Enough Already" (pages 191 to 382).

[. . .]

All of this raises a question I've been wanting to ask since we started, concerning an observation people often make about Franzen's (and many other authors') characters, which is that they are "unlikable." I confess, I've grown to hate such remarks. It makes me feel like we're all back in grammar school, talking about which kids are "nice" and which kids are "mean." It's a willfully naive and blinkered way to approach a work of literature.

James Wood, in his book "How Fiction Works," wrote that this complaint implies that "artists should not ask us to try to understand characters we cannot approve of -- or not until after they have firmly and unequivocally condemned them." That we might recognize a character's unappealing qualities while simultaneously seeing life through her eyes, "and that this moving out of ourselves into realms beyond our daily experience might be a moral and sympathetic education of its own kind," doesn't seem to occur to far too many readers. Wood calls this sort of criticism, so common in Amazon reader reviews, a "contagion of moralizing niceness."

Patty is not nice. She does some bad things, and she can be grouchy and bitter. I wouldn't necessarily want her as a friend, but then that's not really an option because she's not a real person. She's a literary character -- which means it's not imperative that we take a moral stance on every single thing she does. Literature is an experiment of the imagination, and if we don't try to leave behind our contemporary compulsion to pass judgment on everything and everyone when we enter into that experiment, then we are the ones who lose out.

Speaking of "beyond our daily experience," I for one found Richard's views on "female bullshit" fascinating and astringently delightful. Few women ever get a glimpse of the inside of a consummate womanizer's mind, and I, like axelrod, underlined the passage where a client's flirtatious wife makes what she thinks are challenging remarks about Richard's music and then "waited, with parted lips and a saucy challenge in her eyes, to see how her presence -- the drama of being her -- was registering." How I love that miniature, well-barbed character sketch!

So, fellow Salon Reading Club members, what do you think? Do you find the characters in "Freedom" likable or not -- and does it matter? (Laura Miller, “Why must a novel’s characters be likeable?,” Salon, 11 Sept. 2010)


Tweaking

You give those who complain about having to spend so much time with unlikeable characters, quite the scolding. You sick an erudite critic on them, and equate them all to Amazon-commenter slosh. I admit to appreciating spending time with characters who show what it is to live better than I currently now do. Some of this same desire is expressed in the novel, toward the end (please forgive the small cheat), when certain characters address why they seek Walter out (though you probably thought these imperfect meanderers, just adults, the mature turn-away from implausible mary janes). MY desire for someone better, at least, was motivated FOR a desire for moral / sympathetic education, something I thought I found less of in this author's knowing descent than I might of if I spent more time with someone who found means to be generous-hearted and open in a world in dispirit / defeat, alongside an author / narrator (or author-directed narrator, if you prefer) who himself knows the inner-dialogue of such people best for its matching his own. (Note: I do like Franzen, though, just not as much as I like, say, Barbara Kingsolver, who I just sense to be a grander, more beautiful human being.) Maybe there are others out there amongst the complainers who aren't simply interested in spending more time before their own mirrors? And let's be fair: these people ARE (meant to be) us. Be sure, many of those who think they see inferiors are just being given a taste of how an intelligent, disinterested other could show them to actually be. Franzen would meet them, ignore their petty judgments and see their own Pattyness pretty plainly -- and this no doubt is part of Franzen's point, and perhaps, stern intent ("You are, you are, you are -- flawed [with some upside]; you are how others see you, but also how others made you to be.").

RE: "She's a literary character -- which means it's not imperative that we take a moral stance on every single thing she does. Literature is an experiment of the imagination, and if we don't try to leave behind our contemporary compulsion to pass judgment on everything and everyone when we enter into that experiment, then we are the ones who lose out."

I guess we see here more evidence of why you dumped hate on "Reality Hunger" -- that is, his "Fiction these days is just clothed biography; why not just go for the even realer stuff?, attend most closely to those with enough self-trust to bypass the well-guarded avenue to mostly hide?" In my judgment, if you experience a character as not just believable, but real; if you experience reading a novel as being proxy to, involved with, actual happenings -- i.e., it's really real while you read it; you follow along because someone's situation is so convincing it looks to delineate your own fate -- then when someone thereafter spooks out at you for your misapprehension, like Laura here does, consider that SHE may be the one inherently in the wrong. What is happening here is as close to real as Franzen could make it, arguably so that whatever moral stances / considerations, disappointments and accomplishments it encourages / delineates could also be applied to that oh-so-close simulacrum to the read world we emerge from -- the real world -- so that modest, deflating Franzen would be in the grand position to say, "here's about where we are; here's what it is to be one moral point in our seemingly played-out but actually still possibly -- thank god -- ex potentia moral universe," and have others skip argument, discussion, right to feeling their way to solutions / renewal. Some fiction IS really just reality once more before us, with some tweaking, and with a guide -- we'd sense if it was just one ultimately limited / skewed / directed someone else's experiment / opinion. Yes of course, though, we shouldn't just judge so we don't have to courageously, imaginatively, reflect and explore -- Laura's right about that.

Link: Why must a novel’s character be likeable? (Salon)

Frozen Franzenage

What do you think of the phrase "Franzenfreude"?

I think in German it literally means "joy in Franzen." But I'm no stranger to literary envy and am in no position to deplore it in others.

There's been discussion in the Salon Reading Club about which character in "Freedom" most represents you. Which one is it?

All four characters draw equally on my experience of life, though I admit to having a particular fondness for the youngest of them.

The characters in "Freedom" appear to make decisions, but they're all rooted in their experience and biology. It's striking, for example, how much like Patty's father Walter turns out to be, and her relationships with both Walter and Richard make all sorts of sense on the basis of her upbringing. Where do you come down, ultimately, on the question of free will?

This is exactly the kind of question I want to leave to the reader. The novelist is responsible for creating an experience, not for interpreting it.

The book has received a tremendous amount of publicity. Is there another book that you really liked that has recently come out, that you think might have been overshadowed by your own?

I've been so busy with publicity that I haven't been able to read any recent releases, but reliable friends have told me that Jennifer Egan's and Gary Shteyngart's new books are very good.

Of the criticisms you've read of the book, which hits home the hardest?

Well, I don't read reviews, so I'm not familiar with the criticisms. But I'm sad when I do a public event and somebody tells me -- as if an author would want to hear this! -- that my characters are unlikable. I feel like I'm being told that I myself am unlikable.

[. . .]

Obama famously was photographed with a copy of "Freedom." If he read it, what do you hope he took away?

I hope he was so preoccupied with urgent national affairs that he wasn't able to take away much more than a general enjoyment of the experience. I didn't vote for him in expectation of his mooning around pondering literary novels.

In a way, the book is about watching flawed humans during the downturn of an empire using their glorious "freedom" to do damage to those they love, to animals, to other countries. In writing the book, were you thinking of George W. Bush's use and misuse of the word "freedom"?

I was indeed. (Jonathan Franzen interviewed by Laura Miller, “Reading Club interview: Jonathan Franzen answers your questions,” Salon, 25 Sept. 2010)

- - - - -

That's It?

I was somewhat disappointed in the short, rather superficial answers to the questions considering all the hype this Q&A received over the past month. (Jason C)


Jason C

He knows we're looking for more, to open him up, so he answers questions in such a way that HE remains tight and WE are likely to feel as if we were less interested in answers than in satisfaction at his expense ... even if we weren't (we're all flawed, don't you know -- though much more flawed than our superb but self-effacing and delightfully polished and restrained god, Obama. [Franzen knows this, and so his flawed self still has one up on all of us.]). It's not an interview, it's a moral lesson. The best you can get from him is a draw. He'll offer an answer that can be readily argued as inarguably complete and honest -- all what we said we were looking for -- but feels deliberately cut-short and essentially withholding. And you can drumbeat keep moving on through with your interview. The world is made a better place.

He doesn't read reviews ... One wonders how much of the current love for Franzen (including Oprah's), is born out of our seeking abeyance and approval by the cold and withholding? Even in his icyness, he's probably just responding to our needs, and resents the hell out of us for this.

Even in a frozen Franzenage, I'd still "take" Kingsolver. But not without some power-ups -- his chill is everywhere, man!

Link: Reading Club interview: Jonathan Franzen answers your questions (Salon)

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Provoking the dread

For me, the end of October is always slightly tinged with dread -- provoked not by Halloween spooks, not even by election season, but by the advent of something called NaNoWriMo. If those syllables are nothing but babble to you, then I salute you. They stand for National Novel Writing Month.

[. . .]

The purpose of NaNoWriMo seems laudable enough. Above all, it fosters the habit of writing every single day, the closest thing to a universally prescribed strategy for eventually producing a book. NaNoWriMo spurs aspiring authors to conquer their inner critics and blow past blocks. Only by producing really, really bad first drafts can many writers move on to the practice that results in decent work: revision.

[. . .]

I am not the first person to point out that "writing a lot of crap" doesn't sound like a particularly fruitful way to spend an entire month, even if it is November. And from rumblings in the Twitterverse, it's clear that NaNoWriMo winners frequently ignore official advice about the importance of revision; editors and agents are already flinching in anticipation of the slapdash manuscripts they'll shortly receive.

[. . .]

Why does giving yourself permission to write a lot of crap so often seem to segue into the insistence that other people read it? [. . .] But even if every one of these 30-day novelists prudently slipped his or her manuscript into a drawer, all the time, energy and resources that go into the enterprise strike me as misplaced.

[. . .]

It was yet another depressing sign that the cultural spaces once dedicated to the selfless art of reading are being taken over by the narcissistic commerce of writing. And an astonishing number of individuals who want to do the former will confess to never doing the latter.

[. . .]

This is not to say that I don't hope that more novels will be written, particularly by the two dozen-odd authors whose new books I invariably snatch up with a suppressed squeal of excitement. [. . .] But I'm confident those novels would still get written even if NaNoWriMo should vanish from the earth.

Yet while there's no shortage of good novels out there, there is a shortage of readers for these books. (Laura Miller, “Better yet, DON’T write that novel,” Salon, 2 Nov. 2010)


Valid complaint

Re: “And from rumblings in the Twitterverse, it's clear that NaNoWriMo winners frequently ignore official advice about the importance of revision; editors and agents are already flinching in anticipation of the slapdash manuscripts they'll shortly receive.”

This to me is the problem. Potentially, if every child was born into a challenging, nurturing, uber-literate environment (and what are we as a species fighting for, if not that), we could have a whole population efforting to write their first novel some November-on, and they'd all smack of unmistakable promise -- and given the evidence of such good work, we'd force ourselves beyond the appealing workableness of the idea that there is never more than a near curriculum-containing number of true artists out there, and get to work figuring out how the most appropriate readers of a work do end up finding that particular work from amongst the ridiculous treasure-horde of excess (if you only had twenty readers of your work, if they were all Shelleys, Coleridges, or Alcotts, would you care?).

But since in actuality few do the editing, the refinement, the being-fair-to-their-own-material, to their own potential ability to articulate best (or at least better) what they want to say, you do have the sense that few amongst them actually are literate, really appreciate what literacy has to offer you OVER dopamine-rush excitements in whatever form -- whether hurried novel-writing, or losing some two hundred pounds of fat (and gaining a taut mind that thereafter only thinks of muscle) to urgent use of the treadmill -- and I think it is fair game here for Laura to insist on their trying-out a measured bit of library book light-lifting instead.

Too bad, though, because there is a more interesting conversation to be had here, one that would challenge literate writers to appreciate that given all that they now tend to do when they edit, they might be at the point where their work would benefit more than it loses from being loosed out of grasp before the second-glance can reconvene and reconsider.


@Patrick McEvoy-Halston

You work that superior dance, church lady.

How do you survive existing among such lesser beings?

—softdog


@softdog

Re: "You work that superior dance, church lady.

How do you survive existing among such lesser beings?"

After our conversation / essential agreement on "Almost Famous," my sense was we were more the same than different. Still, I included way too many "works" in my first post, and am too humble-feeling now to orient on your most-any-other-time fair question.

This is a harder issue to just agree on than you might think, though. Unlike Laura, I find what we get most of from our "best" writers is agreeable, well-written work, that should still ultimately launch us into tirades out of it being at bottom too nice, too safe, too much in accord, too much of what literature is not supposed to be about, but doesn't because we have enough sense of our current fragility, that there are, unfortunately, possibilities out there whose consideration we know would rock us silly, to go anywhere near broaching the issue. So I think it is convenient for these writers, or for literate reviewers like Laura, that there are maybe no massings out there right now (for me, Stewart and Colbert included) properly identified as both populist AND sane, because the truth of this fact is so informed by generous lending-to and earnest experience of, that almost any counter is too accurately sized up as ignorant or gross-appetite-inhibition born to do anything but the preferred: abate self-doubts, and root current preferences more trenchedly in place.

Right now at least, I do not trust earnest, mass efforts. It is the aristocratic "take," and such can be cruelly intended and completely misinformed, but right now individualism, a fully-formed personality, is in the path of aggressive, swarming, insistent group-think / impulse, and I despise when those who ought to know better praise the inclinations of those who would eat them up. Other times, it could well be democratic, generous, and open: ranging, wild, Louisianan sniper-fire that makes mincemeat of ordered British regimentation. But not now.


@Patrick Mc... Halston

Patrick: "But since in actuality few do the editing, the refinement, the being-fair-to-their-own-material..."

Serious question: How do you know the ratio of people who are self-critical and realistic to those who are self-congratulatory and delusional?

Patrick: "...few amongst them actually are literate, really appreciate what literacy has to offer you OVER dopamine-rush excitements in whatever form -- whether hurried novel-writing..."

A regimented writing exercise might be many things, but a generator of dopamine-rush excitement is not one of them. Writing eight pages of text per day, even lousy text, still requires a degree of patience, focus and frustration. The way you describe it, the writer is sitting there merrily typing away, going "Wooo hooo! I'm making literature here!" and then collapsing into a misguided heap of euphoria.

Patrick: "I think it is fair-game here for Laura to insist on their trying-out a measured bit of library-book light-lifting instead."

Again with the Fallacy of Mutual Exclusivity. There is no reason why a person could not both participate in NNWM and also devote time and effort to reading more. (Obviously that person would be strapped for time if he tried to do both in November, but you get my drift.) (Xrandadu Hutman, response to post))


@Xrandadu Hutman

Re: "Serious question: How do you know the ratio of people who are self-critical and realistic to those who are self-congratulatory and delusional?"

Okay. Honestly. Laura's comment that few in fact do the editing that they all ostensibly agree is required, is a big tip-off. Also, I don't believe we are going through a time when any collective effort that would principally appeal to the self-critical and realistic, is going to reach mass form. Franzen frowned on Oprah, for good reason; she is still too much sensation. As mentioned in my post to softdog, I am thinking of Stewart and Colbert's massing-for-sanity as well.

Re: "A regimented writing exercise might be many things, but a generator of dopamine-rush excitement is not one of them. Writing eight pages of text per day, even lousy text, still requires a degree of patience, focus and frustration. The way you describe it, the writer is sitting there merrily typing away, going "Wooo hooo! I'm making literature here!" and then collapsing into a misguided heap of euphoria."

Well, there is some play here. But, yeah, I considered this point before I wrote, but still wrote what I wrote because it smacked more true than false. Pretty much the entirety of a year-long war can be (largely, essentially) irrational, primarily dopamine-fueled and sustained, despite the pin-point shot amidst the errant-fire, the frequent intermissions, the thereafter General's talk of strategy and tactics; a one-month slog at a novel is a stretch beyond the evening blur, but to me, still readily potentially mostly rush. Barbarians used to raid bare-chested, mostly drunk, sacrificing themselves to their foes; they were coordinated enough to master running, charging, and axe-slicing, but they went about their albeit-somewhat-coordinated business in poor fashion for victory. I know I'm not convincing you with this, but it's what comes to mind.

Re: "Again with the Fallacy of Mutual Exclusivity. There is no reason why a person could not both participate in NNWM and also devote time and effort to reading more. (Obviously that person would be strapped for time if he tried to do both in November, but you get my drift.)"

But Laura is saying that something about (the coloring of) this movement attracts people who in the end DON'T do both, and it may be true that something of the selling of this movement actually further UPRAISES those intent on exhaling themselves all over the rest of us, and DISCOURAGES, wicked step sister-like pushes away, those into self-recalibration and interested, respectful, other-attendance.


Do You Really Believe, @Patrick....

... that people who try to write a novel during NaNoWiMo really need Laura Miller, or you, to "insist" that they "[try] out a measured bit of library-book light-lifting instead"?

I just don't know who it is you people are talking to. I've never met anybody involved in this activity who wasn't also an avid reader. Maybe not during November - but are they really cheating the literary world if they don't read other people's book EVERY month of their lives?

This is a way for people to try out writing, rather than just thinking about it. There are, of course, other ways to try out writing - but this is a way that a bunch of people seem to enjoy and get something out of. I have no idea why "real writers" like you and Laura Miller feel the need to denigrate the effort, much less "insist" (!) that they do something else instead.

People enjoying themselves, engaging with the written word, having a sense of accomplishment, maybe getting past some of their blocks - what a disaster for Real Literature! (Spectrum Rider)


@Spectrum Rider

A whole novel in a single month, is like a plateful of hotdogs stuffed into your mouth. If you market book writing as if you're appealing to the carnival-accomplishment taste of the Doritos crowd, then I think you should expect for the discerning to shy away, and creatures of appetite to be all over it!

Like I said, massings can afford safety, and be all about wonderful productivity and shared fun. A multiplication of but not really different from the group games that lead Mary Shelley to write "Frankenstein," and inspired her for the first time to actually feel fully individuated and self-determined. My experience of groups right now suggests this isn't much the time for this kind of thing, that just hearing of collective enterprise should spur on individualists to take on the mass. Laura I think is intent to take them on -- she wants them to improve. This makes her different from many of the cruelly and truly snobbish (e.g. most movie critics who went after fan-boys of "Inception"), who would produce in their own mind a land full of stupids even if no such constituted the actual lay of the land.


She's Saying It, @Patrick

"But Laura is saying that something about (the coloring of) this movement attracts people who in the end DON'T do both, and it may be true that something of the selling of this movement actually further UPRAISES those intent on exhaling themselves all over the rest of us, and DISCOURAGES, Cinderalla-like pushes away, those into self-recalibration and interested, respectful, other-attendence."

Yes, she's saying it. Based on the NNWM people I've know, I don't believe it. Why do you?

It seems to be an opinion shared by "real" writers and "real" editors, but not by the folks on the ground here. I think it's sheer snobbishness. Those foolish jerks who THINK they can write a novel - they simply MUST be spoiling it for the rest of us! (Spectrum Rider)

*

@McEvoy-Halston

"we could have a whole population efforting to write their first novel"

I'll read your criticism when your literacy and writing skills improve to the point that it's beyond babbling incoherence.

And "efforting?" SERIOUSLY??? (Discoursarian)

*

@Patrick McEvoy-Halston

Patrick: "Laura is saying that something about (the coloring of) this movement attracts people who in the end DON'T do both, and it may be true that something of the selling of this movement actually further UPRAISES those intent on exhaling themselves all over the rest of us, and DISCOURAGES, Cinderalla-like pushes away, those into self-recalibration and interested, respectful, other-attendence."

I realize that's what Laura is saying; what I don't see is any proof of it. Upraises how? Discourages how? The way I see it, if people are encouraged to write, and to connect with each other over their writing, then a likely by-product is that they will also be reading each other's works. I would also think that the experience of writing a whole novel would bring a fresh perspective to the act of reading.

I just don't understand the very idea of Laura Miller knocking what is essentially a program to encourage people's imaginations and creativity. She's supposed to be a person with an appreciation for the act of creativity, yet here she is taking a dump on those who would have the gall to participate in the creative process. It seems entirely wrongheaded to me, and I feel like it is, in itself, an article gimmick (the idea being that more people will click on a negative story than a positive one) rather than a genuine sentiment.

Like I said, imagine a film lover telling people they're foolish for participating in the 48-Hour Film Project.

Or imagine a music critic scoffing at a program that encourages bands to write and record songs, because the critic thinks "The last thing the world needs is another album" and "A lot of those bands probably won't do the hard work of remixing their recordings." (Xrandadu Hutman)


Xrandadu

Re: "Like I said, imagine a film lover telling people they're foolish for participating in the 48-Hour Film Project.

Or imagine a music critic scoffing at a program that encourages bands to write and record songs, because the critic thinks "The last thing the world needs is another album" and "A lot of those bands probably won't do the hard work of remixing their recordings."

I do not believe that Laura is telling people to desist mostly because she sighs that the last thing the world needs is yet another novel-writer; she does so because she believes / senses / knows that the last thing these would-be novelists need is another avenue to extend their indulgent selves. Rather, if they are up to the truly considerable and self-and-other-benefiting enterprise, she believes they should first broaden their range through the compare-and-contrast of literature, become more self-aware, profound, interesting, and then launch at us -- at whatever speed -- something perhaps unrefined but obviously considerable that might take us aback, drives us some place unfamiliar most everyone interesting will at least consider exploring.

If I was noting from 48-Hour Film Projects that the produced work is not really working to deepen film-makers, and in fact was cooperating in making thin novices feel that their high from manic self-exertion / enterprise and "I made a film!" exhilaration, also really comes from their having demonstrated that they are such quick-learners, so foruitously constituted, that they have moved beyond the patient, slow learning ostensibly necessarily required for true accomplishment, then I would alert them to the fact that Deweyite "learning through action" true wisdom is clearly failing, at least for them, that they're going to have to learn to appreciate extending themselves on turf that will provide them with less pleasing, more confounding, resistance. If I noticed otherwise, that these projects were working not just to extend their abilities but deepen what they have to offer, then I might even discourage them from too much attendance to what others have come up with, and attack those who would school down their efforts through calls for a more disciplined, restrained, approach.


@Patrick McEvoy-Halston

Patrick McEvoy-Halston: "I do not believe that Laura is telling people to desist mostly because she sighs that the last thing the world needs is yet another novel-writer..."

That is explicitly what she said. In any case, I'm not sure what is to be benefited from doing guesswork as to Laura Miller's motives.

Patrick: "she does so because she believes / senses / knows that the last thing these would-be novelists need is another avenue to extend their indulgent selves."

Another avenue in addition to what? Are there a bunch of other write-a-novel-in-a-month programs out there?

Patrick: "she believes they should first broaden their range through the compare-and-contrast of literature"

I see you're doubling down on the Fallacy of Mutual Exclusivity.

Patrick: "If I was noting from 48-Hour Film Projects that the produced work is not really working to deepen film-makers"

The point of the project, nor of the NNWM, is about the creative process. The NNWM program materials make it very clear that for the purposes of this exercise, they favor quantity over quality. Obviously, the NNWM creators know full well the limitations that come with that approach, and, let me repeat this for about the fifth time: They aren't claiming people are going to end up with ready-to-publish works.

Patrick: "...and in fact was cooperating in making thin-novices feel that their high...also really comes from their having demonstrated that they are such quick-learners, so foruitously constituted, that they have moved beyond the patient, slow learning ostensibly necessarily required for true accomplishment..."

Wow, you really labored to come up with that mashed-potatoes pile of assumptions, didn't you? That's practically a miniature Devil's Tower of Worst Case Scenario.

Sorry, but with everybody making hot dog metaphors, I can't help but join in with some potatoes. (Xrandadu Hutman)

*

@Lary Crews

I bet you had to walk to school in snow up to your chest, uphill, both ways, too!

Eh, different people are different. Anyone who doesn't understand that is not human enough to be the kind of writer I would want to read. Some people need a push, or a challenge, or some way to turn off those nagging voices in their heads.

Whatever works. NaNoWriMo works for some.

To you, and Laura and Patrick - get over yourselves. You're not that special. (khalleron)


khalleron

You believe it's hard to get writing, and that NaNoWriMo is about challenging, prompting, cajoling / aggravating people to finally get doing what they've always wanted to do. It's a much-needed / appreciated agitant, not some facile enabler: it's actually working to bring people a bit closer to where Laura would hope they become, and it could only be out of still-haughty ignorance that some good person like her could disparage it. Some of us see the situation differently, sense the movement is somehow mostly about gathering, aggrandizing, authoratizing mass "preferences" (your brave extension is for us a sighted effort of significant overlay we are no so stupid as to dismiss), and hope some people out there in some credible position to do so will insist on doing the soon truly dangerous but intrinsically kind / hopeful, and prompt, aggravate, members of the forming assemble so that it settles less readily / assuredly into something that would block from consideration what is clear-seeing, en potentia -- sane.

When Stephanie Zacharek insisted in her review of "Inception" that Nolan is no Hitchcock, she wasn't just being smug; she was trying to be fair to her informed sense of what is truly right, and be helpful. She sensed the encroachment, the false substitution, and knew it was ultimately instigated out of a need to do the required to block from view authorities that still "stand" that complicate efforts towards uncontested group-think, that could disturb one or another from trance, and played to whatever part exists in those who are succumbing that has been drawn previously to what she has to say, in hopes of keeping that much more sanity "in play."

Laura is doing the same thing here. If you like what Laura has to say before this, please know for sure that if she met more of you, caught better sight of how much you actually do read, actually participated in the event, and read more of your produced work, she wouldn't think any different. You honestly think you want to "acquaint" her, but don't realize just how much you would rather more have her succumb. (The instant Laura stood amongst you, you'd know the issue is how to break her -- she will not cooperate, "friend.") We know you're about the modest, the smallest pretense, claiming only the tiniest of space and most modest portion of our time, but we sense something in the nature of the time we live in that tells us you're actually already probably at some level aware you're going to be carried along to trample all over us. You think elites like Laura are the ones with power -- and right now you'd prefer to never think different -- but power now really belongs in those who would abstain from being interesting and would orient the elite to be less true counter and more an assumed part of the story. The most sane and good "about town," won't go down without a fight, for both your and our sakes. Franzen obliged Oprah, and "Freedom" was his proof of submission; his friend, Laura, liked his book but was irked by its terminating capitulation, and stands still, trying to not let you down.


@Patrick

Oh, did I hit a nerve?

Good.

I love puncturing pomposity, it's my fourth or fifth favorite pastime.

Boo! (khalleron)


- - - - -


Why not...

As a published writer, NaNoWriMo interested me. I have previously only written poetry, and if there's anything that sells fewer copies than fiction, it's poetry. In fact, fewer poetry books are actually read, purchased, or stolen than any other genre. I applaud anyone who picks up a book of poetry and actually reads it. (Windebygirl)

*

Everyone's entitled to an opinion

I'm am an independent author who'd never written anything longer than a short story before learning of NaNoWriMo back in 2007. (Gldrummond)

*

Respectfully, you missed the point

Laura,

I found your piece and read it thoughtfully. I completely understand your point of view and agree that you make some fine points when speaking in generalities.

However, NaNoWriMo's contribution to art and letters is not about the hundred thousand participants who never finish their novel. Nor is it about the thousands more who fail to properly set the first draft aside, move on to another project to reinforce the habit of writing each day, and later return to the initial manuscript for an honest and thorough rewrite. NaNoWriMo, in my opinion, isn't even entirely for the hundreds of writers who *will* follow the proper steps, perform the due diligence and just fall short on the talent curve.

NaNoWriMo, in my opinion, is for two kinds of people: buried treasures and lifelong readers eager to try their hand at creating what they have so voraciously consumed. (Statesboro blues)

*

It was about two weeks when I read Andrew O'Herir's (a writer whom I've enjoyed a great deal) review of the newly-released "Secretariat".

Between the gratuitous references to "burning crosses", etcetera?...I reacted by writing a letter (the tone of which was a mix of irritation and disappointment) in which I basically asked why in the world O'Herir was suddenly writing such transparently "click inducing" (as in most of the bait offered by "Broadsheet") crap.

It just occurred to me (and, yes, Otherwise-Unengaged Me has come back, this morning, to this letter thread)...Oh?..has someone told Miller (whose work has always been duly appreciated, without raising any sort of ruckus) that she needs to write something that GETS MORE CLICKS!!!!!!

I think it was just last week that I wondered why she was suddenly (and this is a cheap, obvious gimmick that's simply become all-too-common on Salon) asking "What fictional characters would YOU equip with modern technology?....WRITE IN AND TELL US WHAT YOU WOULD DO!!!!!!! We'll look forward to seeing your responses on Salon.com!!!!!".

I read that (and I've obviously paraphrased it) and was instantly reminded of the recent time when I heard that a previously very-fine program produced by our local NPR affiliate was going to be IMPROVED (!) by adding "listener call-in, requests, and audience INTERACTION!!!!". (David Terry, aka Dterrydraw)

*

What a cow!

Ms Miller,

You are an arrogant (insert ugly word of your choice).

You don't sell well and perhaps you need to read something along the type of books you write: Article Writing for Dummies. (Anya Khan)

You're entitled to your opinion...

But we all know what opinion's and diapers have in common.... And well here's mine...(rasplundjr)

*

You are missing the point of NaNoWriMo

Laura,

I think you misunderstand both the purpose of NaNoWriMo and the novel writing process.

NaNoWriMo does not claim that you will have a *publishable* novel by the end of the month, nor does it claim that you should send your NaNo novel off to agents. NaNo is about getting words down on paper. I had to write 3,000 pages of crap to get to my 324-page (published by Simon & Schuster) novel. (Dorothy hearst)

*

Poor woman wasn't a winner.

I suspect Ms. Miller attempted NaNoWriMo and failed. No one could possibly be this worked up over something that others do for fun without having personal experience with it. Lol (BlueBKLYN)

*

Disappointing

Another published novelist here -- in about 10 countries, with fiction nominated for major awards and, to top it off, a Ph.D. and publications in VOGUE, NY TIMES, and many other prestigious markets. Am I good enough to address you, Ms. Miller? (Greeneyedkzin)

*

more than just writing

I have always loved reading Laura Miller's defense of readers, and as someone who works in publishing I understand the "don't flood the market with schlock you were encouraged to write badly" message. But I think this time she's missed the mark by focusing on what NaNoWriMo sometimes produces (overeager novelists unwilling to revise) instead of what the process provides. (meganlyn)


When someone's shown she no longer need be considered

Well, the whole spectrum has shown up to inform Laura she doesn't know what she's talking about. Not just spurned participants, that is, but well-published authors who've never tried the thing, as well as editors who know slush-pile better than Laura does -- even of picky-picky literary journals. Heck, even the voice of all that is generous, patient, allowing, reluctant, restrained, thoughtful and considering -- David "draw" Terry -- has decided he must show up to let Laura know she's maybe having a bit of an off-day with this one. David does all his modesty and fairness in a way which probably makes more than just me feel as if he's being wide-stanced into a corner while listening to this most 'greeable of personages, but, overall, we're still though, comfortably all-agreed: Laura is so beyond-all-evidence off on this thing it may not even be unfair to start considering if she IS actually lessening into a witch, an isolated cretin whose crime, though, is not just ignorance but greedy jealousy, who figures some score that no other than she is aware of will be settled if she collects together some large share of clicks from out of other people's misery.

But is it possible for representatives of every position to "convene," representing the entirety of everything at-all possible to be considered, and yet for it still to amount to a collective assembled to keep out anything dissonant that does exist and that would provoke it out of a drama it's drifting into and that JUST MUST be lived out? Well, yes, it is. During the Great Depression, for instance. For a few years at the commencement there were pot-shots taken at the struggling / trying, but very soon everyone was agreed -- the astonishingly literate and completely illiterate, the earnest and wise-cracking: all -- that the people are as they are being presented here, decent "folk" with no pretensions, giving it their best shot, doing the intrinsically American and just trying to make something more of themselves and of their lives, and only the hugest ass would know them different. The few people who "objected," who argued, no, these people are shrunk, lacking in sustenance, personality -- requiring not a voice at the table but some beginning of a differentiated voice at-all worth hearing -- hardly existed, and when present, hardly known, gaining larger recognition only 30-years on, after the war, with the beginning of a new era-long period where everything that was known for sure could finally be seen in a different light, and be reevaluated.

As Morris Dickstein recently said of Nathaniel West, who saw in the folk simply still the "drained-out" mass, he "would paint their fury with respect, appreciating its awful, anarchic power and aware that they had it in them to destroy civilization." Laura IS civitas. If people like her succumb, soften their stance, see your point-of-view and try in the future to be fairer to you, it's going to naught but prescribed agreement the rest of the way on. If this isn't your thing, you're going to have to learn to take solace with that maybe subsequent generation who might better recall you, while you're removed from today's hot-seat back to the corner playing solitaire.


The 60s, or 30s?

One final admission. The 1960s was not a time for restrained, discerning readers (maybe not even for readers, so much more was it into rock 'n roll, community life, and your own take); it was more about letting out the previously contained / denied, the irrational, the not-tried-out, than it was about the 2nd, 3rd, 4th careful re-edit. The old T. S. Eliotian trinity of irony, ambiguity, paradox was being challenged by a favoring of spirit and appetite, and the old guard could only lament how even their best pupils were drifting away from "profound and carefully organized" writing toward the "hopped-up" and way-too-insufficiently considered (Dickstein, "Gates of Eden"). And it wasn't as it is now an elite Brooklyn/Berkeley control, but funneling out of every variant nobody corner of the land. Any piece, however inarticulate, that spoke your truth, was better than the mountain-castle of learned but repressed naysayers, hiding. You had at least begun, whereas their whole effort was about telling people not to.

And the 60s was the best decade known to wo/man.

So if you think NaMoWrMo is mostly about recognizing, encouraging, developing the at-least possibly beautiful that is so often contained by intolerant, self-protecting elites -- your creativity, for instance -- look back to the 60s: you've got ammo on your side that might balk back arguments that you're not reading enough, or that you're not reading the right type, or that you may be reading the right type but not in the right way, without any recourse to proof of contra; for all the same was said of even the intellectuals of the 60s, and who now looks to Trilling as Ginsberg's master/better?

But if we're heading into another 30s / 40s, then understand that you aren't going to prove true Romantics, together, urging on your own voice / creativity, but a gobbling, intolerant horde -- the most profoundly societal-inhibiting / repressive / scolding / all-determining force; the soon-to-be-in Laura's ostensible place -- and you'll be making sure that the few people like she who is not dismayed, find no respected vehicle for their voice to be heard.

Link: Better yet, DON’T read that novel (Salon)