Edward Docx: A Slug Defending His Gated Community

On December 12, 2010, The Guardian published a pretentious essay by an amental snob named Edward Docx. Docx foolishly suggested that “genre writers cannot claim to have anything.” He accused Lee Child of “ersatz machismo bullshit” even as Docx himself could not see the fecal specks sprouting throughout his own ineptly argued assault on genre. He wasted his first two paragraphs blabbing on about the plebs on the train and, like a petulant infant longing to grow into a long-winded David Cameron, bitched about not having space to provide “a series of extracts…to illustrate the happy, rich and textured difference.”

Yes, it’s class warfare, my friends. But here’s the thing. Docx isn’t on the working man’s side. His essay reads like some corpulent slug defending his gated community with a Magpul PDR and then slithering away because he doesn’t know how to release the safety. It’s the kind of unfit approach that invites ridicule rather than confidence, alienation rather than mobilization. For if you’re going to claim yourself a champion of the people (or, to use Docx’s inept populist metaphor, a half-hearted burger eater), shouldn’t you be paying attention to what they’re reading? If you wish to demonstrate why Stieg Larsson is such a shitty writer, shouldn’t you have the guts to quote him at length? After all, your argument is airtight, isn’t it? The writer is dead and he can’t respond, right? Win win!

Alas, Docx can’t be bothered. He identifies “the most tedious acronym-packed exchange” that he has ever read, but he fails to comprehend that what Docx considers “tedious” might be the kind of wonky info banter that is going to get a journalist like Blomkvist rock hard. He quotes from a very early part of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (page 24 in my copy) and gives us no full indication that he has read the whole book. This makes Docx not only an illiterate, but an inept bully foolish enough to support his claim through deductive induction — a logical fallacy that hasn’t worked ever since newspapers had the good sense of opening up their articles to public comment. Because Docx says that genre is lesser, and Docx fancies himself an authority, then it must be true! No need to provide airtight examples of Swedish silliness. Docx also tries to quote a few passages from Dan Brown to make his case. But wait a minute, that’s a logical fallacy! What about Larsson? That guy you just shit talked in your previous paragraphs? Shouldn’t you be taking him down? Oh dear, secundum quid! If only Docx had the space, he’d demolish your genre! He’d *gasp* have an argument!

Well, not really. It becomes abundantly clear that Docx doesn’t know what the fuck he’s talking about when he attempts to quote others. In a feeble attempt at wit, Docx deliberately misquotes Isaac D’Israeli’s Curiosities of Literature (the full quote: “Whatever is felicitously expressed risks being worse expressed: it is a wretched taste to be gratified with mediocrity when the excellent lies before us”). But D’Israeli was writing rather sensibly about how well-read writers are those comprehending the wit of other men. Does Docx comprehend D’Israeli? To employ a populist reference that Docx might frown upon, you make the call. For Docx misses the vital sentence that came before the business about being “gratified with mediocrity”:

It seems, however, agreed, that no one would quote if he could think; and it is not imagined that the well-read may quote from the delicacy of their taste, and the fulness of their knowledge.

And here’s what came after:

We quote, to save proving what has been demonstrated, referring to where the proofs may be found. We quote to screen ourselves from the odium of doubtful opinion, which the world would not willingly accept from ourselves; and we may quote from the curiosity which only a quotation itself can give, when in our own words it would be divested of that tint of ancient phrase, that detail of narrative, and that naivete which we have for ever lost, and which we like to recollect once had an existence.

So if Docx wishes to uphold worthy literature, why is he unable to provide a corresponding set of virtues other than a measly list of literary names? According to my word count feature on OpenOffice, this doddering dunce had 1,770 words to stake his claim. All that space and he couldn’t be bothered to provide a single passage? Talk about long-winded. It’s safe to say that Docx is no D’israeli. I think it’s also safe to say that Docx has utterly mangled D’isreali’s great sentiment.

So why bring the argument up in the first place? Why make such a spectacle of yourself? Why do this when you tacitly admit that “there is also much theatricality to the debate?” Sarah Weinman has a few answers. Certainly I can understand the Guardian‘s need for attention in this vanquished media economy. But I’d like to think that some editor over there was having a good laugh at Docx’s expense.

You see, Docx is the kind of humorless elitist who observes people reading books on a train and actually sees this as a bad thing. Rather alarming that ordinary Joes don’t seem to share Docx’s refined instinct for spending their increasingly valuable leisure time reading a 900 page Russian epic. How dare the rabble sully literature by having a good time! In this essay, Docx vomits so many half-digested meals out of his mouth that one detects an uptight gourmand who showed up to an orgy wearing a chastity belt. The man is incapable of understanding that when people flock to Stieg Larsson, they may very well move on to other authors beyond the missionary position. The very “literary” authors Docx desires them to read. And he’s incapable of finding anything positive in this apparent predicament. Which makes him more of a pinpricked sourpuss than a viper for the people.

Here is a man who berates a blue-collar worker for having to put down a Larsson volume. He writes: “And when, finally, I arrived at the buffet car, I was greeted with a sigh and a how-dare-you raise of the eyebrows. Why? Because in order to effectively conjure my cup of lactescent silt into existence, the barrista in question would have to put down his… Stieg Larsson.” Now if it had been me, I would have viewed this exchange as a rather comic moment. Maybe an opportunity to ask the barista why he liked Larsson and recommend a few names in response that might help him find a way to wider reading pastures. That is, if he didn’t want to go back to his volume. In which case, I would have offered a generous tip for blabbing on for five minutes. But for Docx, the barista represents a foolish opportunity to cling to class assumptions that haven’t been in place since the 1880s. You insolent reader! Fix me my latte now, you unthinking peon! And this makes Docx not unlike Charles Pooter, the hapless protagonist of Diary of a Nobody, who demands some respect from a blue-collar “monkey of seventeen.” The laborer replies: “All right, go on demanding!”

Of course, Docx can go on demanding all he wants. It isn’t even noon Eastern Standard Time, and I can see that the man has already been thoroughly ridiculed on Twitter. But if Docx gets his money quote, I get mine. And if we assume that dictating taste represents a fleeting freedom, I think Nietszsche best sums up why Edward Docx is such a small and pathetic man:

People demand freedom only when they have no power. Once power is obtained, a preponderance thereof is the next thing to be coveted; if this is not achieved (owing to the fact that one is still too weak for it), then “justice,” i.e., “equality of power” become the objects of desire.

[UPDATE: This post has been corrected. An earlier version of this article incorrectly observed that Docx had not cited Larsson. This was not true. Docx did quote a passage, but his argument remains so pisspoor that Docx’s “takedown” still doesn’t hold water. Nevertheless, I apologize for my error and express my gratitude to Nico for pointing this out to me.]


Review: The Girl Who Played with Fire (2009)

When I read Stieg Larsson’s The Girl Who Played with Fire, I learned that it was possible to subsist on little more than Billy’s Pan Pizza when taking down a shadowy human trafficking organization. I learned that Billy’s Pan Pizza could get you through the day when your name was slandered in various Swedish broadsheets, and when your family’s malicious nature was revealed, and when you needed to hack into computers using tactics that the 2600 crowd would surely find dubious. Eat enough Billy’s Pan Pizza and you too would be able to access a powered down laptop! Perhaps it was a surrogate for a wild weekend involving a bag of shrooms and a fifth of scotch. Or merely the workaholic’s answer to intense labor. But it was certainly enough to alter reality and make it persuasive. If you had two breaks for Billy’s Pan Pizza, you could spend most of the day at your computer “with only a big bottle of Coca-Cola for company.” This was a Donnean existence to be sure, but then Billy’s Pan Pizza could take you quite far. If you walked into a 7-11, it was absolutely impossible not to walk out with several boxes of Billy’s Pan Pizza, along with an obsessive need to announce your shopping list to the reader. Because of this, I felt very sorry when Salander had exhausted her Billy’s Pan Pizza supply. Without the pizza, there was no way for her to win.

So I was considerably disappointed when the film adaptation failed to understand the true power of Billy’s Pan Pizza. Yes, it pimped Vaio and Mac and IKEA and other non-food products. The Swedish television industry (for this cinematic release is actually the first half of a TV miniseries) has learned a thing or two about product placement. But the problem here was that the filmmakers haven’t considered the right item to pimp. Aside from an unidentified pizza box tossed against a kitchen wall, there was no indication of Billy’s Pan Pizza maintaining its essential role. For this reason alone, I must condemn writers Soren Staermose and Jon Mankell and director Daniel Alfredson for this lackluster offering. The Millennium trilogy has been a remarkable commercial bonanza. Is it not fitting to maintain the commercialism in these cinematic counterparts? If these filmmakers cannot comprehend the importance of such a vital frozen food product, then they are as morally dissolute as tax cheats.

But maybe this criticism isn’t entirely fair. While I could complain about my failure to read the Swedish subtitles due to the crowded house and the screening room’s highly acute grade, I won’t. I’ll only say that I was seated behind The Girl Who Didn’t Understand That Her Fat Head Prevented Others from Reading the Subtitles. This extenuating circumstance may have had some bearing on my ability to review the film properly. Nevertheless, I was able to make out 95% of the missing words by listening. And I was delighted to encounter more overlap between Swedish and English word roots than I anticipated.

While I could point out that Staermose and Mankell don’t quite have the knack of synthesizing a mammoth novel that the previous writers (Nikolaj Arcel and Rasmus Heisterberg) had with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, I should point out that they are good enough to make the book’s “giant” relatively laconic. Director Alfredson has cast a rather silly blonde man named Micke Spreitz as Ronald Niedermann. He isn’t quite Richard Kiel. He resembles what might have happened if some Tiger Beat model from twenty years ago grew up and replaced his morning Wheaties with steroid shakes. Menace isn’t exactly his strong suit. He’s preposterous and not nearly as intense as he should be. But he’ll do.

There is semi-hot lesbian sex, which I’m sure will please a certain redblooded demographic too diffident to walk past the beads into a video store’s adult section. Not exactly Deneuve and Sarandon from The Hunger, but it will also do. Salander’s surprise breast implants didn’t find their way into the film, suggesting some mammary diffidence. The hospital flashbacks are shot in black-and-white, suggesting a chiaroscuro commitment to spelling out the bleeding obvious. But Michael Nyquist (Blomkvist) and Noomi Rapace (Salander) aren’t too bad in this. Yes, Nyquist and Rapace don’t really get many moments to confirm their onscreen chemistry this time around. And Nyquist, who was quite the studly lothario in the last one, doesn’t quite have the “talent” that Larsoon was keen to delineate in the book. My hope here is that Nyquist will be getting his rocks off in the next film to demonstrate how old school journalists are the new stallions.

Thanks to budgetary constraints, the Millennium‘s office (this time around) looks more like some fly-by-night startup rather than a major muckraking magazine. I was also disappointed that the juicy line “Your mother was a whore!” was uttered so calmly. For goodness sake, this is Swedish melodrama! We need such lines to be uttered with scenery-chewing integrity!

Nevertheless, I had fun with the film. Even if I did notice that other critics were baffled by the plot. I am not certain that they had read the book. And I’m still not sure if the Millennium film trilogy quite captures Larsson’s lurid feel. These films are certainly not the Red Riding Trilogy. But they’ll do.