My response to Andrew Keen’s The Cult of the Amateur is now at 2,500 words, and I still have considerably more to address. Rest assured, it will be unleashed before the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books.
I’m very excited to be covering Alternative Press Expo tomorrow, where I will likely be spending far too much money. If you have comics, particularly strange or unusual ones, to talk about, look for the balding guy wandering the Concourse with the microphone. The results will appear, as last year, in a series of forthcoming Segundo podcasts.
If you thought that Will Self’s New York Times walk-a-thon was strange, New York Magazine has upped the fey ante by following Marisha Pessl as she loads up on coffee and cupcakes. It’s good to know that when it comes to literary writers, today’s media will devote considerable column inches not to the books in question, but what they do with their bodies. What next? A 2,000 word article on Zadie Smith and Z.Z. Packer bicycling cross-country?
John Freeman writes: “How, after all, could one review ‘Slaughterhouse Five’ without commenting upon the novel’s deeply humanistic vision? How will critics talk about former NBCC winner Jim Crace’s upcoming apocalyptic novel ‘The Pesthouse’ (which is set in America) without engaging with the very real political undercurrents caused by his flip-flopping of our greatest migration myths (having people trying to leave the country, rather than enter it)? How does one review a book like William T. Vollmann’s ‘Poor People’ without pausing for more than an aside to marvel how infrequently this population winds up in a book at all?” Well, it’s very simple. In Vollmann’s case, you observe the level of scholarship and the degree to which the book succeeds or fails at personal journalism. In the case of the two novels, you remark upon how thematically effective the narrative is. This has very little to do with politics, although I can see how a politically conscious reader might pick up certain connections. China Miéville and I recently had an interesting conversation about how an author’s imagination does, in fact, dwell outside of his political sensibilities. In Miéville’s case, the monsters that Miéville creates have nothing to do with his Marxist leanings.
Accordingly, since John Freeman seems to see politics in everything, I hereby challenge Mr. Freeman to a public debate in New York on this very issue, where I will duly demonstrate to Mr. Freeman that an open-minded reader can, in fact, read, write, and assess literature irrespective of politics.
What does a “humanistic vision” have to do with politics? Can’t human decency and compassion be discussed without it becoming political? Call me cynical, but by seeing such an issue as “political” would probably tend to depersonalize it and push personal responsibility that much futher away.
The Ames piece is interesting, but speaking as a lifelong Southerner who went to a school where a hostage situation (student on student) took place in 1989, he has a romanticized view of Southern kids. They aren’t all hicks with a “get ’em!” attitude and they aren’t that different than their “coastal” counterparts.
think about it in reverse, though. would you like to read an article about tolstoy walking around a brothel in the meatpacking district getting spent and drunk and then taking the LIRR back to the estate in southhampton and crying into sofias welcoming arms? or would you rather read another essay about adultery and caste in the kreutzer sonata? both, maybe.
per pessl, a lot of people complain about how no one talks about her book, but the only thing people ever say about the actual book is that its not as bad as everyone thinks it is who hasnt read it.
p.s. — theres these great quotes in the new markson (from pablo neruda, i think) about the perils of assessing literature irrespective of politics.
something about “the cheese of capitalism”, being literature that ignores politics.
i liked ames’ essay very much.
Everything is political.
re: the marisha pessl thing, yeah isnt it weird that the food section of the magazine would talk abt FOOD? how strange.