Why do we cleave to the presumption of Manichaeism rather than the Hammettian conception?* I suspect the answer lies more in psychology than in facts. We want to preserve what Richard Sennett called a purified identity and hunger for what Christopher Lasch called "psychic security". In an age of narcissism people want to believe - often without troubling to read a word of moral philosophy - that they are right and others wrong and the wish is the father to the thought.
There's a dismaying amount of truth to this view, and it's not something limited to politics, of course, but that's where it manifests most blatantly and painfully. Society is not in the business of training its people to be skeptical of their notions, of being comfortable with being uncomfortable, as Pema Chödrön might have put it. It's in the business of indoctrination, largely as a way to keep the whole machine running. That there are ways to do this that do not involve indoctrination is a point too subtle for most societies to grasp. After all, they're not in the business of putting themselves out of business and replacing themselves with something better.Read more
Earlier in the week I noticed someone online using the term "troll it 'till it breaks", in reference to how to respond to some nitwit piece of legislation. Jump on it until the inherent absurdity of what it is becomes exposed by sheer force, and then maybe enough people will wake up that the item in question will be killed. The best way to test something, in other words, is to see where its breaking point lies.Read more
Random thought about the disdain for SF in literary circles, about what it stems from. Far as I can tell, most of it comes from a few different things, most of which go unacknowledged by literary types:
Of the four, I think #1 and #2 are the most unsung, and the latter two are the most self-evident. It's easy to assume that people hate on SF because it's "popular" or "lowbrow", and it's not entirely wrong to start from that assumption. Most negative opinions of SF, even to this day, are rooted it in it being written as crowd-pleasing work, or as material aimed at juveniles — even when the SF in question just begins from those points and doesn't necessarily end with them.Read more
At some point everyone sporting a brain has to break their shins on the realization that they are the easiest person in the world to fool. Beyond that lies yet another rough frontier to conquer: that the antidote to such self-delusion is not to tell yourself, "I'm no fool!" because that just sets you up for all new ways to be fooled.Read more
[Apart from Inside Out and one other project], [e]very other upcoming Pixar feature that’s been announced is a sequel. Finding Dory in 2016, Toy Story 4 in 2017, and (as yet unscheduled) The Incredibles 2 and (brief shudder) Cars 3. For those keeping track at home, that’s a total of four announced sequels and two announced non-sequels. It’s tough to think of a more conspicuous advertisement that the creative wells at Pixar are running dry.
Dissenting POV here. I don't think it's that the plenitude of the creative wells that are the issue here. I think it's more a question of the effort-to-payoff ratio. If you know people are going to line up around the block for something with a given name on it, you lean that much more towards creating such a thing as a time- and cost-saving measure. Yes, cost-saving — the cost of not having to go through the trouble of iterating until you come up with something original that works, and the cost of worrying about how well it'll fly with an audience that knows nothing about it. Nothing succeeds like the same old success.Read more
Fraud is such an ugly word, one made all the uglier by its thoughtless misuse.
In the span of less than a month I have see separate essays that have decried the words of Alejandro G. Inarritu and David Foster Wallace as fraudulent, with the artists in question labeled as frauds. This is not a new thing, either; on searching my memory I can recall any number of instances where a critic or even a fellow artist blasted off an F-bomb at some target or another. I suspect I've done it any number of times on my own. If I have, it's high time I quit.Read more
A good, and appropriately narrowed discussion, of why the Percy Jackson books may be their own reward:
... one of the messages of Percy Jackson, and of a lot of kids' literature, is that children are not just waiting to pick their lives up when they're grown, but are heroes of their own stories now. That's a lesson that adults have trouble with, if the condescension and contempt in the discussion of children's reading is any indication. Maybe the people who really need to read Percy Jackson are the grown-ups.
Again, I'm of two minds. Yes, it helps not to give kids something too stale for them to chew on, and if they blossom all the more enthusiastically because of something trendy, great.
That said, I'd bet what they find stale and antiquated is something best left to them to discover, and not something dictated to them arbitrarily. And in the long run, it helps to get them to discover the stuff that has stuck around as long as it has for good reason.
So, there does need to be a way to reach the classics, but let's not count on YA fiction as a way to do it. It'll save both the classics and YA fiction from taking on burdens neither of them benefit from.
I'm at about the age, I think, when most of my childhood heroes begin to die off.
This isn't something you notice all at once. No one departure sets off the alarm bells. But one day, you look around, and the emptiness of the room, the dents in the couch where fine company once sat, resonates with you like a struck bell. Fixtures of my childhood imagination, like Moebius and H.R. Giger, are gone now. Men and women who gave my life direction and purpose in adolescence and early adulthood — Roger Ebert, Akira Kurosawa, Kurt Vonnegut, Nan Robertson, Stanisław Lem, all nothing but names now. Former employers, childhood friends, family members.
They are all now nothing but a double handful of cold earth. Two dates separated by a dash.Read more
Frank [the protagonist of Ford's novel] almost seems like a parody of a professorial liberal, who talks about buying Aaron Copland’s “whole oeuvre” online. Which brings us to another problem with Mr. Ford’s depiction of Frank in these pages, a problem Updike also had, at times, in depicting Rabbit: that is, a tendency to ascribe dialogue or thoughts to their middle-class, Everyman characters that are hard to imagine being evinced by anyone but the most literary minded of individuals. Would Frank — retired real estate agent and former sportswriter — really describe a remark he’s just made as his “best go-to Roethke line”? Or think: “The suburbs are supposedly where nothing happens, like Auden said about what poetry doesn’t do; an over-inhabited faux terrain dozing in inertia, occasionally disrupted by ‘a Columbine’ or ‘an Oklahoma City’ or a hurricane to remind us what’s really real”?
Before I go an iota further, let me install my foot in my mouth good and proper and declare that I find the works of Richard Ford, Jonathan Franzen, and the rest of that post-Updike, post-Roth crew to be some of the most gawdawful boring "Lit'rary" old-white-dude navel-gaze since they started giving out the National Book Award.Read more
At some point, I'm not exactly sure when, I started telling something to people who told me they wanted to be a writer: "Is that something you want to spend at least an hour a day doing for the rest of your life, whether or not a single other living soul on God's green earth gives a damn? If so, get in line; there's a million others waiting." (That said, I couldn't present you with statistics about how many of them find another hobby after such a speech.)
If it sounds gauche of me to discourage other people, or if it sounds like I'm harboring some resentment of possible future competition, believe me, it isn't that. It's just that there are still staggering numbers of people who get into this game without the slightest idea of why. They think it's about validation of their ego, or about people patting them on the head for their originality or their ideas, and trust me, it's not about any of those things. It's about ...