Wednesday, February 27
Sunday, February 24
Susan Katz, publisher of HarperCollins Children’s Books, said she was not concerned about a possible backlash against corporate sponsorship in books aimed at such a young audience. “If you look at Web sites, general media or television, corporate sponsorship or some sort of advertising is totally embedded in the world that tweens live in,” Ms. Katz said. “It gives us another opportunity for authenticity.”
Ah, authenticity! That's a great buzzword for the decline of human civilization! If we're gonna go down, we might as well go down authentically, mouthes open, happy to accept the marketing medicine that the corporate powers are generous enough to spoon feed us. Yum!
NO! Marketing is by definition the very opposite of authentic. This is so sad. Please, give the kids a book and allow them to escape the treacherous world of corporate oligarchy for a moment. Do not actively try to completely engulf our youth in the trafficking of material opiates. We are living in a distopia, friends. Capitalism has won. Humans have lost. Honestly, we didn't even put up a fight. I blame Susan Katz
Full Times article here.
Michiko Kakutani did not enjoy this book. In fact, it sounds like she hated it, "As a piece of writing, The Elementary Particles feels like a bad, self-conscious pastiche of Camus, Foucault and Bret Easton Ellis. And as a philosophical tract, it evinces a fiercely nihilistic, anti-humanistic vision built upon gross generalizations and ridiculously phony logic. It is a deeply repugnant read."
I can’t really disagree with that. Nor, however, can I disagree with Paul Gent's assessment in the Sunday Telegraph, "Again and again Houellebecq digs below our platitudes to expose the raw and uncomfortable feelings we are often afraid to admit to ourselves. His bitterness is that of the disappointed idealist. You may remain convinced that Houellebecq is wrong in his relentlessly bleak assessment of society and human nature. But the novel makes you re-examine your beliefs, which is the kind of bracing challenge that literature is for. This is a brave and rather magnificent book."
It is a repugnant read. Houellebecq's nihilism is unpleasant, his characters are miserable human beings, and the multitude of pornographic passages can be off-putting. But there's a boldness here that is to be admired to go along with pleasing rations of humor. Houellebecq is not someone I would like to have tea with but sharing 264 pages with him was more than tolerable. The epilogue, detailing the extreme step taken to save humanity from its downfall, is bleak yet oddly beautiful. So, too, is the rest of the novel.
Saturday, February 23
There's this fellow that goes by the name of Elrod Enchilada who writes about the Boston Celtics for Real GM.
Turns out Mr. McChesney and Mr. Enchilada are the same damn person! Maybe I was supposed to know this already. I did not. Consider my mind blown.
Here are McChesney's articles for The Nation.
Here's a clip of McChesney discussing the press's failure to cover the lead up to the invasion of Iraq.
Here's part one of a five part video on hypercommercialism in Hollywood that features McChesney and my Comm 101 professor, Susan Douglas.
Tuesday, February 19
I knew the book had "caused an uproar in France" and I gleaned from the back cover that one of the characters was a "raucously promiscuous hedonist." Even so, I could not have been less prepared for the events that begin in a jacuzzi, continue with discussion of Krause's corpuscles, and conclude with talk of saggy labia. I'm enjoying the book, but gawd damn it makes for uncomfortable bus reading. The wandering eyes of strangers, they make me nervous. To say nothing of the potential for embarrassment when I rise to exit the bus...
Tuesday, February 12
Fitzgerald vs. Hollywood
The Education of Amanda Knox
Harvard scholars to publish online?
Great literature? Depends whodunit
Video: The omnivore's next dilemma
Austen and Dickens: Amateur historians
Reporter hunts for author of bogus Saddam book
Tolkien heirs sue Lord of the Rings studio for $150m
Coen brothers to adapt Chabon's Yiddish Policemen's Union
The artistry of invention is explored in a novel about Nikola Tesla
Sunday, February 10
Interesting dilemma, that. Walking the line between portraying those your documenting in the most accurate light and telling the most engaging tale. We are talking here about a cinematic tradition with a troubled lineage that includes the staged depictions of Inuit life in Nanook of the North, the propaganda films of Leni Riefenstahl, and, far more recently, the less than objective ouvre of Michael Moore. Ubergeek Billy Mitchell is hardly the first whose life has been manipulated on the big screen.
This question about the betrayal of reality in favor of telling the story one has their heart set on has got me thinking, fittingly enough, about the world of fiction. Specifically the untrustworthy narrator. Twain's young narrators Huck and Tom, The Sound and the Fury's mentally retarded Benjy and Nick Carraway of The Great Gatsby come to mind. What others can we come up with?
Saturday, February 9
The most instructive and valuable entry in the McSweeney’s comes from, yes, George Saunders, the outlaw nephew, who suspensefully analyzes the story “The School”—“How’s he going to take this Marx Brothers–quality romp and convert it at the last minute into a Postmodernist Masterpiece?”—and hits on Barthelme’s key stratagem: “Mr. Lesser Writer, in other words, realizing with joy that he has a pattern to work with, sits down to do some Thinking. Barthelme proceeds in a more spontaneous, vaudevillian manner. He knows that the pattern is just an excuse for the real work of the story, which is to give the reader a series of pleasure-bursts.”
Bang! Exactly! Spastic rhapsodies of silver staccato! Pleasure bursts are what it’s about in Barthelme, cherry bombs flung into a crowd of elegant pretenses to fend off unconditional surrender to the fetal curl of melancholy.
*The is obviously Disneyland, where, I am happy to inform you, Mr. Toad's Wild Ride remains intact.
There has been speculation that the mercurial, manic and appallingly behaved Toad was a veiled portrait of Alastair himself. Certainly the boy was already exhibiting signs of peculiar behaviour.
One of his favourite games involved him lying down in the road in front of approaching cars and forcing them to stop. Stranger still, he had taken to calling himself Robinson, the name of the man who had shot at his father. (Several of the Toad letters are addressed to 'Darling Robinson'.) But it seems just as likely that Toad's exuberance was Grahame's own; he just didn't have an outlet for it anywhere else.
Friday, February 8
Sawyer revives Charlie's 'Colonel Kurtz' quip about Locke, raising up the ghosts of previous discussions about Apocalypse Now, Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, and questions of post-colonialism, framing stories and point of view. Point of view may prove to be important; the opening scenes of "Confirmed Dead" give us multiple p.o.v.'s, starting with the underwater roving cameras surveying the crash, then Faraday's p.o.v. jumping onto the island, then Locke's p.o.v. staring up at the rain. We're moving quite a bit from a personal p.o.v. to a third-person p.o.v. If nothing else, it suggests that we the audience are now being brought a little deeper into the narrative by putting us inside the heads of characters a little more seamlessly, and not just inside their stories.
When the popular novel was as new an idea as video games, the great and good were certain, as they were with early cinema, that no sophistication could come from this prose business, especially the sort of filth Samuel Richardson scribbled about.
They were proven wrong, as doubters will be about video games. As happened with comic books becoming graphic novels in the 80s, each year there are more developers willing to take risks with storylines, develop more complex moral situations and generally raise the bar so high that it's becoming plain ignorant for anyone interested in stories to ignore them.
Thursday, February 7
Wood is particularly good at analysing fictional register. He quotes from Philip Roth’s Sabbath’s Theater:
"Lately, when Sabbath suckled at Drenka’s uberous breasts – uberous, the root word of exuberant, which is itself ex plus uberare, to be fruitful, to overflow like Juno lying prone in Tintoretto’s painting where the Milky Way is coming out of her tit – suckled with an unrelenting frenzy that caused Drenka to roll her head ecstatically back and to groan . . . “I feel it deep down in my cunt,” he was pierced by the sharpest of longings for his late little mother."
“What an amazingly blasphemous little mélange that is”, he writes.
"This sentence is really dirty, and partly because it conforms to the well-known definition of dirt – matter out of place, which is itself a definition of the mixing of high and low dictions . . . since the comedy of the subject-matter of the sentence involves moving from one register to another – from a lover’s breast to a mother’s – it is fitting that the style of the sentence mimics this scandalous shift . . . . Sabbath’s Theater is a passionate, intensely funny, repellent and very moving portrait of the scandal of male sexuality, which is repeatedly linked in the book to vitality itself. To be able to have an erection in the morning . . . to be able to persist in scandalising bourgeois morality . . . as the ageing Mickey does . . . is to be alive. And this sentence is utterly alive, and is alive by virtue of the way it scandalises proper norms."
Wednesday, February 6
- Well, allow me to retort!
- Eugenides takes Michigan
- Lost in political philosophy
- What it means to be human
- MySpace scarier than zombies?
- Native American languages dying out with the elders
- Treating students as customers - always right - is the wrong way to teach
- Times reviews Against the Machine: Being Human in the Age of the Electronic Mob
In the end, scientists and ethicists say it will be up to individuals to decide whether or not they will use cognitive-enhancing drugs. Several draw comparisons between taking brain-boosting meds and opting for cosmetic surgery; both essentially are about self-esteem.
Jeff Blackmer, director of ethics for the Canadian Medical Association, says cognitive enhancement is part of the overall trend to seek medical solutions for individual traits: Overweight people want a slimming pill; men with receding hairlines want a cure for baldness; students eager for higher marks will want a memory drug.
Self-esteem, sure, but brain-boosting and augmenting looks are also about getting ahead in the world: Landing the best job, finding the most desirable mate, making the most money, etc. Self-esteem, but also it is about the chase. In short, The Pursuit of the All-Time Home Run Record: Private Life Edition. It's often reported that Bonds began taking performance-enhancing drugs only after witnessing McGwire and Sosa go bonkers on the stuff. It seems likely that Bonds started down his slippery slope out of vanity. Essentially it was about self-esteem.
With a wince that suggests he was mystified as well as disgusted by what has been going on in academe, McEwan says the discussion and teaching of literature has taken a perverse, pseudo-scientific turn.
"Theory has taken hold of people's minds. So a language that is fairly repellent to the lay reader often makes it rather dull, and they are in the grip of other people's theories.
"I remember for a long stretch of time people would come to interview me, especially French, German, Italian journalists who were themselves quite academic, and they would say, 'What is your theory of the body?"' he recalls.
"And the fact that I have been asked that bit 10 times, you know that this is the latest thing. Before that they would say, 'Well, let's talk about the male gaze."'
At this point the gently spoken author's tone moves from puzzlement to full-on exasperation.
"That is when you know you are in the realm of some higher bullshit.
"And then suddenly, as if God had snapped his fingers, no one is asking you about the male gaze, no one is asking you about your theory of the body, because it's something else. And that is the danger of these theories. They have a shelf life of five years.
"I think this whole style of treating literature started in the mid-1980s and it swept right through, but now I think - I hope - it is dying."
Tuesday, February 5
Like cramming fistfuls of metaphysical crayons back into their tiny box, the Island on "Lost" can barely contain all the colorful epistemologies in its midst. It is a big stew of Philosophy 101's greatest hits: from Sartrean hell-is-other-people existentialism to Rousseauian empathy ("pitié"), Hobbesian brutality to Hume's rationalism, from the cold calculus of Millsian utilitarianism and Darwinist survival-of-the-fittest to the reassurance of Aquinas's God. You could drive yourself crazy thinking about characters with names like Hugo, Locke, Hume, Rousseau, and Burke, or wondering why so many seem to be bystanders in the backgrounds of one another's lives-or, in one case, actually secretly related to each another. It's like the Monty Python sketch, "International Philosophy," in which Greek and German philosophers battle it out on the soccer field (Socrates's winning goal is contested by Hegel as not being an "a priori reality"). Back on "Lost" Philosophy Island, the implications are just as absurd: After all, if everything is imbued with meaning, then how meaningful is any one thing?
One can't disagree with any of that. And yet one of the qualities I find most endearing about the show is how oftentimes these references are delivered with a wink. As I've said before, I think most of the literary allusions are red herrings. But that's all part of the fun. It's like a scavenger hunt within the show. That the show is consistently exciting while taking the form of a collage of ideas philosophical, literary, religious and pop cultural is a testament to the skillful writing. By the way, we haven't discussed the season premiere yet, have we?
Monday, February 4
Indeed. A perfect season debacled to a pulp. Following the game Randy Moss spoke of licking wounds and returning next season for another go at it. How does one lick their wounds following a loss like this? Tom Brady engages in coitus with a super model. Junior Seau goes surfing. Logan Mankins prepares for a major deforestation project on his face. Bobby Knight resigns. Ben watches a couple episodes from season 3 of Deadwood, reads "Bartleby, the Scrivener" and listens to One Be Lo's The R.E.B.I.R.T.H.
Each helped me escape in their own way. They enabled me to get from the final gun, to a restless night's sleep, to work this morning, with as little thought given to the calamitous on-field events as possible. Inopportunely, my working life consists of closely monitoring a sports website. Thus, the multimedia fortress of solitude that I had so carefully constructed was rudely dismantled by a onslaught of low-grade explanations and trifling declarations concerning last evenings football contest.
And after consuming all of the tripe I come away thinking, What more really needed to be said than, "The strength of the Patriots team got debacled?”
Sunday, February 3
So, what is it that makes Eggers’s empire so influential? The most obvious driving force behind its dramatic rise is the charismatic and indefatigable founder himself, who is not only a beloved author and literary style guru, but has also proved to be a crafty entrepreneur, busily creating a very modern publishing empire. His book-publishing wing features works by Nick Hornby, Lemony Snicket and Robert Coover, a key figure in the American experimental-fiction movement. There is also McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, a frequently visited website that offers a wide range of satirical content – some of its better entries include Some Relatively Recent College Grads Discuss Their Maids and the wonderfully satirical Jenna Bush’s Book-Tour Diary of Hope. In 2003, McSweeney’s launched The Believer magazine, a monthly that includes a variety of cultural essays, interviews and profiles, though its main distinction is its long book reviews, which share a decidedly positive tenor. “We will focus on writers and books we like,” the magazine’s mission statement claims. “We will give people and books the benefit of the doubt.” Its editor, the talented novelist Heidi Julavits, wrote that the magazine was launched to combat “wit for wit’s sake – or, hostility for hostility’s sake”, and saw as its particular target the “hostile, knowing, bitter tone of contempt” that she famously dubbed “snark”. More recently, McSweeney’s launched Wholphin, a quarterly DVD magazine “lovingly encoded with unique and ponderable films designed to make you feel the way we felt when we learnt that dolphins and whales sometimes, you know, do it”. (Which, evidently, they actually do.)
*this is a joke