There's a short story by Max Beerbohm, published in 1919, that sometimes comes up in philosophy classes. "Enoch Soames, a Memory of the Eighteen-Nineties" tells the story of Max Beerbohm, the author-as-character-within-the-novel, and his encounter with Enoch Soames, an unsuccessful writer and hanger-on in the London cafe scene in the 1890s. Enoch is frustrated that no one recognizes his genius, so he makes a deal with the devil to go forward in time and read about himself in the future where, he is sure, history will vindicate him.
In due course he and Max meet the devil himself in one of the cafes, and Enoch disappears, to pop up in 1997, where he searches the British Library to find out what we've thought of him. Some time later, he reappears back in the cafe, despondent. Before the devil spirits him away he explains to Max that he found only one reference to himself, in a work of fiction -- a short story by Max Beerbohm! And then he and the devil disappear. Max-the-character explains that he feels compelled to write this story about Enoch, as it will be the only way his friend will be known at all, despite the fact that it will be classified as fiction. He begs us to take it as biography.
The philosophical problem is, who and what is Enoch Soames? Within the framework of the story, are we to take him as fictional (as we do, and as the author-as-author does), or as "real," as both Enoch and the author-as-character insist that we should? The logical knots in this seemingly simple puzzle have yet to be fully untangled.
1. I'm glad to hear the New York Times will probably not put its core news content behind a payment wall after all. Instead, they're test-marketing some extraneous "gold" and "silver" plans that I hope New York Times loyalists will pay up for, though the author of the article linked above is skeptical that such loyalists exist.
But the comments to my previous posts on this topic indicate that the Times does have its loyal enthusiasts. Meanwhile, one of these posts is apparently causing John Williams to wear out his neck muscles shaking his head in disagreement. He quotes novelist Katharine Weber's response to me, as follows:
But Levi. Could you have reasonably refused to read the NYT twenty years ago if you had to buy it at a newsstand or pay for home delivery instead of just having free copies handed to you on the street or dropped in your driveway? ... Much has changed, yes. But has the economic rule which used to be as certain as the laws of gravity, the rule of paying for things of value, really begun to vanish? How is this not a zero sum game?
Williams calls Weber's comment "succinct and totally sensible", and says:
I'm still waiting for a substantive response to this line of thinking. There have been plenty of cultural developments that I love in the past 10 years: Netflix, iTunes, The Wire. One way or another, I pay for all of them.
I can't turn down a direct challenge, so I'll try to offer a substantive response to the idea that we must pay for things of value. However, I find the idea almost too childish to entertain. First of all, just as we can name things of value that we pay for, we can also easily name things of value that we don't pay for. The Office. Music on the car radio. Outdoor sculptures and great urban architecture. Oh yeah, and then there's free news and commentary on the Internet which, plain and simple, we are already not paying for.
If we want to examine this classic "rule of paying for things of value", let's consider one of the many masterpieces of nature: the orange. This weekend I bought an entire bag of delicious fresh Florida oranges -- marvelous, ingenious, healthy and beautiful things, really -- for about two bucks. Taken purely for its value, a single orange could easily be worth five dollars. Likewise, taken purely for its value, a bottle of corn-syrup-flavored orange soda shouldn't cost more than ten cents. But these hypothetical prices don't correspond to the real world. We never actually pay for things according to their value. We pay for things according to the law of supply and demand.
When John Williams declares that we pay for things according to their value, he is doing no more than expressing a keening wish. Declaring that we pay for things according to their value is like declaring that we will stay young forever, or that there will be no more crime. It's nice to think such things, but they never were true and they're still not.
I wonder if John Williams will consider that a substantive response. If he does, maybe he should pay me.
2. Here's a really sweet story about the married couple on the 'Woodstock' album cover.
3. Speaking of the New York Times, Gregory Cowles has uploaded a particularly good essay on Nabokov's Lolita to the Paper Cuts blog.
4. Scott Esposito on Intense First Person (a narrative stance I tend to use a lot myself).
5. Way back in 1935, Walter Cronkite interviewed Gertrude Stein.
6. Basil Wolverton was okay, but if you're talking about classic Mad Magazine you're talking about Harvey Kurtzman.
7. Nicholson Baker ponders the Kindle in the New Yorker and, not surprisingly, the essay soars above most of the other commentary on this hot topic. "I changed the type size. I searched for a text string. I tussled with a sense of anticlimax." It's no surprise to anyone who's read Baker's previous works on library science and antique newspapers that he will ultimately not choose to embrace the Kindle.
8. Speaking of the New York Times (and their home delivery problems) again: hah.
Choosing favorite books is a daunting task for anyone who reads enough to have several favorites, and comparing them in order to decide which one is the true Favorite Book is a ridiculous task: they're all so different. I love Pride and Prejudice and I love On the Road, but I can't really find a comparison point between them, other than the fact that each is a series of words printed on pages and bound together in book form. So, when I'm asked what my favorite book is (and I do get asked), I usually go with something like "Oh, I have so many! This one is my favorite, and so is this one, and I can't forget about this one, and have you read this?" It's impossible. And yet, whenever I do this, I am keenly aware of two things:
1. It's a cop out.
2. Holding one book as a favorite above all the rest is not actually going to hurt the other books' feelings.
So I'm just going to come right out with it: my favorite book of all time is The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner. There.
I understand why people give up on it and declare it unreadable, and think it is an impenetrable wall of modernist "Oooh, I'm in your thoughts" blabbity blah, but the truth is that it's not as difficult as it seems and the stuff you think you're not understanding at first starts to make sense as you move through the novel. Perhaps that's cold comfort for anybody who has tried to make it through the first section with Benjy and his bright shapes and Caddy smelling like trees, but it gets easier as it moves along.
The novel consists of four sections, each written from a different perspective, yet all of them come together brilliantly to tell the story of the Compson family: how things fall apart, and how life keeps moving on anyway. It’s almost audacious, the way life keeps doing that, moving on right in the face of our tragedies, as we watch everything that was supposed to be slip away. The book’s title comes from Shakespeare, Macbeth 5:5, ll. 22-31:
Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Macbeth speaks these lines right after learning of his wife's death, when he's at the point of knowing that all his villainy has been for naught. The Compson family's story is different, of course, yet these lines resonate across the family's decline from greatness, across the expectations of how things should have been yet aren't, and all of it is distilled across the life of Benjy, the idiot, the book's beginning and end, who is unable to express himself except by wailing and crying.
At its core, the novel is about Caddy, the rebellious daughter, and the way she affects the lives of the others in her family by conceiving a child out of wedlock and attempting to cover it up with a hasty marriage to another man (which backfires). The key moment in the book is when Caddy, with muddy drawers, climbs a tree to look in a window and see the death of Damuddy, the grandmother, while her brothers stay on the ground looking up at her. It’s a moment that’s ripe with symbolism and its implications affect each of the boys -- Benjy, Quentin, Jason -- who tell their stories (and hers) in turn. Even if she's the catalyst, she doesn't get her own voice in the novel; everything she said and did is filtered through the thoughts and memories and remarks of others, and as a result, her picture emerges, but never truly comes into focus. Yet if we look back at Shakespeare for just a minute, the line that seems to sum her up the most is, "And all our yesterdays have lighted fools/ The way to dusty death." Of Caddy’s story, Faulkner said, “I tried first to tell it with one brother, and that wasn’t enough. That was Section One. I tried it with another brother, and that wasn’t enough. That was Section Two. I tried the third brother, because Caddy was still to me too beautiful and too moving to reduce her to telling what was going on, that it would be more passionate to see her through somebody else’s eyes, I thought. And that failed and I tried myself -- the fourth section -- to tell what happened, and I still failed.”
What an astoundingly beautiful series of failures. Though of course I’m not sure I agree that Faulkner failed -- writing so often feels like not being able to say what you want to say anyhow -- the cumulative effect of these sections is that the story of the Compson family’s decline comes through in fits and starts, fragments of thoughts and memories, comments and perceptions. That’s how stories tend to happen and get passed on. It all ends up feeling very organic somehow.
When we read, we tend to expect certain things out of a narrative, especially that it moves forward and we can follow its events -- this happened and then this and then this -- but with this novel, Faulkner dashes this expectation right from the beginning. Books are supposed to have expository moments, and we're supposed to be able to read and look around the world of the narrative and have a general idea where (and when) things are and what's happening, but the opening section of The Sound and the Fury (the most difficult section and the place where people are most likely to give up) does not do this. April Seventh, 1928 is told from the perspective of Benjy, who is, as the back cover of my copy of the book puts it, a "manchild." He doesn't talk and his brain doesn't think in a linear way, so in the space of a few sentences, it's possible to slip from the present action to sometime years and years in the past, without any sort of warning at all. Add on top of this the fact that Benjy experiences the world in details and not in the larger picture expository way that characters in novels often do (which allows readers to situate themselves within the world of the narrative) and what ends up happening is that it's hard to know what's going on at all. It's frustrating because it doesn't follow any sort of rules, and we're left scrambling to keep up (or tossing the book across the room in a fit of irritation). I understand this frustration, and I understand the impulse to want to untangle all the knots of language and lay them out in straight, easy-to-follow threads, but I also know that Benjy's section of the novel is written the way it is exactly on purpose and it's less important to figure everything out than it is to pick up on the details that Benjy hands us. We'll need those details later.
While most of the book takes place on different days in the same week in April, 1928, the second section dips into the past. It's written from the perspective of Quentin on the last day of his life, June Second, 1910. After making it through Benjy's section, you might expect a reprieve, and you get one, to a degree. It's not the most easy reading in the world, but there is a definite chain of events here, and though Quentin also deals in frequent flashbacks, at least his are easier to spot, since his present is clearly at Harvard and his past is clearly in Mississippi. Through Quentin's memories, the pieces of Caddy's story start falling into place; the images we saw as we remembered along with Benjy begin to fit into context. This one section of this one novel may in fact be the finest distillation of many of the themes that show up in Faulkner's other work. We have the big ones: race, class, gender, and the South that was and will never be again, the South that may have just been a daydream in the first place, all of it coming through poor, tortured Quentin whose thoughts are as thick and strangling as the heavy scent of honeysuckle that torments him.
In comparison to the first two sections of the novel, the back half of The Sound and the Fury is easy like Sunday morning. As soon as you get to "Once a bitch always a bitch, what I say," you know you're in the clear. Oh sure, you still have to deal with Jason's section (April Sixth, 1928), which is long and full of seething anger and kind of whiny to be honest, but it's also got some of that humor that Faulkner does so well, the kind that makes you wonder if you're supposed to think something is funny. (I honestly don't know if it's funny in places or if there's just something wrong with me.) And finally, April Eighth, 1928 is written in the third person. It follows Dilsey, the Compson family's servant, as she works in the house and takes Benjy to church. She's the one who cooks the meals and has mostly raised the children, and she seems to be suffering from arthritis, yet she continues working hard, climbing slowly and painfully up and down the stairs in the family home while the family seems to remain clueless. It also follows Jason as he deals with Caddy's daughter (also named Quentin) as she carries on her mother's legacy and pushes it further, signaling a deeper shift away from the way things were. The Sound and the Fury is always referred to as a tragedy, and it is one, but the ending always feels hopeful to me. It takes place on Easter Sunday, a day that's all about living again, and as the book winds to a close, life just keeps happening.
In the end, The Sound and the Fury is a beautiful book not just because the writing will blow your mind if you let it (provided you're the kind of person to love a book solely on the grounds of the writer's use of language, and if you are, you're my kind of person), but because it is about human beings. It's not all cold intellect and verbal manipulation, and it's not just an empty pile of dazzling, frustrating, confounding words. It's a book about life written from inside people's heads, not only capturing the how of thought, but also giving us the why. It's because of this that the book is touching and funny and sad and gorgeous, easily deserving its place as one of the greatest achievements in American literature. It's unfortunate that it gets dismissed as being unreadable because parts of it are difficult; it's got heart, man, and that is why it is worth the love.
1. Buy the Lighthouse. The scenic spot that inspired Virginia Woolf's To The Lighthouse is for sale.
2. I'm not sure if "crying for help" counts as a business model, but I know Archipelago Books is worth helping. I've enjoyed several of their titles in the last few years. Here's their appeal.
3. From Kenyon Review, Cody Walker on Paul Auster and Nathaniel Hawthorne.
4. Pulling Thomas Mann's Magic Mountain Off the Shelf (something I ought to do myself) by Maud Newton.
5. Harold Augenbraum has posted an enthusiastic appreciation of John O'Hara's 1956 National Book Award winning novel Ten North Frederick, which is, incredibly, out of print. This is part of a National Book Awards retrospective.
6. Something about Twitter and Gogol. No, not Google. Gogol.
7. The South Carolina Post and Courier reveals that it maintains a book-reviewing policy from the 19th Century.
8. Check out Backward Books, a small collective of self-published authors (including Kristen Tsetsi, a good indie writer).
9. Wag's Revue is a worthy new literary publication.
10. The Florida Review features poet Eamon Grennan.
11. From Narrative, James Salter on Isaac Babel.
12. Exit Vector is a new "wovel" by Simon Drax, presented by Underland Press.
13. And, one more time for postmodernism: here's a fun and well-designed list from Jacket Copy of 61 classic postmodern books. But I must still complain that here, as in so many discussions of postmodernism, there is no real differentiation between modernism and postmodernism. For instance, one of the indicators on this list is that a work of fiction "disrupts/plays with form". I'm pretty sure that's a mark of modernism.
Still, you can learn a lot from this list. My favorite novels from the selection: Paul Auster's New York Trilogy, Nicholson Baker's The Mezzanine, Roberto Bolano's 2666 (though I honestly haven't read much of it yet), Italo Calvino's If On A Winter's Night A Traveler, William S. Burroughs' Naked Lunch, Jorge Luis Borges' Labyrinth, Franz Kafka's Metamorphosis (though this is modern, not postmodern), Steven Milhauser's Edwin Mulhouse, Tom McCarthy's Remainder, Art Spiegelman's Maus, Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five.
Some works that should be on the list but aren't: Jack Kerouac's On The Road (what could be more postmodern than Kerouac's brew of Joycean free-writing and hipster/jazz slang?), Richard Brautigan's In Watermelon Sugar, Gabriel Garcia Marquez's Love in the Time of Cholera, William Kotzwinkle's The Fan Man, John Irving's World According to Garp, Rick Moody's The Ice Storm, Orhan Pamuk's Snow. We should probably also find room for Salman Rushdie, Yukio Mishima, Ann Beattie, Raymond Carver ... hell, I'd even throw Tao Lin in there. Jonathan Lethem? Whatever. And as much as I love Shakespeare's Hamlet and Nathaniel Hawthorne's Scarlet Letter, I have no idea what either of them are doing here. Just chilling with the postmodernists, I guess.
I enjoyed the response to Monday's article about the words "modernism" and "postmodernism" as they are used in the separate fields of architecture and literature. Serendipitously, a tangentially related article has now drifted my way, an illustrated piece by Joseph Clarke about modern architecture in religion and business.
We hear a lot about postmodernism these days, but it's important to realize that postmodernism is just one of many tips of the iceberg known as modernism. Modernism, the trunk from which many branches spring, was a primal and broad movement born, roughly, as part of the pre-Revolutionary French enlightenment in the 18th Century. It developed gradually along with Romanticism and Impressionism and Symbolism during the 19th Century, then reached an artistic peak in the early 20th Century in the age of Joyce and Beckett and Picasso and Kandinsky and Stravinsky and Schoenberg. Modernism is, of course, still alive today, and still stands as a challenge to traditional society in many forms. Postmodernism is just one small candy-coated facet of the whole thing, and it doesn't really make sense to talk a lot about postmodernism unless we talk about modernism first.
I think it's sad that so many articles about modernism and postmodernism in literature mystify rather than demystify the terms. Asked to explain what postmodernism is, some authors attempt instead to smother the term in academic terminology, as if this amounted to an explanation. Other authors settle on giggly "I don't know what it means! Do you know what it means?" formulations, implying that the term has no real meaning at all.
We can look to other fields for answers. In architecture "modernism" and "postmodernism" are perfectly understood, and it turns out the definitions that hold for these terms in the field of architecture hold up fairly well in the field of literature.
Walking near L'Enfant Plaza in Washington DC recently, I noticed a curious building, the national headquarters of the Department of Education, that stood as a perfect example of the difference between modernism and postmodernism.
The main structure is an example of classic modernism -- clean lines, functional and accessible, devoid of decoration. Buildings like these were all the rage in the middle decades of the 20th Century.
But then there's this "little red schoolhouse" in front, obviously a later addition, probably intended to make this center of education policy feel less harsh, cold and bureaucratic. The little red schoolhouse is a perfect example of postmodernism. It softens and humanizes the severe modernist purity of the building behind it. It is entirely decorative (it has no function) and frankly nostalgic.
t's important to emphasize that this small building is not actually a little red schoolhouse. If it were one, it wouldn't be a postmodern structure -- it would be a little red schoolhouse. This building is not a thing, it's a message. Postmodernism is always intentional.
One reason it's sometimes hard to talk about postmodernism today is that modernism -- the thing that postmodernism rebels against -- is not well understood. The field of architecture can help here too. The modernist movement emerged in the early 20th Century as a bold attempt to sweep humanity clean from its roots, to reinvent familiar forms in styles that had no reference to past traditions, ethnic traditions or religious traditions. It must be pointed out that architural modernism and communism (and Communism) often walked hand-in-hand. The modernist style in architecture was also known as the "International Style".
The United Nations headquarters in Manhattan -- a straight block, a monolith -- is a perfect example of a modernist building. James Joyce is a classic example of a modernist writer because he attempted to follow a strict method in his composition, to strip his words of all artifice, pretension and gimmickry, to present pure thought.
Modernism itself is a reaction -- the primal reaction against "nature", against conservatism and traditionalism. It's clear, though, that once exposed to the harsh discipline of modernism, people yearn for their traditions back. This is why postmodern architects like Philip Johnson and Frank Gehry were able to thrive after the fashion for strict modernist architecture began to fade in the second half of the 20th Century.
The same thing happened in literature. The unpalatable modernist works of Gertrude Stein, William Faulkner and Ezra Pound lost ground to fresher, less ideological and more frankly traditional prose voices: the chatty tone of Kurt Vonnegut, Thomas Pynchon's playful linguistic games, William S. Burroughs's nods to pulp fiction and noir.
In both architecture and literature, postmodernism is an attempt to reconcile the intellectual vigor of modernism with the pleasurable and significant trappings of traditionalism. The postmodern touch amounts to an embrace of the familiar human sensibilities that modernism tried to sweep away.
Of course, the literary terms "modernism" and "postmodernism" have gone on to develop various other implied meanings and sub-meanings (even while the architectural terms remain widely understood). The example from architecture does seem to point to the most central meaning of the term, and maybe it will help us have better discussions about these words if we can agree on what the words actually mean.
1. How delightful to learn that James Joyce may have invented the word 'blog' during a typical conversational ramble in Finnegans Wake! Here it is in context:
Now from Gunner Shotland to Guinness Scenography. Come to the ballay at the Tailors' Hall. We mean to be mellay on the Mailers' Mall. And leap, rink and make follay till the Gaelers' Gall. Awake ! Come, a wake ! Every old skin in the leather world, infect the whole stock company of the old house of the Leaking Barrel, was thomistically drunk, two by two, lairking o' tootlers with tombours a'beggars, the blog and turfs and the brandywine bankrompers, trou Normend fashion, I have been told down to the bank lean clorks? Some nasty blunt clubs were being operated after the tradition of a wellesleyan bottle riot act and a few plates were being shied about and tumblers bearing traces of fresh porter rolling around, independent of that, for the ehren of Fyn's Insul, and then followed that wapping breakfast at the Heaven and Covenant, with Rodey O'echolowing how his breadcost on the voters would be a comeback for e'er a one, like the depredations of Scandalknivery, in and on usedtowobble sloops off cloasts, eh? Would that be a talltale too? This was the grandsire Orther. This was his innwhite horse. Sip?
Enough puns for you there? I assume that "blog" is a play on "bog" (and in fact the word "blog" has always seemed to carry an appealing sort of Joycean phlegmatic physicality). Pictured above: an Irish peat bog.
1. For your Bloomsday enjoyment: comic strip artist Robert Berry is visualizing James Joyce's Ulysses. This project appears to be off to a great start.
2. More Bloomsday action: Dovegreyreader on a new book called Ulysses and Us by Declan Kibberd.
3. Farewell to poet Harold Norse.
4. It must be a good sign that somewhere inside the giant paradox that is the nation of Iran, they are loving the inventive and hilarious early writings of Woody Allen.
5. I did not know that novelist Roxana Robinson was a member of the Beecher family. But what's this about Lord Warburton being the man Isabel Archer should have married? I was rooting for Ralph Touchett.
6. The word technology is derived from the same root as textile.
7. We need a poetry reality show right here in the USA.
8. A digital Gutenberg would be nice to look at.
9. What could it possibly have been like to be married to Harold Pinter? Fortunately claims Antonia Fraser, it was not a Pinteresque experience.
10. "What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life?" (Or, I'd like to add, one man).
11. Eric Rosenfeld appreciates Thomas Pynchon's use of description.
12. Kafka Tribute in New York
13. Michelle Obama reads Zadie Smith, a better choice (in my opinion) than her husband's Joseph O'Neill. (Barack is also cited as reading What is the What?, a good choice though not exactly fiction).
14. The Who's Quadrophenia GS Scooter has been sold at an auction. (Though it's from the movie, not the record album photo shoot).
15. Via Bookninja, what the book you're reading really says about you.
Submerged for years in a murk of international literary diplomacy and scrupulous academic exertion, "The Letters of Samuel Beckett" has finally surfaced; and an elating cultural moment is upon us. It is also a slightly surprising moment. Beckett, in his published output and authorial persona, was rigorously spare and self-effacing. Who knew that in his private writing he would be so humanly forthcoming? We always knew he was brilliant -- but this brilliant? Just as the otherworldliness of tennis pros is most starkly revealed in their casual warm-up drills, so these letters, in which intellectual and linguistic winners are struck at will, offer a humbling, thrilling revelation of the difference between Beckett's game and the one played by the rest of us. (Beckett played tennis, incidentally.)
O'Neill includes many quotations from the letters, and closes the good piece with a personal note:
Many years ago, while languishing like Murphy in a London flat, I received an airmail envelope on which my name had been scratched with a ballpoint pen. I had no idea who could be writing to me from France, so unthinkingly I tore open the envelope. I wish I’d been more careful. The envelope contained a very short, playful message from Samuel Beckett. It’s still my most precious possession.
There is much to discuss and like in this weekend's brainy New York Times Book Review. Jim Holt, who seems to get better and better, contributes a wonderful endpaper on what it means to memorize poetry, and how it benefits us to do so. Emma Brockes provides an enjoyable summary of Arthur Laurents' bitchy/insightful theatre memoir Mainly On Directing: Gypsy, West Side Story and Other Musicals.
Far from the lights of Broadway, Jeffrey Gettleman introduces Gerard Prunier's Africa's World War: Congo, the Rwandan Genocide and the Making of a Continental Catastrophe by contrasting the anarchic Congo with its quieter neighbor Rwanda (obvious irony intended). Prunier explains much of the stark genocidal horrors of Congo's recent history ("More people had died in Congo than in any conflict since World War II", Gettleman says in summary) as a carryover from Rwanda's turmoil, and the explanation does ring true.
Suzanne Daley also stokes my interest in Mark Gevisser's A Legacy of Liberation: Thabo Mbeki and the Future of the South African Dream. I'm glad the Book Review continues to find space for books on global politics and contemporary history, which are important for some of the same reasons that books of translated fiction are (though I wonder if the Book Review could sometimes combine the two and review translated international books of contemporary history -- that's something I'd like to see).
A few of the articles are less successful. The pugnacious Adam Kirsch's discussion of Judas: A Biography by Susan Gubar offers no surprising insights. I'm not sure what I was expecting, but I wasn't expecting a generic treatment.
Speaking of generic treatments: Alan Light's vapid explication of Bill German's memoir about the Rolling Stones Under Their Thumb is completely lacking in expression or style. I have absolutely no idea why the NYTBR continues to assign rock music books to this bland, slick writer -- a writer who couldn't even make a biography of the Beastie Boys fun to read -- when the likes of Chuck Klosterman, Robert Christgau and Legs McNeil might be available. Light ends his review with a yawning swipe at the blogosphere that couldn't be more pointless:
It also documents a bygone age, before celebrity Web sites, when a kid could spot Mick Jagger at a club, write a description, type it up in a home-stapled newsletter, mail it out a few weeks later and still break news. Now, such sightings are instantly posted on Gawker -- and the alluring quality of mystery that defined rock stars has become almost impossible to retain.
Gawker has removed the alluring quality of mystery from the rock scene? Absolutely ridiculous, especially since younger generations are every bit as excited by music as Light's or my generation was (I know this because I have kids). In fact, it's because of milquetoast establishment writers like Alan Light that we need the blogosphere.
Finally ... apparently Joyce Carol Oates wrote another book. I still haven't read the last fourteen hundred.
And also, finally again: New York City opens a beautiful new baseball stadium this week. I wish many blessings upon the place.
John Carey asserts that the English literary intelligentsia of this era made a conscious effort to segregate literary fiction from the newly literate (or semi-literate) mass culture produced by the late nineteenth century educational reforms to which many of the intelligentsia opposed. The Education Act of 1871 introduced universal elementary education in England. When a newspaper called the Daily Mail emerged in 1896 it carried the slogan 'The Busy Man's Paper' and announced its intention to 'give the public what it wants' This was in direct conflict to the belief that the public should be given what the intellectuals say they should be given. T.S. Eliot wrote in an essay:
There is no doubt that our headlong rush to educate everybody, we are lowering our standards...destroying our ancient edifices to make ready the ground upon the barbarian nomads of the future will encamp in their mechanized caravans.
The 1879 novel Immaturity by George Bernard Shaw was turned down by nearly every London publisher, and he concluded that the reason for its rejection was the newly adopted Education Act, which he proclaimed 'was producing readers who have never before bought books.'
Publishers of the time also did not want the 'excessively literary' George Eliot, but preferred the adventure stories of Robert Louis Stevenson (Treasure Island, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde).
As populist newspapers like the Daily Mail prospered, European intellectual hostility to newspapers grew. In The Criterion in 1938, T.S Eliot declared that the effect of the daily newspapers on their readers was to 'affirm them as a complacent, prejudiced and unthinking mass'. Extensive campaigns against newspapers were abound. Critic F.R. Leavis wrote in Scrutiny of the mass media 'arousing the cheapest emotional responses,' declaring that 'Films, newspapers, publicity in all forms, commercially-catered fiction -- all offer satisfaction at the lowest level.' Evelyn Waugh satirised the new trend in popular culture in his novels Scoop and Vile Bodies.
To the highbrows of the time, it seemed that the masses were not fully alive. Many of the predominate literary icons of this period expressed clear hostility towards the explosive over-population of the third-world; and the triumph of hyperdemocracy and social power created by this newly created state. Norwegian novelist Knut Hamsun's anti-democratic views are epitomized by his character Ivar Kareno, hero of the Kareno trilogy:
I believe in the born leader, the natural despot, the master, not the man who is chosen but the man who elects himself to be the ruler over the masses. I believe in and hope for one thing, and that is the return of the great terrorist, the living essence of human power, the Caesar.
Thomas Hardy wrote in 1887:
You may regard a throng of people as containing a certain small minority who have sensitive souls; these, and the aspects of these, being what is worth observing. So you divide them into the mentally unquickened, mechanical soulless; and the living, throbbing, suffering, vital, in other words into souls and machines, ether and clay.
D.H. Lawrence argues that only the elite truly live, while the proletariat merely survives:
Life is more vivid in the dandelion than in the green fern, or
than in the palm tree,
Life is more vivid in the snake than in the butterfly.
Life is more vivid in the wren than in the alligator...
Life is more vivid in me, than in the Mexican who drives the wagon for me.
Ezra Pound's complex Cantos are a good illustration of the fashion for obscurity in literature, a style that itself expressed contempt for the common man. In Pound's Cantos the multitudes and democratically elected leaders were a torrent of human excrement. The illustration of 'the great arse-hole' Pound contends, was a portrait of contemporary England.
A body of esoteric doctrine "defended from the herd" was adopted by a group of intellectuals who created a secret society called 'The Hermetic Students of the Golden Dawn' in 1890. This secret society fed the craving for power and distinction to soar the intellectual above the masses.
The contempt for the masses expressed by the literary icons of this period not only opposed universal education, but many also supported the ever-growing concept of eugenics as a means to control the overpopulation of inferior beings. Charles Darwin's theory of natural selection inadvertently led a new ethics most expressed in H. G. Wells' New Republic. Wells writes:
The new ethics will hold life to be a privilege and a responsibility, not a sort of night refuge for base spirits out of the void; and the alternative in right conduct between living fully, beautifully and efficiently will be to die. For a multitude of contemptible and silly creatures, fear driven and helpless and useless, unhappy or hatefully happy in the midst of squalor dishonor, feeble, ugly, inefficient, born of unrestrained lusts, and increasing and multiplying through the sheer incontinence and stupidity, the men of the New Republic will have little pity and less benevolence.
The entirety of John Carey's study is overwhelming, enlightening and extremely disturbing, especially as literary elitist tendencies may be an inevitable part of many intellectual communities, even today.