I won’t spend too much time on this – it’s a straightforward graphic novel look at the connections between the Objectivism of Ayn Rand and the financial crisis of the 2000s. The lines are occasionally drawn too tightly, but in general this novel a) helped me understand the mess that was Ayn Rand and her personal life and b) the gradual creep to horrendous business practices that resulted in TARP and other bullshit.
Perhaps the oddest piece? The fact that so many smart people get drawn into the world of Rand. Obama didn’t pull it off as well as Elizabeth Warren did, but the ‘you didn’t build it’ speech seems so patently self-obvious to me that I’m not sure how anyone (*cough* “trump” *cough*) can be so arrogant.
Joyce Carol Oates is a writer who I go back to all the time, and her work rarely disappoints. I loved Foxfire even though it felt like Oates had no idea how to end it, Solstice felt surreally beautiful in ways that still unsettle me, and We Were the Mulvaneys I almost felt as if I read on a dare, looking for flaws rather than joy. This list feels like a greatest hits collection instead of something more representative, but she publishes so, so much…
So, I picked up The Accursed (if you can pick something up electronically), having not read of any of her work for a long time. It worked for me, even though it was way too long (the last chapter is an all-caps ‘recreation’ of the sermon Slade is giving while he’s dying), slipped in and out of scientific laws several times, and felt like it was either a romance or a horror story or a gothic romance or a Henry Jamesian ghost story or something. The narrative bounces back and forth between the rich, ancient (for the U.S.) families of Princeton, New Jersey (which includes Woodrow Wilson, although he’s sort of nouveau riche), and Upton Sinclair. She takes advantage of the fact that all of these folks lived near each other in the aughts, and weaves a strange story that goes between supernatural and something sunk down into material reality.
The key metaphor in the novel (or is it more a trope?) is blindness. The families of Princeton think that the curse is caused by an indiscretion of Winslow Slade’s as a young man – even the historian-narrator thinks something like that (or blames it on the sort of mass hysteria that is common in the 19th c. pseudo-science that passes for psychology), because they think that they’re godly folk. Instead, I think that Oates alludes to the source of the curse when she starts the novel with a lynching that none of the muckety-mucks seem to care about, and then uses Upton Sinclair’s story as a way to talk about fighting the good fight, against racism and capitalism. The novel seems haunted less by supernatural forces than it does by the type of naturalized prejudice against the poor and non-white that haunts the early 20th century.
I’ve only read Remains of the Day from Ishiguro’s ouevre, and while that novel is amazing it also clues us into I’m guessing is a fundamental trope of his – narrator problems. In RoD (in case you’ve forgotten), Stevens has obvious problems, and his narration becomes increasingly problematic as he tries to maintain his essential Englishness while his master, Lord Darlington, flirts with fascism. (I need another long post on our seemingly relentless desire for daddies in the form of fascist strong men to take care of us, but that will have to wait for another day).
The Buried Giant continues the theme of the unreliable narrator, as this time Axl and Beatrice, an elderly Briton couple, set out to seek their son, who might or might not exist. Britain is at a time of peace, but it is also clouded by some sort of mist that seems to prevent Saxons and Britons from remembering much of their past. As the couple travel, we figure out that they’re mis-remembering (thank you Roger Clemens) some important shit, and the people they run into, Gawain and a Saxon warrior named Wistan, are not being completely honest about their own motives.
- Ishiguro has gotten some criticism for writing a fantasy (I guess folks think he was inspired by George RR Martin because *spoiler alert* Gawain dies), but that’s not what this is at all. The Buried Giant is a metaphor (built on the weird chalk outline giant that is probably a 17th c. satire) for all that that brings us to war, rational, irrational, primal, civilized, and so on. Yes, there is a dragon in it, and some sort of strange wolf, but these figures are used as part of the structure of the metaphor itself.
- I understand that the unreliable narrator strategy can be over-used, but in this novel it kept my attention, because Ishiguro neatly threw me just enough hints for me to realize that something was wrong…
- As precious as it feels to talk about novelists doing *insert your pet grand narrative here*, I’m going to succumb to that temptation just a bit here. He may simply want to be able to use figures that his British (and obviously Anglo) audiences will immediately have associations with in order to use a bit of shorthand, but this return to an originary moment in British history (Gawain, Arthur, Merlin) with little mention of Romans (except for the ruins they leave behind) can’t be accidental. If he’s trying to understand the roots of British conflicts this return doesn’t do much good, but if he’s still concerned with the carnage among family that was World War I (and which leads directly to WWII) then having Merlin bewitch a dragon in order to cloud all of our memories, especially about that which makes us hate each other, sure is an interesting place to start.
- The wildness and strangeness in the novel (ferrymen who are thieves, fairies who attack boats, Wistan as some sort of primordial force of Saxon energy and pride, Gawain as a mythical figure of purity and goodness) felt nicely under-sketched. I wonder if the temptation is to turn this landscape into an environment dripping with detail and saturated with meaning, much like that found in any number of games (but especially the Halo series), but Ishiguro resisted.
I finally sat down to read the Witcher series, although I read book #3 without realizing it, but I’ve wanted to read this series for a while. I hope that Andrzej Sapkowski is a wealthy man, because his series has been made into a game that is supposedly one of the best out there (tl;dp).
In this post I’ll talk about The Blood of Elves. It’s fantasy, part of the new bloody, hey your heroes might die sort of fantasy. Much like in Joe Abercrombie’s work, though, I’m not sure that I believe that, in stark contrast to George R R Martin. Still, this was a page-turner for me, and I also found Sapkowski much more interested in the implications of the kind of strict racial lines that fantasy draws.
- The idea of witchers as politically unaligned, magic-swallowing, alchemy-imbibing super warriors, but chemically enhanced.
- As with all fantasy this side of Martin, though, (and occasionally Abercrombie if I’m being fair), I never got the sense that the Witcher was in danger.
- The witchers are a bit curmudgeonly, which is interesting – I’m not sure what this brings to the text except to make them less otherworldly and more human…
- Elves are the outsiders (almost eco-warriors shaman types), but I think that’s Sapkowski’s way to set up the way in which human greed and inability to get along are the true drivers of misery.
- He doesn’t set either side up as evil or misguided, just territory-hungry.
- I’ll read more of these, although I’m still not sure how witchers aren’t just a fantasy-type superhero…
In my continuing tour of Ben Lerner, I read 10:04 (and yeppers, I next need to read some of this poetry to prove my geekdom).
- I was ready for this one, as I finished Leaving Atocha Station first, getting over my holy-shit-this-guy-is-an-asshole-this-is-him-not-a-narrator attitude. I’m still not convinced that Lerner is playing some elaborate joke on his readers (and I’m not smart enough to get it, but that’s an old fear, one best communicated in sentences with trailing dependent clauses, word salads that seem (and do) lead nowhere but which also feature parentheses, even in nests).
- When I think he’s being too precious (and I’m not sure why I’m so worried about that) I use as evidence his hypochondria, the weird situations he puts his narrator in, and the use of pop culture references.
- When I think he’s clearly established an interesting distance between himself and his narrator, I look at his self-deprecation, his obvious interest in things I value (the coop, building a community, literary relations).
- As is obvious, I feel myself fighting back and forth between these poles, unsure even if this is a dialectic.
- I love his vocabulary, and find myself looking up words when I read his work. He even uses some multiple times, which gives me a chance to catch up.
- Is his relentless focus on the minutiae what makes me intrigued by his shit? Is it the self-deprecation?
This article has me frustrated, and I’m going to try to figure out why here…
- I want to accuse it of lazily repeating myths about the millennial generation, but it slides around directly accusing young folks of the general stereotypes (self-obsessed, pampered, screen-addicted) and sort of foists those critiques off onto colleges and universities. Higher ed certainly is not innocent of believing (and acting upon) these same stereotypes as well, but what this strategy does is enable Flanagan to not directly indict students.
- She also idealizes stand-up, something I get. As she notes here
And in the comedians’ desperate attempts to grasp the realpolitik of the college market—and to somehow reverse engineer an act catered to it—you could see why stand-up is such a singular form: it is mercilessly ineffective as agitprop.
and I agree – at its best, stand-up is agitprop – Bruce, Carlin, Pryor, and Rock are the most famous, but there are a lot of lesser-known comedians who have done some essential rhetorical bomb throwing as well…
- Her critiques of the university are useful, especially when she accuses them of simply wanting to entertain students, but she doesn’t mention some of the larger systemic issues that result in this – too many universities, too much of the employment scene devoted to this four years of what she calls ‘resort’ living, too much accumulated debt that results in the need to justify these expenses in terms of gains in marketable skills.
- Holy shit, though, this comment made me chuckle and want to spew for its truthiness:
During the day, “educational sessions” on topics of inexpressible tedium—“Wave Goodbye to Low Volunteer Retention”—droned on, testament (as are the educational sessions of a hundred other conferences) to the fact that the growth field in higher education is not Elizabethan literature or organic chemistry but mid-level administration.
Translating the need for studying Elizabethan literature might be a tough sell, but I can’t imagine why better understanding organic chemistry is, and this wholehearted rush to add administrators at a high level in universities seems less about the hypothetical soul of the institution and more about a desire to not tackle tough visionary questions with any sort of thoroughness or clarity.
- Her accusation that universities are no longer living the glory days of the 60s (“We knew who the enemy was then,” although Pogo might have been a good read for them) is a misread of campus environments. Yes, free speech is great until it’s abused, but what students are trying to do is to create an atmosphere that is not harmful. Even as I write this the slippery slope leading to an absolute yawning chasm looms, but the students who are trying to be careful shepherds of the dollars they spend are at least aware of how a university paying a comic to say stuff is some sort of endorsement.
- She ends with a nod to the essential humanity that drives the student activities folks to choose this style of comedy, but wonders at the cost. Not a surprise ending, but I think she also misses that while student activities folks are perhaps shy about offending in and of themselves, they also know that they will not be in these positions if they choose comedians who the institution does not approve of. Whether or not that sort of caution is one that will irredeemably shape them is something that none of us know…