Bravo! for the new arbiters of art: us … and a commenters’ strike at The Guardian

Shawn Yu's Teaton Series

'Cavalier-Servant' -- Shawn Yu

Hello-and-goodbye, … unless, against long odds, you read on. Why so pessimistic? Though this is said to be the age of the image, people measuring attention spans have found that in ten seconds flat, an online video loses a fifth of its audience. How much less hope must there be for the seductive power of a mere text?

This new painting by Shawn Yu was still brightening my day on a part of my screen when I saw the report on video watching. It led me to marvel at how fast aesthetic attraction, not just dismissal, works on the net. Of how quickly we can recognise a certain je ne sais quoi in an artist’s work impossible to explain, even to ourselves, which guarantees that we will find that painter’s oeuvre consistently engaging – at the very least. As I’ve explained (see the second footnote here), it was a drawing Shawn made from a photograph of Bruce Chatwin that originally caught my eye as I was speed-skimming my way through images of that writer served up by search engines.

Every visit to Shawn’s site since has been rewarding. Lately, going there has been like popping into a magical gallery in which a wizard keeps putting up new paintings on the walls for an exhibition by a single artist, and on the same theme – in this case, kettles, teapots, jugs and coffee pots, of all things; some with and some without human companions. As someone who has always had trouble with collections of short stories, anthologies of poems, group shows by artists – or even a single artist displaying pieces on several themes in more than one style – the staggered presentation has felt so right that it might have been designed for me. Finding my way to it without any intermediary or other people’s interpretations of the pictures has only heightened the pleasure of looking at them.

I think Shawn is still a student but close to being hatched by his art school. There’s no saying whether he will or won’t stick with Surrealism. He does seem to me to have a very special feeling for that style. Some of his pictures have taken me back to standing in the Dali museum in Figuerres a few years ago, enjoying the expressions on the faces of other visitors as much as examining the exhibits. Like the great moustachioed one, Shawn’s blog shows that he can also be a fine realistic painter – impeccably accurate as an anatomist, just as Dali was. … But scrolling down his online exhibition, it has also occurred to me that Surrealism remains the only approach to depicting our world that captures the grain, the scent, the unending, stomach-churning topsy-turvyness of contemporary life.

Last week I was surprised to find – in another context – that Herbert Pothorn, a German architectural historian, thought that Surrealism had a precedent in a style that defined another age of uncertainty and chronic disruption:

The final phase of the Renaissance is known as Mannerism. In art history the term implies a highly personal mode of expression; it also indicates the adoption of the specific idiom or manner of a certain artist by others, or by a whole school. … [I]t also entails a love of exaggeration and artificiality, obtained by any means possible. Mannerism tends towards excess, towards distortion of perspective …It was the product of a spiritually uncertain age – an age caught between the Reformation and Counter-Reformation, seeking for new certainties, and attempting to guide itself through all this insecurity with the help of fantasy […] Mannerist painting was … a forerunner of Surrealism, i.e. that trend or movement of ideas that aimed to re-establish the unconscious, freeing it from the tools and formulae of reason.

… Something paradoxical about the way we deal with people’s posts in the Blogosphere is that we’re as apt to dismiss some prematurely as we are to relentlessly monitor others for signs of behaviour we don’t approve of – scrutinising these post-writers’ beliefs and inconsistencies more often and minutely, from thousands of miles away, than we could have done from right next door in the past. Then there’s the fun of comparing our reactions with those of others – comparisons all the more exciting for our having no ties or obligations to our fellow blog watchers.

It seems as if lots of other visitors to the Guardian‘s site have been put off by that paper’s barbaric censorship policies; in particular, by its victimisation of Desmond Swords/Kevin Desmond (or HerMajesty here). You might imagine that the dramatic drop in the comments count for a weekly poetry blog there in recent weeks would have registered with the managers of that site as a protest against its suppression of free expression – and that they might have tried to make amends, or at least offer some form of apology. You might imagine that they’d have noticed that for several years, now, that blogger who refuses to accept being banned has been responsible for more lively debates and click count-boosting posts than anyone else. … You might imagine that they’d have noticed that without him, there is only word for the threads in that section: dull.

But no, they appear to be have decided to sit out what is virtually a commenters’ strike, and do nothing at all.

The reasons why so many of us are supporting Des are: (i) The Guardian’s site managers’ failure to understand that it is commenters, not their ‘above-the-line’ bloggers, who have made that spot on the web worth visiting – a fact that makes their obtuse and draconian censorship utterly counter-productive. (ii) He can be wonderfully witty and inventive in the way he undermines the stodgy, misguidedly technical and needlessly jargon-ridden introductions to the Poem-of-the-Week – by an author who has shown, when she posts in comments sections, that she is capable of being funny and lively, on occasion. [(iii) See addendum, below, which contains the most important part of the explanation.]

Yet above the line, week after week, she holds forth in her droning Voice of Authority – in a style of criticism I expect will come to be known as Early Debased – or Very Early and remarkably Debased (as someone said about a bell tower in a church in an English university town in the late nineteenth century that was referred to as the Meat Safe).

Why don’t people like her see what is happening to the presumption of literary authority? In my last post I mentioned keeping tabs on the staggering – and widening – gap between paid and unpaid critics’ assessments of Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom. On a trip to the page a few hours ago, I noticed that 579 of 660 readers of an exemplary review by ‘zashibis’ — who awarded the book a one-star rating — had marked it as helpful. Its opening establishes that zashibis is objective, and nurses no personal grudge against the much-fêted author:

Negative reviews get no love on Amazon, but, having been thoroughly taken in by the glowing reviews in the NYT, Time, the Economist, etc., I feel compelled to add a voice of dissent and caution.

I read and enjoyed The Corrections, so was looking forward to seeing what Franzen had been up to for the past 10 years …

My impressions of the book from reading its first twenty five-odd pages have been confirmed, to the letter, by dozens of detailed descriptions of the rest of the mega-tome by lay assessors. ‘Taken in’ is exactly how I would have felt fifteen years ago, before there was an publishing extracts from new novels on its site – or offering instant access to hundreds of uncredentialled but obviously astute zashibises. I wouldn’t have been able to get a refund for the hefty price I’d have had to pay for Freedom, and I’d have had felt miserably and furiously isolated in my bafflement by the laurels the literary establishment had heaped on it.

Censors like the Guardian’s will have to take over the world to reverse the flood tide against pontificators who specialise in king- and queen-making in the arts. All hail, Canute!


Late addendum:

(iii) As Scott Adams recently said about his brilliant satirisation of corporate idiocy,

Humor likes danger. If you are cautious by nature, writing humor probably isn’t for you. Humor works best when you sense that the writer is putting himself in jeopardy.
In the early days of my cartooning career, as the creator of “Dilbert,” part of the strip’s appeal was that I was holding a day job while mocking the very sort of company I worked for. If you knew my backstory, and many people did, you could sense my personal danger in every strip. (My manager eventually asked me to leave. He said it was a budget thing.)



Filed under Book publishing, Censorship, Criticism, Poetry, The blogosphere, The Guardian

22 responses to “Bravo! for the new arbiters of art: us … and a commenters’ strike at The Guardian

  1. Looks like a front ship is slowly sinking due to an overweight of posturing idiocy, after the rats have kick the passengers over board.

  2. wordnerd7

    As usual, not a set of metaphors _any_one else could have dreamt up … lovely stuff, @antiphon, : )

    There’s been a late addition to this blog entry — in the section explaining the appeal of @Des’s posts. Search on the word ‘addendum’.

    I am not meant to be here at all, or doing anything remotely like this … back soon, I hope …

  3. Thank you wordnerd 7,
    Some friendly words blow a vivid breeze under the wings.

  4. Something I like about the net, @antiphonsgarden, is that support – sailing wind — can come from absolutely anywhere. So we can, for instance, ask this question —

    Nicholas Shakespeare, have you been reading this blog? … [ahem] … Well, we at acciaccature were pleased to see that we’ve inspired you. ; )

    Anyone curious can compare:

    September 2010

    (in a London newspaper) :

    Nicholas Shakespeare … describes Chatwin in his introduction as “a precursor of the internet: a connective super-highway without boundaries, with instant access to different cultures”, which seems a little strained.

    … with this rather more moderate and reasonable suggestion:

    July 2009 (title of a WordPress blog):

    As goes blogging, so goes literature …or, … Bruce Chatwin, blogging pioneer


    August 2009

    A Serendipitous Postscript to Bruce Chatwin, blogging pioneer

    … Could just have been a coincidence, of course. Why would Nicholas Shakespeare ever read this blog? How could he possibly have found anything so small and insignificant, a grain of sand on Cancun beach?

  5. I agree acacciatura,
    specially when the own little nutshell faces often the harsh mental hot air of conventional mediocrity knowing even “how winds have to blow”!
    But like each pathfinder, I have found over the years some of my ideas and even words & phrases repeated in some articles & speeches.
    One wonders… “in the air” synchronicity or copy&paste “inspiration”of those send out for “new thoughts “for the old beast .

    I noticed in the last another rhetorical phenomenon, the fat cat laquais have been trained to sing in choirs over the world .
    The game functions that way, that they use a therm their “adversary”(WE concerned citizen!) uses and twist them around as patronising reproach projection of their own evil aims on us.
    Exp.: If the usual quiet middle class start to demonstrate, they get blamed by those having neglected them in their decisions as : “comfort minds fighting out of egoism” against “progressive” projects helping the youth to have “a future”(the same youth, they call indoctrinated, if they get critical too!). Or other similar cynical meme.
    The only possible answer in those “end of era”(I see clearly an increasing interest on a direct democracy of citizen considering themselves political mature and not as vote sheep only.) games, is to mirror those attempt to mock debates
    to the ground, in the same way back. They abuse our caring language, we will name theirs ways of nihilistic word destructuration collages to keep their privileges.

  6. One wonders… “in the air” synchronicity or copy&paste “inspiration”of those send out for “new thoughts “for the old beast .

    I don’t suppose we’ll ever know which, in the case I’ve highlighted. Much more interesting, of course, if Nicholas Shakespeare — who must be alright, as someone who left England to live in Tasmania — had the same idea all by himself. His biography of Chatwin was rather good.

    Now I wish you’d review this book for us …

    “Trespass” (Norton, 253 pages, $24.95) is the English writer Rose Tremain’s 15th work of fiction and explores, in an agreeably creepy way, notions about the stewardship of land both wild and cultivated. Two pairs of aging siblings converge among the ancient stone farmhouses of the Cévennes mountains in southern France. Audrun and Aramon Lunel grew up in one of these houses, which was once a family business that cultivated grain and silkworms but which has slowly collapsed into disrepair, not unlike the siblings themselves. Anthony Verey is a London antiques dealer eager to spend his retirement in the area, where his sister, a garden designer, also lives with her lover, a painter named Kitty.

    What appears to be Anthony’s pleasant search for French country real estate turns into something much more sinister …

  7. I must say, that already the idea of the obligatory “political correct” couple joined by another wealthy aesthetic yuppie in search of an “estate in France” meeting “the locals”, makes me crawl the walls up and hide behind the spider webs of my old place.
    How comes I guess that this bunch might have a slightly biased vision on an old rebellious region and his inhabitants.One invasion more to survive.

  8. === wealthy aesthetic yuppie in search of an “estate in France” meeting “the locals”, makes me crawl the walls up and hide behind the spider webs of my old place. ===

    Yes, I’m sure I’d feel exactly like you, were I in your shoes.

    Tell me, are there any good contemporary French novels on such a theme — the French equivalent of these ‘aesthetic yuppies’ moving to somewhere in England and having an adventure or two, commenting on English customs and society along the way?

    … And what about some French parallel for Peter Mayle’s A Year in Provence and its many sequels and spinoffs? … Why hasn’t any such book — if it exists — become a worldwide bestseller, given how easy it would be to find comical English characters to write about?

    Or do the French consider les rosbifs too boring to bother?

  9. Oprah Winfrey

    Thanks very much for your suport Wordy.

    The truth is, when I last ‘left’ Crown’s realm, it was after addressing several posts to her directly in a very impolite tenor, informing her of my feelings (and it was feelings rather than logical thoughts) about her ‘underlings’ who had been doing her dirty-work of exclusion and blah blah blah.

    The curious and interesting aspect of this now (in blogging terms) ancient history, three weeks ago – is that the posts stayed up for several days before they were vanished, as did the posting priveleges of the usernames with which I spoke to ‘Her Highness’ (as I called her); whilst, in comparison to this, the posts and posting privileges associated with the usernames I was using prior to addressing Crown, were immediately zapped, literally within minutes of them first being deployed.

    This, I thought, meant my gut feeling about the fragrant, gentle, kind grrlly Sarah, was correct: that it was her hidden hand executing the decision to kick and keep me out, all the time. When I addressed her directly, she froze and it took a while for her to decide how to respond to this, hitherto absent development, of the local excluded poster crossing that line, going beyond being publically insolent to the organ’s moderating entities, and into the personal space of one of the most serious poetry critics and judges of important poetry competitions, alive today.

    This could be a wrong supposition of course, but it doesn’t really matter, as the game is over. My time there is done; one reached the end of the route through there and achieved a degree of competence in Letters when learning in that gulag, for forty straight months, longer than any other blogger, and now that I’m ‘gone’, what’s interesting (for me), is following the evolution of that blog as a detached, impartial, barely contributing presence, whose presence until very recently, was constant and there from the begining.

    And I say it’s a ‘game’ that’s over, because it only ever can be a game, in Letters, and I’ve done my 10,000 hours, and have learnt by experience and practise how to present myself in print, using all the tricks & tools in the punctuation box, which was what I was doing on that blog in the first place. Learning how to write for free, led there by a series of events not of my making, from the Nowheresville of BBC Writing Room from 2002-4 until it shut down, via being ejected from & Poets on Fire (for the crime of ‘not respecting’ their ‘authority’), onto the largest stage in blogosphere-poetry where I passed (in my own mind at least) from grades three/four to /five/six in the poetry course whose authority comes from within my own heart trying in its own way, to adhere to at least the spirit of what it is I’ve read (via translation) in the primers that perform as the source of my Tradition, which I have droned on about at length, as an unpublished poet, ranting online and happily unfettered by the shallow concerns, feints, fripparies and frivolous critical gobble dee gook one’s fellow English bards ga-ga on about as they dream of finding the answer to a question of poetry and how it works, that I am lucky enough not to be too troubled by at present, now that I’ve passed first go and have acquired the faculty to make and measure my own lines without the need of a group hug from the cool individuals in the numerous packs vying for attention from whoever it is that decides, i.e., Her Majesty within enobling any and everyone with a titter of poetic wit, the creative intelligence to spark it into life and the dán to know what it means and make it happen.

    I could feel it coming for months, the end nearing, after all it was over 150 poems of the week, all those texts, all those authors, sometimes fifty pages a week of spontaneous composition, anruth territory, the final stage, imbas foronsai, the hard work over, only 2 years to go before I finish my training, a different system and strategy for poetic enoblement Wordy, than people like the very important English critics and poets whose idea of poetic success, is measured in meaningless prizes exterior to their own sense of esteem, fifty people all agreeing they are the best, awarding one another state-subsidised guerdons and waffling tosh about it, few people knowing themselves alone, how to find it within.

    What I am starting to cognize is the fact that now I am not there, those whose days were spent thinking of me as a horrid annoyance, may have to review this position in light of our act being over.

    I made this recording last night, in a Latvian DJ pals basement-bedroom-studio. It’s a paragraph from a Nick Hornby novel and a few pages of Anthony Cronin’s classic Memoir of him and Behan.


  10. Wonderful post, Opie … it’s been far too long since you stopped in.

    This is a point I’ve made here myself, as you might have seen:

    What I am starting to cognize is the fact that now I am not there, those whose days were spent thinking of me as a horrid annoyance, may have to review this position in light of our act being over.

    … and while there were some people who thought you were being a raving egotist for saying as much in the past, you were only stating the simple truth — and the record for post counts on Poem-of-the-Week threads with and without you, particularly in the last few months, bears you out.

    As we only know each other as bloggers — or rather, ‘daft spacers,’ as you used to say, those of us who have had these same thoughts have reached our conclusions independently. It’s been marvellous to experience and watch. Absolutely spontaneous and visceral. No coordination whatsoever, and yet all of us reacting nearly identically to bullying and shocking hypocrisy.

    I can’t stop right this instant to watch the video but will very soon …

  11. I suppose such oeuvres exists.
    I could contribute through my non yuppie but aesthetic view on the “perfide Albion”, as my observation scale goes from a long lasting love for that little spot on the map (no, not more the navel of the world as us!) and his inhabitants up to a tremendous irritation upon some of the qualities appreciated on the island of the “mash with green sauce& neoliberal market for all” rosbifs.
    One of my favorite author is Nancy Mitford, you might well know.
    It was so refreshing to find someone describing a certain “art de vivre”, I was used to on both side of the channel.

  12. Oops, my reply landed a bit “out of context”, that for a warm greeting to all those poets writing out of the simple joy of life even in sadness, knowing that poems can not be “made”as some literature flower petal plucker insist to pretend, but can simply be born when their time is ripe and mood, feather, ink & paper are at hand.

  13. … I shall be in trouble if I am found here, … so am just saying quickly … please hurry up and contribute, then, @antiphonsgarden, I would buy your book sight unseen … @Des! I listened and was delighted by the what — audio mashup? The reading was really very, very, good. Positively bursting with life; excellent pacing. If you wanted to, I’m sure you’d get lots of work as a narrator of audio books. Since I love reading aloud myself, it’s a line of work I’d enjoy trying out . … But I liked the opening words most — am quite sure I need an ‘anti-mental translator’. (!) Did I hear that right? … Lots more to say about other points you’ve made in your post … Please be patient with me, I’ll reply when I can … but in the meanwhile am leaving you two the floor. : ) … the all and all of it !

  14. Oprah Winfrey

    The opening paragraph mentioning the mental translator device, is from Nick Hornby’s novel, Talking to the Angel, and what follows is from Anthony Cronin’s Memoir, Dead As Doornails, the three pages that cover the very end of his time in Paris with Brendan Behan, after their two month adventure of drink and degredation en le continent, in the very early fifties (I think).

    The chap who does the recording is in the web and weave of an alternative Dublin poetry scene that I first stumbled into as a result of another poet who introduced me to that basement-bedroom-studio where the recording process has been evolving over the summer at impromptu gatherings.

    This will give you a flavour of it: several people in a room, DJ Ingus at the decks, the mic handed round and three seperate voices extemporising poetry, that I loosely link, in my own mind, to the three spontaneous compositional processes first attempted in the sixth (bardic) grade of anruth.


  15. I feel as if I should answer, o Oprah dahlin’! … as you swish around in your diamond-encrusted kaftan …

    Would love to have been a moth fluttering over your heads in that room as the mike was passed around. I have been in a room full of extemporising poets — but long ago, as a child, and the poetry was in a language I didn’t speak. Still vividly remember the atmosphere as wonderful, though.

    … I’d say that the eds in that spot find you petrifying — are quite literally scared witless by the prospect of being made to look utterly foolish by being drawn into addressing you. … heh … ; ) … Not McCrumble, though, who strikes me as practically the only one of them who fully grasps the changing balance of power. I think he’s adapted more than any of the others — and commendably. I liked his suggestion to @fabdragon, which was respectful … He isn’t patronising, nor does he encourage flattery …or pontificate … Seems to have come a long way since an early post in which I remember him saying that publishing would always need gatekeepers. … Then he reversed himself on that score, at some point … Could retiring from his old job as The Observer’s literary editor have had something to do with that, I wonder? … And are your impressions of him anything like mine? … Wish he’d speak out about the censorship, though, and if he did, I might consider posting the occasional comment in his threads.

    … but what also interests me greatly, and even more, is those old comrades — I probably mean, former comrades — who behave like the subjects of this famous experiment @antiphonsgarden and I were discussing a few weeks ago … from the Wiki entry:

    === The Milgram experiment on obedience to authority figures was a series of social psychology experiments conducted by Yale University psychologist Stanley Milgram, which measured the willingness of study participants to obey an authority figure who instructed them to perform acts that conflicted with their personal conscience. Milgram first described his research in 1963 in an article published in the Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology,[1] and later discussed his findings in greater depth in his 1974 book, Obedience to Authority: An Experimental View.[2] ===

  16. The problem with this 40-30 (expendable in both directions!) and something chichi poseur generation is that they are lost in a mutual monkey see, monkey do mimicri of behaving the way they expect to be noticed as smart cookies towards each other.That creates an inner void of sense impacting the form. As much as a creative dynamic can impregnate the air of a community, as sadly the last years have been the echo of mutual shallow back tappers syphoning the world meaning downwards faster&faster, the more they did climb from one cafe late talk to the next “job for the boys/girls”desk. I remember a scene in the gazette of the determinate half way thinkers, where one “main person” was congratulated away up to servility humiliation of some in the “free” commenting world. What a bunch of shabby nouveau riche flattering courtisans in the hope to lick up some crumbles falling from the goodwill of “those in charge” . Disgusting philosophical table manners. I like it eye to eye.

  17. Oprah Winfrey

    Robert McCrumb also strikes me as someone who initially came across as an old guard ‘do you know who I am’ kinda guy, but adapted well to the net changes, and now, not up his own hole; unlike the majority of the 20 & 30 something above-liners there pretending they are soo cool and with really really important opinions and attitudes to edict – embodied by the likes of Stuart Evers.

    McCrumb, I read, had a stroke at some point, so having had a close call with the big beyond, his perception of life and perspective on it, I’d assume, doesn’t treat the business of blog-conversation like his London-centric literati kid-colleagues do; who’ve more left in their time-tank than has already been spent and whose dream of winning lots of prize-money what they wrote, statistically, will not happen. Their ambition and ability to get there, won’t match up.

    All they have are slogans and poses of intent pouring forth from a non-existent base – future decades in which their desires play out – all potential and possibility, waffling on the blogs, telling us mugs who to read and why; make believing they will one day reach the centre of a citadel of Letters, be-laureled and feted and not washed up aul frauds, has-beens and never-were hacks whose masterpieces never got writ.

    McCrumb has done all that, and ended up with his big theory of Globish. He knows it’s all a game, and knows all the poets who are blurbed as the bringers of verbal manna from the mouths of gods. The politics, envy, strategic loves and hates of all us millions of unpublished bloggers are laughable enough, the cod-seriousness with which we orbit in our circles, but imagine what it’s like in the hallowed holy circles of Crown and McCrumb, Armistead and Jordison, the professional commentators.

    They have prizes in their gift, are involved in the biz of blah blah blah, who will hate many of the authors they meet, even as they write anodyne and bland critical blurbistic screeds on these wits, what the inner meaning and import, place in the canon of such and such authors are, that they aren’t really fussed on and don’t like anyway. Playing the game of gassing on a novel, poem, play, text – contributing their drops in the oceans of make-believe and importance we all choose to sail upon. The high-seas of our own imagination.

    It’s all a game of poetry the pros associate with competition, money and their inside view, fixed by a few like the super Sarah and her marvelous underlings, whilst those of us in an alternative Dublin scene, see it as rhyming and timing; knowing when to stop. Reciting two instead of three poems, always leave em wanting more, because the more one appears, as a prizeless nobody ranting into the loss, the less mystery and interest there is.

    The three year outpouring over; now, just one or two few hundred word pieces a week, will have more of an impact than pages and pages of uncensored spillage from the lips.

    That’s the plan this pleasant Saturday morning of blue skies and a cool ten degrees C.

  18. All these “famous” are not truly noticed by me.
    Having been a child meeting really “famous authors” as normal humans at home must have ruined my sense for admiration of self proclaimed post modern literature authorities.
    I know from my garden bay laurel, that the leaves dry and can be ad to soup.

  19. I have been cooking for some years with bay laurel leaves picked straight from trees growing at the bottom of the garden here and where I last lived, too. I like the greater intensity, the ‘greener’ (nothing to do with Environmental Consciousness) taste — and now really don’t like dried bay leaves. Food snobs heareabouts receive these opinions with looks of horror. Mais, … chacun … thank goodness for that particular cliche …

    === Having been a child meeting really “famous authors” as normal humans at home must have ruined my sense for admiration of self proclaimed post modern literature authorities. ===

    My experience was the diametric opposite of all that. The family culture was equally contemptuous of money-grubbers and artists living the Bohemian life. I had no idea of what a rare inheritance that would prove to be — not to say, bizarre.

  20. === The politics, envy, strategic loves and hates of all us millions of unpublished bloggers are laughable enough, the cod-seriousness with which we orbit in our circles, but imagine what it’s like in the hallowed holy circles of Crown and McCrumb, Armistead and Jordison, the professional commentators. ===

    Yes, yes … yes.

    I had a feeling that you’d read McCrumble the same way — having noticed over the years that you almost always perceive the same things I do in people (and more). Though there are tasks bright children do of which I’m incapable, I’ve
    always been asked, ‘How do you know that?’ about what seems to me to be in plain sight — only to discover, shaking my head in bafflement, that I couldn’t be more mistaken.

    Well, .. and I’m not mocking him in using the nickname someone gave him … being rather partial to crumble. It’s the only way of cooking fruit by adding other ingredients to it that I really like — so I wasn’t surprised to find one restaurant after another in @antiphon’s country running out of ‘le crumble‘, when I was there about ten years ago.

    But in addition to his narrow brush with death, … I think he’s been shaped by a long marriage to a foreigner. Of course you might say it takes a specially open sort to marry an alien to begin with, and I might agree. … A remarkably high proportion of the people I care about most are in households that fly two flags. … Curious, flexible minds … so often highly creative, too.

    Opie, why o why did you recommend Franzen’s book to your club. It’s not as if I’ve ever liked any of your selections — nothing wrong with them, just not my cuppa — but you’ve made your fans furious with that choice.

    Lately, whenever I’ve been feeling overwhelmed by boring chores, I’ve been popping in at to look at the astonishing sight of five-star reviews running not all that far ahead of one-star ratings.

    I remain baffled beyond belief by what the official litcritters were up to when they told us this was the greatest book since … hot buttered toast. … The one-star reviews aren’t half as entertaining as for, example, this new one with a four-star award:


    0 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
    4.0 out of 5 stars The Inevitability of the Author’s Plan for the Book-‘Freedom’, October 22, 2010
    By easyreview – See all my reviews
    Amazon Verified Purchase(What’s this?)
    This review is from: Freedom: A Novel (Hardcover)
    Friday October 22, 2010 > “Freedom” by Jonathan Franzen. New York: Farrar,Straus and Giroux, 2010. 562 pages.

    The novel is a fast-paced read, especially for this type of book. The characters are well-developed and do go through a semblance of development as the author uses several
    techniques to permit the reader to co-analyze with the author as the novel progresses, a progression not necessarily in time but in purpose. The major question we are asked to solve is exactly what is Mr. Franzen’s purpose in writing the book; and this is not so simple to discover.
    After-all, it has all been done before in varied ways by different writers and the degree of relationship among the characters is certainly not revelatory.

    So, in essence, the author is allowing the reader to fill-in his or her background perceptions to make the experience somewhat personal, but even in this, we find ourselves wondering why. And the answer to this duality may be found simply in the basic fact that Franzen is an exceptional writer with myriad gifts which he uses to the fullest in the novel, but unfortunately, unless the reader has some depth in older classical writers, the novel seems to leave quite a lot to be desired. It is easy to feel that upon completion of the book the reader ( although he or she no doubt experience enjoyment in the reading ), may wonder if Mr. Franzen has been artfully taking his reader on a journey of personal discovery, and there are as many answers to this as there are pages in the novel, no doubt. …


    … had me in fits, and I’m still giggling … poor old Franzen, mopping up his millions with friends like this.

  21. The last time I saw a TV about ” young successful U.S.Americain authors” , I simply felt the attention hungry speculative, emotional distant detachment in the most blah blah, and I thought, “writing courses” should be considered as factory’s reducing creativity to market placement instructions.
    Wonders if some would reincarnate as Indian low wage worker , if that would cure their post modern nihilistic show off neurasthenia.

  22. ===“writing courses” should be considered as factory’s reducing creativity to market placement instructions. ===

    Well, I can’t see a raison d’etre for these either, but they have produced a good writer or two, to my very great astonishment. Perhaps they give some talented young ‘uns a shield of respectability they need to deal with parental disapproval? … Still a bad idea overall, I’d say — because, as you say, the result is mostly products of a capitalist production line.

    === if some would reincarnate as Indian low wage worker , if that would cure their post modern nihilistic show off neurasthenia ===

    Loved this suggestion!

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