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Showing posts from October 26, 2014

Late to the party: taking shots at Franzen on Wharton

I’ve been on a bit of an Edith Wharton kick lately, reading her and reading about her. This is how I came late to Jonathan Franzen’s essay about Wharton in the New Yorker which evoked a storm of counterblasts from the likes of Roxana Robinson  (who yields to the intense anger that Franzen’s condescending tone seems to beg for), Victoria Patterson in the LA review of books , and Autumn Whitefield-Madrono in the New Inquiry . All made good solid points, but I have some other points to make about how truly abysmal Franzen’s essay is. Though it is two years old, I figure that there is something to be gotten out of unloading on it some more, since I think the essay signals the sad level of the state of reading in America, at least among a group, like Franzen, who were in college in the theory period in the humanities and now think they are beyond all that. Franzen begins with a truly barflyish gesture. You know that New Critical idea of the impersonality of the author? All horseshit.

edith wharton and kill the messenger

Early on in  The House of Mirth, Lily Bart, Edith Wharton's central protagonist, has a stab of insight about Percy Gryce, the heir she is pursuing, and his kind, such as Gwen van Osburgh, the heiress her cousin is pursuing: “ the two had the same prejudices and ideals,and the same quality of making other standards non-existent by ignoring them. This attribute was common to most of Lily’s set: they had a force of negation which eliminated everything beyond their own  range of perception.” Lily has discovered the very principle of the establishment, whereever it forms.  It is not a matter, merely, of mental blinders, since the phrase implies that something exterior has imposed its instrument – no, the force of negation works fiercely outward, and it eliminates that which is unpleasant to perceive, it erases it. In another sphere, we can see how establishmentarian negation works in the film “Kill the Messenger,” which I saw last weekend. I knew the story, but the movie is good enou

the state of the unculture in France

Ah, the bottomless pit of the PS! Well on their way to making all France nostalgic for the Sarkozy period. Remember how (justly) Sarkozy was mocked for mocking books like La Princesse de Clèves, which he viewed as unnecessary dejecta in the  curriculum keeping out such new masterpieces as the latest self help book from the ex ceo of General Electric, or something. This was taken to demonstrate his barbarous touch. And who doubts that President Bling was contemptuous of French culture? Yet, one thing you can say for Nicky is he actually knew the name of a book. Fast forward to Francois Hollande’s Minister of Unculture, Fleur Pellerin, who not only could not name a single Modiano novel when asked on tv, but excused herself by saying that for the past two years, since she’s been minister, she hasn’t had time to read a book. Presumably, in her whole life before those two years, she had other excuses: she had to make a phone call, she was sleepy, books take so long, my eyes hurt, I’ve g

the nyt kisses its own ass again

I don't think there is any paper out there that kisses its own ass as much as the NYT. In that paper, it is awards day every day - and the awards all go to the NYT. So I find it a bit shocking to read, in a Sunday Book review of James Risen's book about the ludicrous and corrupt war on terror, the following passage" "But he makes no mention of the press. I would argue that many in the news media were at least as guilty as others in his book of stirring up public anxiety for p rivate gain. Risen himself, and the paper for which he works, are notable exceptions." Notable exceptions? Is this the paper that employed Judy Miller? That filled its magazine section with defenses of a new liberal imperialism? Which withheld stories that would have 'challenged the narrative" for years, and that likes to insult Edward Snowden whenever it has a chance? The paper whose Washington correspondent. Elisabeth Bumiller, said of a press conference before the Iraq invasion -