Saturday, September 28, 2013

Novels, Dillweeds, and Defeat


Sometimes I publish a post and have the sinking feeling immediately afterward that in the time it took me to write the damn thing, something happened somewhere else on the internet which rendered it redundant... irrelevant... or just plain wrong. There are these other beautiful occasions, however, when the internet conspires to confirm a point I just made and I get to feel a tiny bit prescient.  Remember the claims I made in my last post about the fate of the novel?  Well, this last week, Jonathan Franzen set off a fresh round of ballyhooing and bellyaching about-- you guessed it-- the decline of the humanities and the death of the novel.  And in this particular cri-de-coeur about the crisis facing contemporary authors, he did not list the names of any contemporary authors he might be hoping to salvage from the apocalypse-- apart from Jonathan Franzen.  

Saturday, September 21, 2013

The Novel: Dying All Over Again

I'm a pretty regular reader of Arts and Letters Daily-- a service of the Chronicle of Higher Education which collates the best and most interesting stuff from around the web which has anything to do with the humanities, literature, and ideas.  It also filters out all online journalism which requires a subscription on the website-- making it the ideal tool for unregenerate autodidacts and cheapskates alike.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

The Boys of Sommers

There are plenty of good reasons to be suspicious of Christina Hoff Sommers.  Number one is the fact that she works at a right-wing think tank, the American Enterprise Institute.  This means one of two things.  The first possibility is that she specializes in peddling some specific brand of conventional wisdom designed to ease the conscience of a powerful segment of society-- preferably one with deep pockets.  On this analysis, it would appear that Sommers' division is that of anti-feminist polemics.  The fact that she is herself a woman-- and one who describes herself as a feminist of sorts-- only sweetens the deal.  There is nothing right-wing think tanks like better than to find a member of an identity group which reliably opposes right-wing policies who is willing to bash that identity group.  This is probably not because the think tanks are naive enough to believe that this buys them some sort of credibility with the identity groups in question-- the reason is more cynical, in all likelihood: it's that they think writers who are themselves minorities or women, etc. can "get away" with saying the things they would like to say themselves.  So you get the former Muslim who equates Mohammad with Hitler, the black libertarian who accounts for persistent racial inequalities in the United States by insisting that "different groups are simply better at different things," and so on.  Deep in the underground laboratories of the Heritage Foundation they are still toiling away on the openly gay writer who wants to be banned from the army and the Latino politician who wants to make English the official language...-- oh right.  That second one has already come out in beta.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Doing Justice to Syria's Dead

On August 21st, the Syrian Armed Forces almost certainly and intentionally unloaded Sarin gas attached to rockets on the people of Ghouta, near Damascus, killing several hundred civilians, according to the most modest estimates, and hospitalizing countless others.  These toxins operate by inhibiting communication between the brain and the muscles of their victims, meaning that the lungs and other essential organs cannot receive the cues they need to function.  The victims of Sarin cannot breath, think straight, chew or swallow-- in short, if exposed to enough of this chemical agent, they cannot live-- and three weeks ago, hundreds of them ceased to do so, most likely on the orders of their own head of state, Bashar al-Assad.  The attacks occurred in the small hours of the morning and killed children, parents, and other civilians while they were still asleep in their beds.