"Crimes Against the Intellect" Last month, in France, playboy philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy was indicted for fraud, hucksterism, and general ridiculousness, and there will be a trial tomorrow. Sort of.
Our Living Language My column today is about gun nuts. A reader has been in touch to ask whether I meant to use the word "refudiate." Indeed I did, and also tried to sneak in my own made-up word, "newlogism," but my editor changed this to the more standard spelling. Alas!
The Fixer What's really intriguing about Sarah Palin's complaint that she is the object of a "blood libel" is that she's much too ignorant to have come up with it herself. It isn't a part of fundamentalist or evangelic folklore; there is no real basis for it in the Bible, even in the more antisemitic parts of St. John or Revelation.
In other words, even her malapropisms are being stage-managed.*
It's been thirty years since I read Bernard Malamud's novel about a blood-libel case. And it occurs to me that this is probably the only thing of his that I've read. Anyone out there with an opinion on whether there is something else I should get to?
Don't bother suggesting The Natural. I have studied C.L.R. James on cricket, and will continue to pay attention to my friend Dave Zirin's sportswriting, but must draw the line at reading a novel about baseball.
* AFTERTHOUGHT:If someone is actually circulating
stories about how Sarah Palin drinks the blood of children, then I can
see where she would be upset. That kind of rumor can just sink a
Allegories of E-Reading My end-of-the-year essay about digital readers for The National has inspired a response by Rob Horning at The New Inquiry.
Glad to see him take the hint about Moretti, whose work I wrote about...five years ago? That can't be right.
Sherry Talks Back For my last column of 2010, I asked a few people to identify books they'd read that year that made a big impression on them. The resulting piece came together well and seems to have gotten a decent bit of play -- though one person on Twitter characterized the participants as "Ivy Leaguers and tasteful snobs." Now, a couple of the participants are members of the labor movement, where snobbery, tasteful or otherwise, is not a value. And clearly the fact that I hadn't actually invited anybody from the Ivy League to respond was no obstacle to this individual's exercise of the right to have an uninformed opinion. So it goes. I don't write for stupid people but can do nothing to prevent them from reading.
In any case, two people named Patti Smith's memoir Just Kids, which I also liked very much. And this morning I see that Sherry Wolfe -- whose blog Sherry Talks Back I have been meaning to recommend -- recently stopped by the Chelsea Hotel in the wake of reading the book. Wolfe moved back to NYC last year and the continuing toll of the economy on culture naturally makes a big impression:
As a former denizen of the East Village, from 1988 to 2000, I was
eyewitness to that bohemia's twentieth-century grand finale. I moved in
the week of the Tompkins Square riot that seems, in retrospect, to have
signaled the gentrifiers' victory over a sanctuary of counterculture.
I could still chat on the street back then with The Naked Civil Servant's Quentin Crisp and Howl's
Allen Ginsberg or catch a $5 show with Sandra Bernhard, Penny Arcade or
John Leguizamo around the corner. But the writing was on the wall as my
own rent-stabilized haunt across from the Russian and Turkish Baths on
10th St. slowly drifted toward $1,000 a month.
About the only cultural activity you can still enjoy in Manhattan for
no money is people watching--at least that remains one of the most
spectacular circuses of humanity on earth.
And of course, artists will always find ways of meeting and mixing
with each other in any city, no matter how hard the market tries to
homogenize, synchronize and sterilize us all. There's always Brooklyn,
Queens, the Bronx and dare I say, even Staten Island.
I like this (read the entry here) as a response to Smith's book -- that is, the refusal to let reading it turn into an occasion for nostalgia. The spirit of Greenwich Village cannot afford to live in Greenwich Village, but it has work to do, especially right now.
The Quick and the Dead A few months ago, I decided not to run for a second term on the board of directors of the National Book Critics Circle (for reasons having nothing to do with that worthy institution, and everything to do with my own need to concentrate on other commitments) and I stuck to that decision even when asked a couple of times to reconsider. Nobody not actually on the board knows just how much work is involved. And I don't just mean loading up the hundreds of books that arrive every week onto a cart to transport them to my cubicle at Inside Higher Ed, down the block. That's the least of it.
It turns out that the sheer amount of fantasy about the NBCC is kind of interesting, in a
psychohistory sort of way. A case in point being something I read online
not long ago about how those of us
deciding on the awards are subjected to "lobbying." In three years, I've never heard from a single
author, agent, or editor trying to influence me one way or the other. I
get pitches from publicists all the time, of course, but they are
invariably so clueless that I can't imagine them influencing anyone into
reading a book -- let alone reviewing one, much less voting for it.
A fair hunch is that the belief in "lobbying" is a function of
litblogger wish-fulfillment fantasies being projected. Somebody at Billy
Bob's Book Blog assumes that if he or she were on the board, then
famous authors would be inviting them to dinner. Alas, no. Would that
this were true. After three years my virtue remains all too
untested. But who am I to interrupt anybody's fantasies of glamor by pointing out that serving on the NBCC board just means doing a lot of pro bono labor while the anklebitters gnash their teeth? No good can come of insisting on the realities.
Be that as it may -- and with about ten solid weeks of work to do before the end of my term -- I have resolved to bring Quick Study out of its persistent vegetative state. A few people have expressed disappointment that it has had
barely a pulse for the past couple of years. I haven't even bothered to
post links to my work, while my Twitter presence has been low-volume and erratic, at best. There are various reasons for all of this, but the desire to explain them in detail seems as much a vice as idleness itself. Anyway, I will try to do better.