We will always read Old Hag, foul though she may become….
Archives for January 11, 2004
“‘Do you consider love the strongest emotion?’ he asked.
“‘Do you know a stronger?’
Thomas Mann, Doctor Faustus
My mother taught me not to blow my own horn, but I just ran across a recent on-line reference
to this blog that I wanted to pass along:
For a brilliantly informed and non-academic approach to culture, Terry Teachout is the guy. He’s the drama critic for the Wall Street Journal and the music critic for Commentary, but no, he is not what you might expect from someone who regularly contributes to both those magazines. He is tremendously well-informed, and tremendously interested in the world. In the course of a week, his subjects will range from recent architecture to obscure plays and ballets to classic cartoons to how high tech changes Middle America’s experience of culture, and then on beyond that. In his range of interests and enjoyments, he keeps goading me (in a good-natured way) to broaden my own horizons.
I’m posting that snippet of praise (by blogger Bruce Baugh) because it sums up with enviable precision what I try to do in this space. It’s nice to think that I’m hitting the mark, at least some of the time. Thanks much, Mr. Baugh, whoever and wherever you are.
Mr. Pekar was inspired in the 1960s by a chance meeting with R. Crumb, the future dean of “underground comics,” who was then drawing greeting cards for a living in Cleveland. They met to trade old records, but when Mr. Crumb showed Mr. Pekar the quirky adult comics he was doing on the side, Pekar’s imagination caught fire. Crumb’s work, he noticed, was intellectual and satirical, but not realistic. Why couldn’t you have a “straight” comic book with a tone like Dreiser’s, or Celine’s, or Balzac’s? Thus was born American Splendor. Naturalism was coming to the comics page.
Meanwhile, in case anyone reading this site is for some reason still not regularly reading that site, Michael Blowhard takes l’affaire King-Hazzard in an interesting new direction, comparing how book people and movie people treat the relationship between art and trash. He does not find the book people’s way most productive, to put it mildly. Here are some out-takes:
In the world of books trash and art still don’t ride in the same section of the bus; the books mindset–at least the respectable-publishing mindset–is still segregationist. If the movie-world view is all about the vital connections between art and trash, and about how each is the lifeblood of the other, the book person’s imagination is taken up with the neverending struggle of art, talent and brains to do triumph over the forces of money, hustle and fame.
Also, of course, the simple fact is that, for many people, books equal school, while movies represent weekends, vacation, time off, romance and sex. And so living the books life becomes for many an attempt to continue living life as though in school. Here ‘s a Robert Birnbaum interview with the Boston Globe book reviewer Gail Caldwell . It’s an excellent interview, and Caldwell’s an excellent reviewer who does a first-class job. That said, what kind of person does she strike you as? She seems to me to be a born student, ever eager to sink her arms into her next assignment.
I find the gestalt of the book world oppressive; it gives me a pain and it makes me grumpy. I find the movie-person’s view of the arts much more congenial, whatever quarrels I may have with it. And I’m often left wondering: how can books people say of themselves that they love books when they look down their noses at 90% of the books that get published? They disdain not just Stephen King but also self-help books, visual books, and trash biographies; they relish little more than an intense discussion about what’s a “real book” and what’s not. (My staggeringly original response to this tiresome issue: They’re all books, for god’s sake.) IMHO, what books people love isn’t books; what they love is their own standards, and their fantasies about what literature should be.
I think that crime writers are, on the whole, better fiction writers than lit-fiction writers are. For one thing, they’ve got more respect for their readers’ pleasure; for another, they’re less bound up in their egos.
As usual at 2 Blowhards, the comments move the discussion forward vigorously. Speaking as a “book person” who has some difficulty observing this particular generic boundary, I find Michael’s comments compelling in the extreme.
Hall tells the epic story of the Lewis and Clark expedition from a variety of perspectives, but it’s Lewis and Sacagawea who steal the show. This is a historical novel that’s unflinchingly honest but doesn’t serve a political agenda. It describes the arc of a grand and thrilling journey, but views the progress through the halting, thwarted, damaged psyches of those who make it, one complicated step at a time. Sacagawea is a stifled philosopher, scarred by losses greater than any of her companions can imagine–if they ever bothered to try. Lewis is valiant, depressed, infatuated with the wilderness and his co-captain and tormented by the impossible demands placed on him by his president and, especially, himself. Hall’s portraits of these travelers are never less than utterly convincing and his sense of the strangely fruitful intersection of great deeds and human failings is unforgettable.
Somehow this book slipped under my radar, which is surprising because I thought Hall’s tour de force The Saskiad was one of the best American novels published in the last ten years.