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Archive for February, 2011

The Week in Review

with 6 comments

This morning I got an e-mail from a friend of mine, an actual person in actual publishing, that said something I’ve been sort of hearing on and off for a few years but never really took in before:

Print reviews, in magazines and newspapers, now seem to have absolutely no effect on sales.

To the extent that reviews have anything at all of an effect on sales, those reviews are online.  I’m not clear, quite yet, if he meant formal online reviews by online reviewers who make at least a long-range hobby of it, if not a career, or stuff like the reader comments on Amazon.

Oh, and while we’re on that one–what do I have to do to get some of you guys to post reviews of my books on Amazon?   I mean, please.  I end up with six people who hated the book for reasons I don’t understand, one perpetual pain in the ass who has “reivewed” every single one of the things as negatively as possible without having (as far as I can tell) having read them, and Harriet.  And I love Harriet, but she could use some help here.

Anyway, I read this e-mail, and it occured tome that I’ve bought exactly one book, ever, because of a reviewer’s judgment on it.

That’s one.  Singular.

The review was in the New York Times Book Review, and I don’t remember what the book was, except that it was some kind of thriller by a writer I’d never heard of.

I went out and bought the book the same day, because the review was so bad, it felt like a hatchet job.

And I was really angry on the writer’s behalf.

Unfortunately, the hatchet job was entirely justified.  So there was that.

That was almost two decades ago now.  Greg wasn’t born.  Matt was amall.  Bill was alive.

That said, I have in the years since sometimes bought a book because I saw it reviewed, but never because the reviewer did or didn’t praise it.   Reviews have mostly served to tell me one of two things:

Either there was a new book out by an author I get everything from

OR

There was a new book out by an author I didn’t know on a topic I cared about. 

Beyond that, reviewers seem to provide me with no information I’m interested in. 

My taste in books is idioscynractic, and unlike a lot of people I don’t read nonfiction by choosing only one side of the political divide and holding fast to it like letting go would mean giving up my oxygen.   I read Thomas Franks and Thomas Sowell, Victor Davis Hanson and Katha Pollitt.  Life is more interesting that way.

But it occurs to me that I don’t know anybody else who buys books on the recommendation of the New York Times, say, or The New Republic.   And one of the things I like about The New York Review of Books is that you don’t have to read the books they review, the “reviews” are actually long articles on particular topics with books to serve as jumping off points.  And the articles are interesting, if politically predictable.

But the thing is, I don’t know anybody else who makes decisions about which books to buy on the basis of what reviewers have to say about them.  Most of the people I know who get recommendations get them from friends, or their librarian or local bookstore person who’s known them forever, or on online forums like rec.arts.mystery. 

Maybe this was what my friend meant by reviews “online,” I don’t know.

Okay, maybe I should have asked more questions before I started writing this.

But here’s the thing–my friend sounded as if he hated this idea, as if it wasn’t a good one.

And I don’t know why not.

The problem in publishing has always been, it seems to me, the near impossible task of finding the target audience of a book and letting them know the book is there.

Maybe online reviews, peer to peer reviews so to speak, are taking over from the professional kind because they do a better job of telling readers what books are out there that they might want.

The problem with professional reviews, from what I’ve read over the years, is that, at least for me, they always seemed to be concerned about things I didn’t care about, and not at all concerned about things I did.

They also tended–in the high end review vehicles–to rave about books I would almost always find pedestrian when I actually got hold of them. 

And let’s face it.  As a reader, I’m far more receptive to the kind of fiction that makes a lot of noise in elite publications than a lot of readers are.

In the end, different readers are looking for different things in books.  What’s a “good read” to one person isn’t to another.

Lots of readers will say, as Bookwyrm did yesterday, that their choices are character driven–but not all readers want the same thing in their characters. 

I tend to be strongly draw to books with a sense of place, but it has to be the right kind of place.  I want urban, not rural.  I want sophisticated urban and not gritty dying industrial city.

And if I can’t have that, I want Greece.

I was never able to discover this kind of thing, except very peripherally, by reading book reviews.   And since my idea of a great book and the average reviewer’s were not really in line, I wasn’t able to find out of the book was “good” either.

So I think I’ll go with the idea that peer to peer reviewing–rather than professional reviewing–seems like a good idea. 

I’m not much interested in having a reviewer “form my taste,” which was part of the older system, and my guess is most other people aren’t either.

I am interested in finding new authors that I’d like but haven’t read, and I’m interested in finding readers who have never heard of me but might like what I do.

I figure we can get into the whole educated taste thing in other places, where it fits better than in the simple retail selling of books.

Written by janeh

February 11th, 2011 at 5:33 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Interlude Note

with 9 comments

So, here I am, you know, sitting in the office, wondering what I should be writing, if anything. 

I’ve gotten some work done, which is good.  On the other hand, I’m very distracted.  So there’s that.

Here’s the thing:  starting about the 2nd of January, my younger son started to complain of blurry vision.   Then he’d say he was okay.  Then he’d complain again.

This did not particularly worry me, because he was obviously getting around the house fine, playing video games, watching DVDs, all the rest of that stuff.  If anything was odd, it was that he wasn’t reading as much as usual, but he goes through phases where he doesn’t, so I was just mildly annoyed.

Then, about halfway through the month, he announced that he could no longer see anything at all except colors and shapes, all fuzzy and indistinct, and that he was “freaked out.”

Yes, well.  That’s putting it mildly. 

After that we went through two weeks of trying to get appointments with doctors and keep them. 

You have no idea what kind of a mess your life becomes when it puts down two feet of snow every five days for weeks at a time.   Appointments were made.  Doctors cancelled them. 

And in the meantime, my son got more and more frantic and so did I. 

The one hopeful sign was that he obviously wasn’t blind blind–he could (and can) see enough to get around at least in familiar places.   His pupils were obviously dilating normally when exposed to light.   If he got something close enough to his eyes, he could usually make it out.

But still.

The weather finally cleared up this week, more or less.  At least the snow banks down my front walk aren’t shoulder height any  more, and it isn’t snowing every time you turn around.

And we know what’s wrong with Greg’s vision:  cataracts, in both eyes.

In case you’re wondering, yes, this is a thing–a congenital condition, a rare one, but nowhere near as rare as some things.

Usually, it would have been caught at an earlier stage, because he would have been having increasing problems with his vision over time.

But he wasn’t.  As late as his last physical, his eye exam was perfectly normal and didn’t even suggest the need for glasses. 

Nobody thought to check for something like this because–well, why would you?  There’s nothing in his medical history of anything like it happening to anybody in the family.  He doesn’t have any of the conditions that can sometimes cause cataracts in children and adolescents (like diabetes).

Anyway, everybody tells me that I shouldn’t feel so badly about this, that it’s a minor operation (true) that is virtually always entirely suggessful (also true), that unless something extremely weird and at this point completely unexpected show up on the next round of tests, he’ll almost certainly get back his sight at least to the level it was when he lost it.

And all of that is true, but I’m freaked and upset anyway, and depressed as hell.

I’m worried about him and for him and feeling a little shell shocked all at the same time.

The last five years have been one avalanche of crises after the other, some of them solvable, some of them not.

You’d think  just the law of averages would bring some easing up somewhere, especially for Greg, who just seems to get hit with one damn thing after another.

Ah, but I know more about the law of averages than that.

Written by janeh

February 10th, 2011 at 10:44 am

Posted in Uncategorized

The Miss Muffet Chronicles

with 10 comments

Okay, I apologize for the title at the outset.  I’ve just woken up.  I haven’t got enough caffeine in me yet.  And the day is going to be really horrible–and could be worse than that.

But here’s the issue.

A woman named Barbara Fister–who writes mysteries published by SMP, and who is a librarian–has posted to Facebook a link to an article at The New Republic about gender bias in the reviewing of books.  The article is here, if you want to read it:

http://www.tnr.com/article/books-and-arts/82930/VIDA-women-writers-magazines-book-reviews?id=+4Ixqyghv2GJYy+6aW4JjJ691ls3vJalg7flkdXjliHKVdLUY5u+euGzvunArz5F

I will admit that I don’t generally pay attention to things like this, because I tend to think that they’re silly.  Publishing is one of the most woman-heavy professions available.  Women are editors, senior editors, publishers, publicists, writers, copyeditors, agents, reviwers  and even best sellers in numbers large enough to make the feminization of the field over the last thirty years fairly obvious to anybody who spends any time in it.

What’s more is that the great virtue of capitalism is that companies out to make money don’t usually give a damn if the people who make it for them are male or female, black or white, gay or straight, or trolls who normally live underground at Mount Vesuvius.  If you sell 25,000 copies in hardcover, you’ll get published, and you’ll get reviewed.  If you sell 100,000 or more, they’ll turn you into a movie star.  Sell like, say, J.K. Rowling–the single best selling author in the world today, and obviously female–and they’ll make you a god.

Goddess.

Whatever.

I have no idea if women are represented in equal numbers among the writers and reviewers of American fiction these days.  I do know that if they are not, it’s unlikely that the issue is gender bias. 

I would say there is a certain get-no-respect factor, but I’m not sure if that’s gender bias either.  In mystery fiction, for instance, women tend to be associated with cozies.  But cozies are very often badly written books, and would be no matter who read them.  And women who write better crime fiction–from Kathy Reichs to Laura Lippmann to P.D. James–get all the respect that anybody could ever want or need.

Well, okay.  No.  There’s never enough.  I get that.

But you see what I mean. 

It’s also true that the most woman-heavy genre of all–romance–gets the least respect of all, but it’s also true it’s the genre with the largest percentage of really bad books, and the only one that forces a large percentage of its writers into the straitjacket of a “tip sheet.” 

So I’m fairly sure that, if there is gender disproportion in the publishing of modern American fiction, it does not result from gender bias in any straightforward definition of that term.  It’s not entirely possible that we are all subconsciously programmed to recoil at the sight of a woman’s name on a book, but I don’t know how we’d test for that.

Now, I will admit that part of the reason why I don’t read articles like the one Barbara Fister posted is that these things–the realities of women in the publishing world I’ve known for 30 years–seem so obvious to me that I can’t understand how anybody could fail to notice them without being terminally addled. 

It was a good thing I read this one, though, because there was a good reason why the writer of it couldn’t recognize the realities I saw.

She couldn’t recognize them, because she wasn’t looking at them.

And, in fact, neither was anybody else connected to the project she was discussing.

The first thing the writer of this article did was to exclude all genre fiction from consideration.  Then she proceeded to exclude all fiction that was “obviously commercial.”

I’m not talking about cook books and self help books and that kind of thing.  She later excluded those, too, but given what it was she was trying to prove, she had a point there.

But by restricting “publishing and reviewing fiction” to “publishing and reviewing self-consciously literary fiction,”  she changed the very industry she was claiming to examine. 

Literary fiction in the United States today is not only a separate genre–and it is, by and large, a genre–but is as well a separate industry, distinctly apart from the rest of publishing and running by very different rules.

In what I think of as “normal publishing,” a writer writes what matters to her in the way she thinks works best, and a publisher publishes because she believes the book can find an audience.  Then the book goes out into the world.  Then the book goes out into the world.  Everybody but the writer forgets it ever existed.  It does or does not find an audience.  The writer publishes another book, or doesn’t.  The publisher publishes that book or doesn’t.   The agents all get heartburn.

I’m the first to say that publishers are lame to cringingly awful at knowing how to sell books.  Authors are often left to try to market their books themselves.  Publishers often pick “surefire best sellers” that crash dismally in the stores and mark their writers as one more career wrecked by a million dollar advance.

It’s one of the reasons why I’ve never been the kind of writer who tries to push for more and more advance money irrespective of how well I’m earning out.  

On the other hand, I’m not sure that all the publicity in the world will really sell books.  There’s certainly a way to manufacture a best seller–once or twice for an author.  Because if the author whose sales are artifically inflated turns out not to be writing what anybody wants to read, she will in the long run crash and burn.

The writing and publishing of literary fiction is not like this.

For one thing, it has an established credentialing system.  Writers of popular fiction, genre or otherwise, do all kinds of things before they sit down to write their books.  They’re insurance salesmen and housewives and librarians and engineers and just people who like to read and think they’ve got something they can try out on computer.

For literary fiction, and for a reviewing spot on one of the magazines or journals that review such fiction, the path is much narrower.  Solid majorities of present day literary writers have been through one of the writing programs.  The Iowa MFA is the best, but there are plenty of others around these days.  Agents who handle literary fiction and editors interested in publishing it know these programs and are regular participants in the endless “writer’s conferences” they stage. So are the editors of the little magazines that usually provide the first platform for such writers in print.

If o\you are a literary writer who has never been published and wants to be, your best chance it to get into one of these programs and show your work to the visiting editors who come through every once in a while looking for new talent.

And if you want to get into one of these programs, your best chance is to have a very particular kind of undergraduate experience–the Ivies are nice, but even better are the small, pricey liberal arts colleges with reputation for being serious about the quality of education.  Smith and Wellesley.  Kenyon and Swarthmore. 

And yes, okay, Vassar, because I have to own up to my own.

Most of you by now know where I’m going with this, so I won’t be coy.  What is going on here is not a gender bias, but a class bias–with class defined not as the income bracket from which your family came but as a set of attitudes, tastes and experience shared among a cohesively comprehensible set of people.

Because the trick is this:  if you go this route, you can be sure that the editors who buy your work and the reviewers who review it will have virtually the same educational background, the same tastes in everything from music to what to drink with dinner, and the same life experiences in general. 

If you go this route, you major in English at Swarthmore, go for an MFA at Iowa, have your worked looked at by visiting editors from Granta and then published there, have your work discussed at editorial meetings of little magazines and literary journals until there’s a “buzz,” meet your agent at the Christmas party at the The Kenyon Review, sell your first book to an editor at Knopf who knew your agent’s roommate when they were both at Breadloaf, and get your book reviewed by a guy who was one of four English majors at Vassar before he moved to New York and went to work for serious magazines.

Okay, I’m being snarky, and I admit it.

I’ve got nothing against colleges like Swarthmore and Kenyon, I went to one.  I even majored in English.

My point, though, remains, and that is that we have erected an institutional framework for “literary fiction” in this country that is very good at making sure certain people get published and make a living at it, but that is really, really bad at producing writers who will be, in any sense at all, “important” in the long run.

It is also an institutional structure that must be negotiated like any other bureaucratic career path.

And that means that it attracts people with personalities congenial to such a career path.

And that career path is almost certainly likely to get you fewer women on any level than would have been there with a looser, less rationalized route to success. 

It’s also likely to get you a lot of excruciatingly boring, determinedly mediocre books.

Look, let’s make a little sense here.

First, women tend to get derailed on their march toward careers more than men do, for a number of reasons not all of which are “sexism.” 

Second, the chief problem with bureaucratized career paths to writing “literature” is that they force the potential writer into a narrow, myopic, self-referential world whose paramenters start to look like “truth” because none of the people inside them knows anything about what goes on in the outside world.

The old cliche about writers “learning about life” by taking off on a tramp steamer might have been silly, but it was a better paradigm for what it takes to be a good writer than three years in the Iowa Masters of Fine Arts program. 

Jonathan Franzen, Ann Beattie, Sue Miller, Alice Hoffmann all write beautiful, perfectly crafted prose, but they all seem to be writing about the same people doing the same things.  And what’s worse, when they do try to venture out into the world of convenience store clerks, local trash collection businessmen and people who go to Die Hard movies, they all seem to meet the same stereotypical stock types.  Everyday office workers are alienated and deeply disastified with their lives.  People who work at McDonald’s are either brain dead stupid or else sad sack cases of people who got degrees in Slavic Literature and couldn’t find a job.   Even people who say they believe in God don’t really.  People who are dedicated to religion are hypocrites, lusters after power, or worse.

No work of modern literary fiction will ever give you a world in which God exists as a real presence, or where businessmen live satisfying and fulfilling lives, or where working class people have good and cogent reasons (not racism, not stupidity) to identify with the Tea Party.

For better of for worse, the last forty years have seen American literary fiction become a hothouse genre with not only limited appeal–these are, after all, the people who think “accessibility” is a problem–but with limited scope as well.

Part of the reason I’m not worried about a lack of gender equity in the writing, publishing and reviewing of these books–assuming such lack of gender equity actually exists–is that I think they’re largely irrelevant to the writing and reading in America today, or any other day.

A hundred years from now, people may still be reading Stephen King, of J.K. Rowling.  They will not be reading Jonathen Franzen or Ann Beattie.

Popular fiction produces a lot of total crap, but it does that for the same reason Babe Ruth held the all-time records for most strike-outs as well as most home runs.

You can’t hit a home run unless you swing at the ball, and most of the chances you take will turn out badly.

American literary fiction stopped taking swings at chancy balls a long time ago.

Written by janeh

February 8th, 2011 at 9:14 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Clarified Butter

with 7 comments

It’s the start of one of those long and complicated days, which is going to be followed by an even longer and more complicated day tomorrow.  And, of course, I’m not getting any sleep.  But the end result of taking a week end is that you wake up Monday morning having to worry about things again, so here I am.

Today I’ve got teaching followed by two interviews and a meeting.  Tomorrow I’ve got doctors’ appointments.  It gets to the point where I don’t know what I’m doing, even though what I’m doing has the potential to ease up the situation here on at least some points.

I’ll keep my fingers crossed, which is what I do instead of pray.  Hey, Isaac Asimov used to knock wood. 

As to the present run of conversation:

Robert says I want to hear from somebody who witnessed the Crucifixion and Resurrection but did not believe.

That would be nice, but what I was really asking for was a lot less.  There were other events that are supposed to have occurred, according to the Gospels,  at the time of the Crucifixion.

For instance, there was, by the Gospel reports, an earthquake.

An earthquake is a public event.   Even people in the area who had never heard of Jesus and knew nothing about his Crucifixion should have experienced the earthquake if it happened. 

So far, however, there is no evidence that anybody not connected with the Gospel movement ever experienced this earthquake.  There are no official records of it.  There are no diary entries.  There are no letters–gee, Livia, you wouldn’t believe the shake out we had here yesterday.

It seems to me that, with all the archeology we’ve done in that area in the intervening centuries, we would have come across something, somewhere that would amount to an independent verification of what would have been a very public event.

And, like Schleimann finding Troy, we may stumbled across just that at some point in the future.  It seems to me to speak to the unreliability of the Gospel story, however, that we haven’t yet.

That said, I do get Robert’s point about the Jews.  It’s not just that they’ve survived as a culture–and a very distinct culture–while being run over by one conquering mass after another.  It’s that they’ve inspired, over those same centuries, a really remarkable history of being the target of people who desperately want to wipe them off the planet and who take a good shot at doing so.

Genocidal anti-Semitism precedes Christianity in the area we now call Germany and Austria by at least 500 years. 

And it’s not true that the Romans didn’t care what the Jews did.  They cared quite a bit, mostly because the Jews would not sacrifice to Roman gods.  That mattered because Rome didn’t see sacrificing to Roman gods as a matter of belief, but as a statement of loyalty to the empire.   The idea that anybody would refuse because of a “belief” just seemed ridiculous to them–so if the Jews were refusing, I had to be because they were fomenting rebellion against Roman authority.

Then there’s the nearer history, the history of pogroms and persecutions throughout Europe during the Christian era–forced out of England wholesale in the Middle Ages, restricted in where they could live and what they could do for a living, killed wholesale on a whim or forced into exile because the latest plague must have something to do with the fact that those horrible Jews who killed Christ lived in your capital city. 

Never mind the Spanish Inquisition, which we tend to forget was directed not against “heretics” in general but against both practicing Jews and “conversos,”  Jews who had converted to Christianity but were suspected of not really meaning it and being Jewish in secret.  After all, they still had so much money…

And then we have Hitler and Stalin both.

It’s a remarkable history, and unique in the world.   And it continues as we speak, with half the population of the planet declaring they’re going to drive Israel into the sea and a fair minority of that same population saying that their goal is to wipe every last Jew out of existence.

I wouldn’t call it a miracle, but I think it’s a remarkable thing anyway.

As for “God is too big and beyond me for me to expect to understand Him,” it always seems to me to be a euphemism for “shut off your brain and don’t think.” 

My brain is all I have.  It’s the only tool for survival I’ve been given.  If I don’t know something and I want to find out, I have to use that brain to figure it out–and what violates the laws of logic is probably not the best way to go.

If I can find no sensible explanation for why, in a world supposedly created and sustained by an omnipotent and  benevolent God with the best interests of his creatures always in mind, three year old children die in horrible pain from incurable cancers, good and decent people are swept away in tsunamis and hurricanes, and raging, destructive sociopaths win multistate lotteries while their upright next door neighbors see their houses lost to foreclosure–well, the most sensible thing for me to do is to conclude that God may or may not exist, but if He does exist, he is either not benevolent or not omnipotent.

Nothing else fits the facts as I know them, and I have to go by the facts as I know them.

That said, I am here to report that much of Book XII of Augustine’s City of God reads like a compendium of mid-twentieth century science fiction plots.   We have multiple universes, multiple alternative universes, universes that reincarnate generally and universes that reincarnate specifically.

In case you haven’t run into those last two–a universe that reincarnates generally starts a life cycle, lives it through, and then regenerates and does another life cycle.  A universe that reincarnates specifically does the same, except each and every succeeding universe contains the same people and the same events in the same order as the one before it.

Then there’s a lot about the nature of time, what it means to be outside time, what it means to be inside time, what time travel would mean–and that part sounds a lot like Dr. Who.

I’ve said once or twice that part of the importance of studying intellectual history is learning where our ideas came from.  I don’t know if your standard twenty-first century science buff would be happy or annoyed to find that he’s not said anything very different from a bunch of guys living in 410 Rome who thought that what they were doing was being heretics–but here we are.

I wonder why this kind of speculation disappeared for so long from the culture at large, and only started popping up again in the nineteenth century. 

Whatever the reason, most of Augustin’s Book XII could be reprinted in Analog as an overview of science fiction concepts about the nature of the universe and the nature of time–and nobody would know the difference.

I have to go be sensible.

Written by janeh

February 7th, 2011 at 6:57 am

Posted in Uncategorized

The Good News is the Bad News is the Good News is…Whatever

with 6 comments

I am sitting at this computer this morning  feeling more addled that I can say.  I’ve only been up since eleven, which is something I never do.  In this case, however, it’s not that I decided to sleep in and now feel sluggish because of it.

What happened was that our power went out last night around half past twelve, and I got up at one forty five to find that my two sons were sitting up in the living room together, waiting for it to go back on again.

My younger son has been having vision problems lately, and he didn’t want to go upstairs in the dark.  My older son was keeping him company until there was light to see with.

I ended up downstairs, too, and we called the power company to see what was going on.  The automated system cheerfully informed us that our power would go back on by “seven fifteen a.m.”

I managed to stay downstairs and awake until seven fifteen came and went without any sign of the power.  Then I went back to sleep while Matt stayed down until the sunlight was absolutely blazing.   I woke up again around ten to find that the power was still not on.  I turned over and was finally awoken by the sound of the water in the heating pipes suddenly circulating.

That’s how I got here.

I’m going through all this just to make sure that you understand I might not be all that coherent.    Also, the typos might be worse than usual.

But to answer John–Augustine had the same answer for the problem of evil every Christian writer I’ve ever read has had–God is too big for you to understand, just trust that this all makes sense in the end, and you’ll know eventually.

It’s the kind of thing that, in general, just makes me crazy.  Too much of the discussion about religion with religious people depends on arguments that rely on the nonbeliever having an artificially restricted set of options.

Either think the universe is full of chance and circumstance and radically meaningless, or take this on faith and believe that there is a God who will make sense of it in the end.

This would be a weak argument even if the only two alternatives were atheism or Christianity.  It’s something worse than that when you start to take into consideration all the other religions that require you to take on faith whatever it is they have to offer.

If I stick to a very strick rule of no double standards–once I’ve set a standard of belief, I have to apply it evenly to all comers–I find myself in a position where I am unable to choose between any of them.

If I decide that it is legitimate to take the word of believers for what they have seen and experienced, absent any other evidence, then I have to take the testimony not only of Mark and John and Luke and Matthew and Paul, but of the prophets of Islam and the seers of Hindusim as well.

Many people from many traditions claim to have witnessed miracles and talked to God.  

Robert said, last time I discussed this here, that you have to determine which of the witnesses you’re listening to is the most credible. 

But I see no way of proving that the witness of Paul is more credible than the witness of Mohammed, or vice versa. 

All I can judge, at this late stage of the game, is what has resulted from the fact that other people have believed them.

And the witness of history–which is what that is–is not negligible. 

The problem is, it’s also not decisive in determining the credibility of the witnesses to the Resurrection.

I am certainly more attracted to where Christianity got us than I am to where Islam got the other people over there,  but that does not prove that Christ actually rose from the dead or that when He died the graves opened and the dead walked.

And although the absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence, it bothers me that there is no third party, non-faith-connected witnesses to any of these things.  Surely if these things had really happened, somebody, somewhere would have taken notice of them, if only to say “Gee, the other day in Jerusalem, the oddest stuff happened.”

But in the end the simple nature of the world, the way in which truly terrible things happen to anybody at all at random, and good ones do too, convinced me, more and more, that if we ever do find a way to prove that God exists, the God that does exist will not be the one described in Christian doctrine. 

I think this universe is possessed of a lot of things, but a benevolent creator is not one of them.

I’m going to go watch something cheerful, like a slasher movie.

This morning, with my schedule all turned around, I drank tea and listend to Beethoven’s Eroica.

That, from the same culture that gave us the three H trio of totalitarianism–Hegel, Heidigger and Hitler–and then threw in Marx for good measure.

Written by janeh

February 6th, 2011 at 2:54 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

When Good Things Happen to Bad People

with 3 comments

Every once in a while, when my life is going completely haywire, I do something I call “taking the week-end.”   What “taking the week-end” means is this:  from the time the mail arrives on Friday afternoon, until I wake up Monday morning, I just stop thinking about all the things I have to think about. 

If the writing is going well, I will write–but if it isn’t, I’ll let it lie.  I’ll listen to music.  I’ll read.  I’ll run DVDs if there’s anything I want to see.  I’ll even post a status on Facebook, although I don’t get over to Facebook all that often.

What I won’t do is try to solve the problems I have to solve.  That’s mostly because I’ve gotten myself into a psychological state where I couldn’t solve them if I worked on them for forever and a day.  The stress has set in to the point where it’s beginning to bleed into panic.   Once the panic sets in, I can’t do anything.

I bring all this up because I am, at the moment, in the middle of “taking the week-end.”   This means a lot of things, but what it means for this blog is that I’m likely to blither away on subjects that don’t have any direct connection to anything else I’ve been talking about.

Or, you know, not.  The theoretical point of this exercise is to let my mind float, to let it just do what it wants.  That was, I might unkink enough to think, and sometimes I manage to unkink enough to subconsciously solve a few of the problems. 

In that last case, though, the chances are good that I’d subconsciously solved them all along, and just hadn’t been able to access the information.

All that said, let’s take a look at this day for a moment.

First, the music that’s playing behind my head was written by a man named Francesco Geminiani, an Italian composer from the late seventeenth, early eighteenth century, the student of a man named Archangelo Corelli.

I know almost nothing about Geminiani except that I really like this CD set I’ve got, and I’ve got that by accident.  Years ago, I used to belong to one of those classical music of the month clubs,  and the Geminiani came as one of those selections I forgot to stop.

I know that the music on these two discs is supposed to have been written as a kind of homage to Geminiani’s teacher, but Corelli’s works seem not to have been preserved, except for one, and that in an “expansion” written by Geminiani himself.

I know that Geminiani spent most of the last part of his life in England, where he found the musicians so crude that he refused to have anybody play the harpsichord during concerts of his work except for Handel.

Which is, you know, a nice stipulation if you can get it to stick. 

It’s all chamber music for strings here, though, and no harpsichord that I can tell.  Part of me thinks I should to out and find more work by this person, and maybe find more harpsichords because of it.

Beyond that, I am, indeed, still reading Augustine–and when I’m done, I’m going to turn this book into a coffee table, because it’s big enough.

But the reading has brought up a couple of things that interest me.

Book XI, the first of Part Two, turns out to be a discussion of the opening chapters of Genesis, in an attempt to answer the objections to it from the neoPlatonists.

By neoPlatonists here, I do not mean what Augustine was.  Many Christian theologians of Augustine’s day and after were “neoPlatonists” in the sense that they say Plato and his successors as the closest the pagans came to Christian truth, and in the fact that they took over many technical philosophical terms and their definitions from the Platonic schools.

The neoPlatonists Augustine is debating in Book XI, however, are either pagans, or sort of quasi-pagans who believe that paganism is the best choice of religion for the common people of Rome.  They are all non-Christians, and some of them are anti-Christians.

And that’s how we get to Augustine explicating the opening chapters of Genesis.

The neoPlatonists, it seems, made exactly the same arguments as many people make now, so exactly the same that it can be a little disorienting to read them.

There is, for instance, the question of what a “day” was and how there could have been “days” when the sun and the moon weren’t created until Day 4.   I want to send the whole book–well, Book XI, which isn’t all that long–to the people who put up that Creation Museum in Kentucky.

I’d do it if only to prove that Christian have not “always” interpreted Genesis the way they do.  American “Bible based” churches notwithstanding, it has not been the case that it has everywhere and always been necessary for people to be either stupid or ignorant in order to be Christian.

But the thing that strikes me the hardest came in Book X, and it has to do with something I’ve never thought of in quite this way before.

It has long been a question of why bad things happen to good people–why people who are decent, hardworking, honest, honorable, and in all ways anybody can see upstanding end up getting awful diseases, losing children to accidents, seeing their entire life savings wiped out by a financial crisis they couldn’t have forseen unless they’d been God himself.

The Calvinists solved this by saying that only God knew who was among the elect, and the elect were forordained from all eternity, but that we could know who they were because they would in fact have blessings on this earth.   People who had all that awful stuff happen to them were not, in fact, good people, even if they managed to fake the appearance of being so in the limited vision of their fellow human beings.

I suppose I could go on at length about why that was always a minority point of view in Christianity–or any other Western religion or philosophy–but what interests me is what happens when you turn this upside down.

I’ve always said that although it’s impossible to prove that God does not exist, it’s not impossible to prove that the God of the Christians does not exist–that a God defined as all-good and all-knowing who always has our best interests at heart is almost certainly not true.

The old counter of “of course He’s true, you’re just too limited to understand the way the mind of an infinite being works” won’t wash, either.   It’s just a way of saying “I don’t get it either, but I’m going to believe it anyway.”

And in the Christian tradition with which I’m most familiar, such an argument one of the most basic elements of dogma–the idea that any person, even if he has not been made acquainted with revelation, or is in a state of invincible ignorance towards it–can come to the knowledge of God and His True nature and the basics of His moral law “by reason alone.”

Turn around that thing, though–why do bad things happen to good people?–and you get, “why do good things happen to bad people?

And that question is, in its way, considerably more infuriating than the first one.

It’s not just that God, if He exists, allows good and decent people to get cancer, lose their life savings, or be drowned in tsunamis. 

It’s that, at the same time, He allows violent thugs to win multi-million dollar lotteries, child molestors to rise in the ranks of corporations, and complete jerks to sail through life without so much as a bad cold while nice people die young of cancer and generous people get hit by busses when they’re twenty-two.

All this is perfectly comprehensible if the universe is a place of chance and circumstance, and luck is truly random.

But I think it also is a perfectly good argument against intelligent design of any kind, unless the intelligence doing the designing is either a sociopath or a victim of ADD so bad He can’t concentrate for longer than a nanosecond on any one thing.

 You can put that down next to dental caries in the list of things that make me believe–about God and the nature of the universe–what I believe.

Written by janeh

February 5th, 2011 at 10:25 am

Posted in Uncategorized

A Weird Thing

with one comment

So, I’m  not so much writing a blog post today as I’m waiting out a period of time while I see if students will come in and save their asses.  Probably not, but where there’s life, there’ s hope.  And  this is my last day with these students, so I’m feeling generous.

I’m also feeling more than a little aggravated, because this morning I encountered the closest thing I get to writer’s block.  It’s been years–since right after Matt was born, to be exact–since I’ve experienced full blown writer’s block.  That’s a good thing, but it’s horrible, and I wouldn’t want to go through it again.

What I get instead these days is a thing where I write a passage over and over and over and over again and it just never sounds right. 

This almost always occurs when I’m introducing a character.  The more important the character is, the more likely I am to hate everything I write from that point of view for at least a few days.

But it doesn’t have to be actually introducing a character for the first time ever.  I have this problem when I start new books in the Gregor Demarkian series, with Gregor himself.  I write it, I hate it, I write it again.  And it always sounds wrong in that strange inner ear where I hear the music of prose.

Okay, there isn’t a lot of music to my prose.

But there it is, and so today and yesterday I spent spinning my wheels, and I still don’t know what I’m supposed to do about it.

That said, I want to correct an impression from a post from a few days ago, and it’s sort of on the same kind of subject maybe.

Well, it’s about “popular” writers.

When I say that you’re as likely to find meaning and substance in “popular” writers as well as in “the high art tradition,” at least as it is found in contemporary work–I mean that some contemporary “popular” writers are in the high art tradition.

Stephen King certainly is.  I think he’s the only writer now working I’d expect to last a hundred years.

I also happen to think that almost none of the contemporary literary stuff is in “the high art tradition,” or anything else–what we have no is basically a very cleanly well-written genre with not a lot of interest to much of anybody outside the closed world of people who write it and teach it.

I’ll say it again–neither the canon nor the high art tradition is defined by, or determined by, universities or Departments of English. 

Teachers of English literature are largely hangers-on (and sometmes parasites) of a world that does not find school congenial, and never has.  Hemingway and Capote never saw the inside of a college classroom.  Fitzgerald and Faulkner spent most of their time drinking there. 

And, aside from Gatsby, I’m not sure Fitzgerald belongs in the high art tradition either.

It’s getting to the point where I’d be willing to abolish all the literature departments, if only so that the rest of us could go on reading and writing, which is the point of the thing to begin with.

Okay, I’m in a weird mood, and sitting in an uncomfortable chair.

I think I’ll go make tea.

Written by janeh

February 4th, 2011 at 11:06 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Lost in Translation

with one comment

So, you know, every once in a while comments actually do what I want them to do, and that makes everything easier.

Robert complains–if I’m reading him right–that obviously there is no such thing as the summum bonum, because obviously different people are made happy by different things.  Sadists and masochists are made happy by things the rest of us would find abhorent. 

But this is, actually, a perfect example of the sea change in thinking that I was talking about–“happiness,” for Augustine, for Aquinas, for Plato, for Aristotle, was not about “feeling good and jolly.” 

They would have labeled that “pleasure,” and they would have had no trouble accepting that different people got pleasure from different things. 

Happiness was something considerably more complicated–a conviction of the rightness of your pursuit of the good life, with the good life defined as “the highest possible way of life available to man as a human being.”

And they would have said man, not man and women.

In a way, the classical philosophical idea of “happiness” is like the classical Christian idea of “faith”–it refers not to an emotion, but to an act of the will.

The problem with pleasures, for Augustine (and Plato, and Aristotle, and the Stoics) is both that it is fleeting, and that in being fleeting it so often ends in disaster.

Happiness, in this kind of writing and in this tradition, is by definition something that lasts.  The great danger, for human beings, is that they will mistake their momentary pleasures for happiness, and therefore end their lives in a muddle of compromises and corruptions.

I do not think that this amounts to inventing something that isn’t real.  I know the distinction in my own life, and I can see it around me in the lives of other people. 

I don’t think it’s that difficult a distinction to make. 

I do think it’s become very unusual to think of our lives this way, or to think of human life at all as something which we need to work to live up to.

The battle cry these days is that we have a right to “be ourselves,” by which we mean be whatever it is we have an impulse to be right this second.  We look at what the Greeks would have called “passions” and declare them as immutable attributes of our core identities.  The worst thing in the world we can say to another human being is that we don’t accept them as they are.

But the philosophers of antiquity and the early Christian theologians didn’t want to be accepted as they were, nor did they think it was a good thing to accept people as they were.

The human being in the raw was not a very good thing. He was subject to passions that burst out of him and overtook his will.  It took a long training in self-restraint and self-control to even begin to give him some semblance of freedom of action, to make it possible for him to choose what he did rather than be carried away on the storms of his passions.

Happiness lay–for the pagans and the Christians alike–in the attainment of that self control. 

The summum bonum, for the pagans,was the rational and examined life–a life lived by the force of one’s reason rather than one’s passions.

The summum bonum for the Christians was God, because only in a close relationship with God could man hope to conquer his passions and thereby become fully human. 

In both cases, the important thing, the issue, was the attainment of full humanity, and human-ness was defined in opposition to the less-than-human, the birds of the air, the beasts of the field.

Okay, I couldn’t help myself.  I just wanted to sound poetic for a minute there.  It’s a kind of fit that overtakes me every once in a while.

I think that there is good argument to be made about whether or not such a definition of the human is accurate.  We put a lot more emphasis on the ways in which human beings are like other animals these days than they did then, and we do it to some extent because they didn’t.   After twenty centuries of man as the rational animal, we might be due some down time on the examined front.

But the fact remains that in discussing the summum bonum, the issue is not if all men can be said to take pleasure in the same things. 

The issue is whether or not there is a definition of the human that all human beings should aspire to–something we are born with the potential for, but only with the potential for.

Aristotle and Plato, even most of the Roman writers, would have considered it shameful to accept themselves as they were born.  Augustine and Aquinas would have considered such a thing a surefire path to Hell.

Capitalized, because, as William F. Buckley once said, Hell is a place, like Scarsdale.

I do think that we’ve lost something in not being able to think about our lives this way, and the lives of all human beings this way.

We’re left with calling the sadists “happy,” even when their sadism lands them in jail for fifty years.

Written by janeh

February 3rd, 2011 at 6:52 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Summum Bonum

with 3 comments

It’s been an odd few days.  For one thing,  the weather has been awful, and beyond awful.   First there was snow, then there was more snow, then there was ice, now there’s more snow coming.   Doctor appointments have gone down the tubes.  The schools are all closed.  The temperatures resemble nursery school counting games.

This morning, we’re socked in for the second day straight, and there’s a good chance we won’t be able to get out again until sometime tomorrow afternoon.

I’m less worried about that than I might have been on another date, since the next doctor’s appointment is late tomorrow afternoon, and yesterday we decided to approach the immobility with a little genius.

Or, you know, self  indulgence.

We had in the freezer a 22 pound turkey, bigger than the one we cooked at Thanksgiving.  We thawed it out, stuffed it, and cooked it, which made a very nice dinner for last night and will probably due for lunch and dinner today and lunch tomorrow.

And now it’s early morning, and I’ve got tea and Mozart’s Jupiter Symphony.  Not bad. 

Not having to go out and do things is one of the great boons of human existence, at least in bad weather.

It’s not, of course, the summum bonum.

In case you haven’t guessed, I’m still reading St. Augustine’s City of God.  I’m even almost halfway done, but only almost.   I am finally to a place where I don’t read a little of it, wander away, then come back to read a little more. 

And, of course, I’ve managed to do that just as Augustine got to Plato.

I’m not going to go on at length here about the state of late Antiquity’s love affair with convoluted formulas for explaining the nature of God.  If I’m honest about it, I have to say that the high Middle Ages weren’t much better.  Augustine proved that Plato could get you to formulas of being that would make any sane human being dizzy.  Aquinas proved that Aristotle could get you to the same place.

What I want to get to here is something I haven’t thought about in a long time, because I don’t think anybody thinks about it much anymore.  I can’t think of a single modern philosopher who mentions it.

It in this case would be the “summum bonum,” the sum of all good, the greatest good, the one thing necessary for happiness.

The idea was this:  it was thought (by Plato, by Aristotle, by the Stoics and Epicureans, by Augustine and Aquinas and Abelard) that we could identify the one, greatest good thing, the thing which the very possession of which would make us happy.

Modern philosophers, to the extent they can be called philosphers at all, seem to have all kinds of goals on their minds, many of them never stated.  They’re interested in ethics and morality.  They’re interested in politics. 

To the extent that they discuss happiness at all, it tends to be as a matter of taste.  Different things make different people happy.

Even modern philosophers who claim to follow ancient philosophers of one school or the other do this. 

A lot of modern secular philosophy, for instance, claims to build on the work of the Epicureans, but most of it lacks both the Epicurean passion for self-discipline and the Epicurean trust that there was one, single objective goal for all human beings if they wished to achieve happiness.

This aspect of philosophy as traditionally practiced always surprises me when I run across it–that the goal of every human being’s life was to achieve happiness and the purpose of philosophy was to help her achieve it.

Augustine and Plato would have made it more complicated than that, because for them “philosophy” was all of what we now call science–natural philosophy was the study of the natural world, including biology and chemistry and physics; moral philosophy was the study of the rules for right living; and rational philosophy was the quest for the summum bonum. 

By now, you all know how enamored I am of the idea that all knowledge is one–that mathematics and biology, physics and music, literature and art are all part of some bigger thing, all aspects of a single quality of being human.

Neither Socrates nor Augustine would have questioned that idea.  Hildegarde herself wouldn’t have questioned it.

But I want to get back now to that summum bonum, that idea that there is one good thing, the greatest good thing, and that all human beings must necessarily have that one good thing if they are to be happy.

It’s the opposite of the idea that different people have different things that will make them happy.   It’s the idea that only one thing can make any of us happy.

If you think about this a moment, it’s obvious what Christian philosophers like Augustine did with it–they declared that the summum bonum was God, and the only way any human being could be happy was to “possess” God.  They meant to attain to knowledge of Him and to be in communion with Him. 

But the idea of a summum bonun is not inherently religious.  Greek philosophers very unlike Plato in their mental habits agreed that such a thing existed.  They disagreed only about what it was, where it was to be found, and how it was to be obtained.

The issue was never if such a thing existed, but what it consisted of, and how to attain it.

I don’t inow why we no longer have an idea like this operating anywhere in our culture.   I don’t think the lack can be accounted for by the simple fact that we’ve all become much more secular in the modern age. 

The summum bonum disappears from philosophy sometime in the eighteenth century.  It’s certainly nowhere to be found in Hegel, although there are echoes of it in Kant.

These days, it’s as if the concept never existed–and, what’s more, as if the idea that “happiness” could have a definition that was not just “whatever feels good” has pretty much disappeared as well. 

I don’t know why that is.  I would think that it would be especially important to come to some kind of determination of these things if you were in fact secular, or even better atheist. 

One of the serious weaknesses in secular and atheist philosophy these days is its inability to confront the unhappy nature of too many lives–not just the neurotically unhappy nature of relatively rich people, but the unquestionably unhappy nature of people throughout the world. 

If the meaning of life is contained in the joy you experience in living it–which is pretty much what Paul Kurtz says–then there are a great many people out there living utterly and unquestionably meaningless lives.

What are we, after all, supposed to say to the child dying inexorably and painfully from cancer,  or the young mother gunned down in a genocidal war in Africa, or the masses dying of starvation or disease or any of a number of things throughout the world?

And even if we can come to some kind of answer to that–and on that particular intellectual path, I don’t think we can–we’d still have to contend with what it means to be happy.

What happened, in the end, to the summum bonum?

Written by janeh

February 2nd, 2011 at 7:45 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Transgressive

with 4 comments

So, here’s the thing.

Today, I ran across two articles, on subjects at least theoretically completely different, that in fact claimed things I think are pretty much alike.  The first of them is this one, posted in the comments by Mike Fisher:

http://www.physorg.com/news/2011-01-religiosity-gene-dominate-society.html

This is about religion, and the sentence that struck me the hardest was this one, right at the beginning:

>>>Even if some of the people who are born to religious parents defect from religion and become secular, the religious genes they carry (which encompass other personality traits, such as obedience and conservativism) will still spread throughout society…>>>

The second comes from today’s Arts and Letters Daily, and you can find it here:

http://chronicle.com/article/Narcissus-Regards-a-Book/126060/

I’m having a harder time finding a single sentence that sums up my problem with it, but we could try this one:

>>>Check out the best-seller lists, even in the exalted New York Times. See what Oprah’s reading. Glance at the Amazon top 100. Look around on the airplane. The common reader—by which I don’t mean the figure evoked by Dr. Johnson and Virginia Woolf, but the person toting a book on the train or loading one into his iPad or Kindle—the contemporary common reader reads for pleasure, and easy pleasure at that. Reading, where it exists at all, has largely become an unprofitable wing of the diversion industry.<<<

These things may not sound similar, but for me they have a distinct similarity in their reasoning, and it’s one I’ve seen other places on nominally different.

In the first article, for instance, the writer tells us that there are “other” personality traits that correlate to “religiosity”–“conservatism” and “obedience.”

But is this actually true of religious people in the US today?  Worldwide, maybe–I don’t know enough about the rise and spread of Islam, for instance, to tell–but American religious people seem to be “conservative” only if we use the world in the contemporary political sense, and not in its original meaning of trying to conserve something that already exists or exists as a tradition.

I’m not sure we could get to obedience at all.  The phenomenon I was talking about yesterday–what I call American folk Protestantism because I don’t know what else to call it–is the result of the opposite of obedience.   It’s a movement started by people who simply refused to swallow what their mainstream denomination churches were telling them and struck out on their own to do religion the way they personally thought best.

“Conservative” Christianity in America today is neither conservative nor obedient.  It is radical and defiant, and many of the individuals who comprise it retain their commitment to it at great personal and professional discomfort. 

Standing up for “conservative” Christian principles on a college campus these days can run you afoul of restrictive speech codes, get you tried in campus disciplinary courts and even get you expelled.  Standing up for those same principles in professional programs can get you barred from the profession, not just removed from the program.

And yes, there are indeed cases of all of those.

But the other thing such a statement in such an article does is to imply that the opposite is true of the groups outside the one the article is examining.

If “conservatism” and “obedience” are personality traits related to religiosity, then “liberalism” and “independence” must be personality traits related to lack of religiosity.

And I don’t think that’s provable either. 

The wider culture in the US is largely socially liberal.  The socially liberal college student has nothing to fear from his college’s orientation sessions or speech codes or civility protocols.  He is in tune with all his professors, and especially the ones at selective, elite schools.  He can enter any of the “helping professions”–teaching, social work, nursing–without having a single one of his preconceived ideas challenged.

There is no way to tell if a secular college student is thinking independently and liberally, or just going along to get along, with his “social liberalism” being just “upholding the status quo.”

And I fail to see how people who “accept evolution” just because science says so are being any less anti-intellectual, and anchored to dogma, than the people who accept creationism the same way. 

And those people do exist.  They exist more abundantly than anybody wants to admit.  I keep running across them in Internet forums, passionately “disproving” creationism and then wailing heartfeltly that they don’t actually understand evolution, but they wished they did.

The second article assumes that “high culture” is “hard” and challenges our assumptions about ourselves, while “popular culture” is easy and lets us wallow in unchallenged preconceived ideas about ourselves and our society.

But that doesn’t seem to me to be true, either.

For one thing, I doubt if most of the books we now consider part of the “high art tradition” were in fact difficult in their time.  To the extent that the Iliad or the Odyssey are difficult, it’s mostly because we no longer live in that time and place. There are assumptions about thousands of things–the relationships between men and women, the nature of marriage, the social status of actors–that we no longer share, and may be unaware that anybody ever held.

My students sometimes have a problem with that when reading Robert Browning’s “My Last Duchess.”   The poem is nearly undecipherable to anyone who does not understand that it was once customary to arrange marriages between families without really caring much if the bride wanted to match, or even if the bride and groom had ever met. 

Browning’s intended readers, however, would not have had that problem.  They knew how those things worked.  Browning was a popular writer in his time, not a “difficult” one.

But the bigger issue here is whether or not contemporary high and popular art conform to the article’s assumptions–that high art challenges our prejudices and assumptions and forces us out of our “comfort zones,” while popular art is all about easy escapist diversion that we never have to think twice about.

I think I can say, with perfect accuracy, that the present run of contemporary “literary” novels represents some of the most predictable and intellectual  hackneyed literature ever written. 

There is nothing in any novel by Jonathan Franzen, or Ann Beattie, or Cynthia Ozick that will cause the least intellectual, emotional or political discomfort to any denizen of Cambridge, Ann Arbor, New Haven, or Palo Alto.  All the residents of suburbia will be, at best, living lives of quiet desperation, all religious people will be either stupid or crazy, all popular culture will be corporate homogenization, all death will be painful and meaningless.

The other side of the coin is the idea that popular literature is about wallowing in narcissistic self-congratulation, never having any of our beliefs or values challenged, and never influencing the reader to change his or her life in an attempt to make it better.

But this is exactly what the people who love Harry Potter–the adults, now–say they are doing with that series.  And they say it consistently. 

What’s more, it’s what I have myself done with all kinds of literature, some of it popular and some of it not.  My guess is that the impetus to do that–to use fiction in whatever form as a template to see what else you could be but what you are–is an integral part of why anybody reads any kind of fiction, ever. 

Very few of us are truly and wholly satisfied with who and what we are. Very few of us don’t have a little place at the back of our heads going “do something else, be something else, get the hell out of here.”

I do think that we are all of us–high culture types and low; secular and religious–less likely to read things or watch things or listen to things that we don’t like, or don’t agree with.  That’s why so much of our public discourse is useless these days.  Each side builds straw man arguments because it has to.  Neither side is reading what the other side says.

That said, though, I think that there is at least as much to jar sensibilities in a good “popular” novel than in a “literary” one–hell, I should’t put it that weakly.

The best of Stephen King covers a wider range of human beings in a wider range of situations than anything any high art writer has done in decades, and maybe in the last century.   It is, of course, possible to read King while ignoring all that and just paying attention to the monsters–but the books aren’t really about the monsters, and never were.

Sometimes I think we’ve gotten to the point where we no longer write social analysis.  Instead, we outline the world the way we want it to be–religious people are stupid and conformist! secular people only want to screw and murder at will and not have to answer to God for it!–and say we’ve done a study.

The weather is miserable, and I need tea.

Written by janeh

February 1st, 2011 at 10:45 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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