Saturday, July 30, 2016

My Trip & Books Read

I mentioned how I'm trying to read more as I write even more (though admittedly less than before). I mentioned The Sympathizer, a book that was solid, but hasn't done well with my filter of time[1]. I suppose I hoped that it would say more than the standard semi-hawkish view, but it really didn't. 
Olympic National Park: this natural beauty did not help the books I read.


I also read Beowulf, and was thoroughly underwhelmed by it. I'm probably being unfair by comparing it to other epics, but I felt it rather weak and straightforward. It had nowhere near the complexity of the Iliad. Nor did it have a modicum of tension. Sad. And most likely an example of my own failings more than anything. But it was interesting to see certain memes and hopes that I remember from more simplistic times in the Army and certain jingoistic circles. 

So it goes. But my reach into the past has been a necessary (and on my part unwanted) move. I've been trying to see what my fellow contemporary writers are able to say. And so far much of it has been useless. I can see it in the reaction to modern day demagogues. All my fellow writers—at least those in the luxurious stables of the literary powers—seem to be too silly to think much through. I'm not surprised, just disappointed. 

Which brings me to another writer, Cynthia Ozick. My fiancĂ© bought her book since DFW [2] highly recommended it. I read a few essays of hers, and though one can also see her intelligence, it doesn't go anywhere. [3] Or rather, it shows much knowledge, but it seems to be in pieces, and if there's any underlying theory, it reeks of narrow-mindedness. 

This accusation of narrow-mindedness I felt immediately, but read on, as she is at least erudite. Still, a quick Internet search brought this gem of an essay to light and confirmed my suspicions [4]. That the New York Times soon after wrote a hagiography [5] about her, only further cemented my views about the literary gatekeepers of our times. 

So it goes. But it does make me wonder what to make of Ozick. I suppose I should read more of her work. That would only be fair. This would also extend to her the same open view she did to people in the past who were anti-semitic, but great writers. Or would that be capitulating? An interesting question that I hope to parse more in the future. What are your thoughts on the matter?


[1] Now, my partner claims that I cannot change my mind in such a way, but all books, and especially classics, tend to grow as the distance apart, in terms of time since last read, grows as well. Many books have a moment of glory, then fall apart as they don't speak to any deeper truths in life and don't resonate in the lives we live. Classics do resonate, even if we hate them. 

[2] I will read more of his work before I comment, but much that I've read borders on shallow. Very talented, but shallow. I still find it hard to believe that people think of him as one of the greats. Again, this reaction of mine probably speaks to my own prejudices as I can only imagine someone who subscribes to a  particularly benign suburban ideology would gain any insight from his words. Even his interviews seem lacking. That being said, people who are much smarter than I like him. So I must be missing something. What is it?

[3] That's not to say that you shouldn't buy or read her work. It still has much to it. Her essay on Dostoevsky is worth the price alone. 

[4] I'm not the only one to react in this manner to such an absurd essay that can, at best, be considered the product of a tribal mind. 

[5] Again, this isn't an original view, as others have had it. I would try to go so far as to highlight that very certain insider/establishment attitude in this article by the Times I've also seen in our election's reaction to Bernie and Trump, but that's far outside the purview of this post. 

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2 comments:

  1. Seems like you keep forgetting the one cardinal rule of all "famous" artists. Aside from some self-flagellation that the upper classes sometimes enjoy, the artists must not speak against them but amplify them. Read more about a post modern world and how all our trends aren't some miracle of random choice (and hence the best choice) but are instead the coming together of what powers want and what how easily the people choose what their lords want. Not a hard rule, but one that explains a lot.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Right. Thing is, even if this is true, there has to be some modicum of objectivity in someone's view of the world. Without that one is nothing more than a courtesan.

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