This is somewhat highbrow humor that's not so self-consciously erudite it makes you want to kill the author. The compilation features several academicThis is somewhat highbrow humor that's not so self-consciously erudite it makes you want to kill the author. The compilation features several academic essays that are worthy reads if you're interested in David Lynch movies, postmodern cultural analyses, and literary criticism (or just want to hone and enhance your vocabulary; but he's not obnoxious about his obscure wordings. He's having too much fun to be that uptight.) There are several standout essays that caused chuckles, then chortles, and finally loud guffawing as the richness of the imagery, irony, intelligence, and even sensitivity, of David Foster Wallace hit me. He writes with a mix of sociological curiosity and a deadpan hilarity about the Illinois State Fair and a Caribbean luxury cruise that causes him to feel "as bleak as I've felt since puberty, and [I] have filled almost three Mead notebooks trying to figure out whether it was Them or Just Me." And don't believe what you've heard about all of his footnotes. They enhance the humor, his stories, and are quite charming....more
First, a caveat: Strong Motion is not The Corrections. It does not deliver the scintillating prose, caustic wit, and epic scope of Franzen's NationalFirst, a caveat: Strong Motion is not The Corrections. It does not deliver the scintillating prose, caustic wit, and epic scope of Franzen's National Book Award winning later novel. It's an eccentric and lengthy book that, for better or worse, dons a variety of identities: suspense, romance, family melodrama, didactic political novel, bildungsroman, perhaps more. There are subplots and mere meanderings, but Franzen ties them all into the relationship between Louis Holland and Renee Seitchek, and especially Renee's role as a Harvard seismologist examining earthquakes that have recently disturbed the Boston area. Unwittingly, Renee manages to become involved in abortion protests, thus adding another element to Franzen's agenda, er, plot. The varying subplots of the novel would've been handled deftly, but there are simply too many coincidences that are just too convenient for the plot.
Strong Motion does, however, exhibit traces of brilliance, particularly in the characterization of Renee Seitchek, a 30 year old self-conscious seismologist who falls in love with the novel's 23 year old protagonist, Louis Holland. Franzen's attention to the nuances of Renee's struggle for identity are brilliant, as Renee ruminates on everything from egotistical and insular women who join "the sorority of child bearers" to being a "boring scientist who lives in a computer room but considers herself less boring than others like her because ten years ago she went to Clash concerts". Franzen certainly highlights the finer points of the spectrum of femininity.
It is with Louis, Franzen's austere protagonist, that the problem first begins. I cannot bring myself to like him. At all. He's a spineless, masochistic ham radio buff fluent in French. He's smart, occasionally witty, and has a hipster's palate for music (revealed in postcoital bliss as he questions Renee about her music habits: "Lou Reed? Roxy Music? Waitresses? XTC? The Banshees? Early Bowie? Warren Zevon?") Franzen has furnished him with the right amount of quirks, but Louis simply doesn't hold the novel together. He seems to float through it, swaying where Franzen's well-thought out plot diagram takes him.
There are other problems, too. This isn't exactly experimental, avant-garde fiction Franzen is writing, and yet the omniscient narrator decides to peer into the life of a raccoon for much of chapter 11. Admittedly, sometimes the veering of the narrator is humorous, but in chapter 13 readers get a brief history of the founding of America, complete with Jonh Winthrop and archane Elizabethan spellings. It appears that this is an attempt to add a more epic dimension to the novel, and a playful and pedantic use of English before the days of standardization.
The novel is not an epic, though it tries. Clearly, Franzen has a story with immediacy and scope that spans the range of American lives, particularly in the late 80s and early 90s at the dawn of abortion clinic bombings, the reawakening and strengthening of Christian fundamentalism, and the emergence of a more outspoken environmentalism coupled with questions of corporate responsibility. Franzen includes a Broadway dossier of characters with whom we can sing along for a few chapters, but ultimately, the characterization of these peripheral figures is stock. (Korean immigrant, vacuous Harvard MBAs, lecherous old man, Marxist professor, southern antiabortion minister) and Franzen quickly ends their stories with a sentence here and there in the whirring landfill that constitutes the last few pages.
It's always cool to like Burroughs, but I know of only one person who has actually managed to finish this book...There are so many better and more impIt's always cool to like Burroughs, but I know of only one person who has actually managed to finish this book...There are so many better and more important novels to attempt, that I just can't bring myself to plod through Burroughs's idiosyncratic (at best, me being nice)and mostly indecipherable writing....more
Hmmm...I can now talk basics about String Theory and physics at a cocktail party. Get me into anything more than general commentary, discoveries, famoHmmm...I can now talk basics about String Theory and physics at a cocktail party. Get me into anything more than general commentary, discoveries, famous names and famous theories, and I'm completely at a loss. Green is a likable and passionate author, but for readers without a physics knowledge base, his little treatise is tough going, even with all the Simpsons references. I remember the most important concepts, but the intricacies didn't stick with me. This book is best read in segments, preferably when you're completely lucid and can take notes. ...more
Essentially, America is one big hustla and corporatocracy has us in its death grip. Democracy, according to Berman, has come to mean the right to chooEssentially, America is one big hustla and corporatocracy has us in its death grip. Democracy, according to Berman, has come to mean the right to choose between Burger King and McDonald's or Target and Wal-Mart or other equally banal places where one can part from one's money. Furthermore, the sun is setting on the formerly flourishing American empire because our literacy levels and basic cultural and historical knowledge are declining; our youth all want to be celebrities and can barely write coherent sentences or read over a middle school grade level. His evidence for this isn't always what I imagine discerning readers would like, but we've all seen the idiocracy for ourselves in all probability. I want to say this is all alarmist bunk from a crotchety malcontent (after all, who hasn't been crying the end of some culture or another at pretty much every point in history?), and I suppose it is indeed bunk to some --- but only if you're fine with slogans replacing nuanced thinking, buying and branding replacing true choice and self-awareness, and knowledge and education as pure commodities, to be bought and sold like anything else.
The problem is that no period in history has had a population full of intellectuals or even literate people. And haven't folks always wanted material goods and to be either aspirational consumers or conspicuous ones? Berman is right, though, to emphasize that the extent corporations have provided bread and circus for the population is now hindering real thought and action, that this "democratizing of desire" has virtually swept the population adrift. All of this allows the wealthy to become even wealthier and virtually purloin the American economy, according to Berman.
He convincingly argues that the decadence of the U.S. parallels that of Rome in its decline, but that premise is staid and nothing new, honestly. More interesting is his solution to the demise of an intellectual America: a scattered class of New Monastic Individuals (NMIs) who reject corporate consumerism and business and commercial success to embrace the liberal arts and a life lived away from celebrity culture, malls, and 24 hour news cycles.
I like the NMI idea, but I also like activism, and Berman is unwilling to consider that civil disobedience, protest, and alternative news sources,among other things,can begin to awaken people from a corporation and commodities- induced zombie state. (We should not go gentle into that goodnight!)
Admittedly,I was fairly appalled by Berman's wholesale dismissal of postmodernism and multiculturalism/political correctness (his rebuttal might be that I can't see past the cultural constructions that I've been subjected to. You see how these rebuttals could go on and on and on...ad infinitum) As with anything, there are ridiculous extremes to these movements, but there are valuable elements to these -"isms" and, in fact, -"isms" can be productive. For example, in Berman's diatribe against them and group identification, he rails against women describing themselves as "feminist", saying that an NMI would call herself an "independent woman", not a feminist. It seems to me that cohesive communities of like-minded people are useful to the political life of a nation as well as the soul of a person, and where I come from (rural KY) I find a fearless identification with what is viewed as subversive and abnormal important (i.e. feminism to those in the bible belt). One can be a critical and independent thinker and still find group identities important and more than simply labels, as long as a dialectic is possible and the groups don't become ideological straightjackets.
This book, though, has changed my reading list for the next few years and further inspired me in my thus far pitiable and inadequate attempts to renounce (at least partially) Feudalism 2.0. I am inspired to take bits and pieces of Berman's New Monastic Individual idea and combine that with other philosophies and values I find important. ...more