There may be none, outside of perhaps Rabelais, who may so decorously handle the refuse of the world. The Devil's Dictionary is a guidebook for the mi...moreThere may be none, outside of perhaps Rabelais, who may so decorously handle the refuse of the world. The Devil's Dictionary is a guidebook for the mind of man, and perhaps a certain delicacy becomes necessary when exploring something so rude and unappealing. There is perhaps no greater illustration that the answer of 'why do bad things happen to good people' is: because it is much funnier that way.(less)
Even before I was shown the meaning of life in a dream at 17 (then promptly forgot it because I thought I smelled pancakes), I...moreThe universe is a joke.
Even before I was shown the meaning of life in a dream at 17 (then promptly forgot it because I thought I smelled pancakes), I knew this to be true--and yet, I have always felt a need to search for the truth, that nebulous, ill-treated creature. Adams has always been, to me, to be a welcome companion in that journey.
Between the search for meaning and the recognition that it's all a joke in poor taste lies Douglas Adams, and, luckily for us, he doesn't seem to mind if you lie there with him. He's a tall guy, but he'll make room.
For all his crazed unpredictability, Adams is a powerful rationalist. His humor comes from his attempts to really think through all the things we take for granted. It turns out it takes little more than a moment's questioning to burst our preconceptions at the seams, yet rarely does this stop us from treating the most ludicrous things as if they were perfectly reasonable.
It is no surprise that famed atheist Richard Dawkins found a friend and ally in Adams. What is surprising is that people often fail to see the rather consistent and reasonable philosophy laid out by Adams' quips and absurdities. His approach is much more personable (and less embittered) than Dawkins', which is why I think of Adams as a better face for rational materialism (which is a polite was of saying 'atheism').
Reading his books, it's not hard to see that Dawkins is tired of arguing with uninformed idiots who can't even recognize when a point has actually been made. Adams' humanism, however, stretched much further than the contention between those who believe, and those who don't.
We see it from his protagonists, who are not elitist intellectuals--they're not even especially bright--but damn it, they're trying. By showing a universe that makes no sense and having his characters constantly question it, Adams is subtly hinting that this is the natural human state, and the fact that we laugh and sympathize shows that it must be true.
It's all a joke, it's all ridiculous. The absurdists might find this depressing, but they're just a bunch of narcissists, anyhow. Demnading the world make sense and give you purpose is rather self centered when it already contains toasted paninis, attractive people in bathing suits, and Euler's Identity. I say let's sit down at the bar with the rabbi, the priest, and the frog and try to get a song going. Or at least recognize that it's okay to laugh at ourselves now and again. It's not the end of the world.
It's just is a joke, but only some of us are in on it.(less)
Adams was an amazingly humorous fellow, but it can be easy to forget that the source of his humor is always surreal profundity. It's as if he sees a c...moreAdams was an amazingly humorous fellow, but it can be easy to forget that the source of his humor is always surreal profundity. It's as if he sees a completely different world than the rest of us, but one which looks precisely the same. In this book (out-of-print when I found an editor's proof copy) Adams takes that hilariously disparate view and directs it like a spastic and noodly laser at the mis-management of our natural world. There is a reason that Richard Dawkins recalls Adams so fondly as a compatriot in the fight for reason. Adams is as honest, sublime, and disarming as ever.
I personally don't believe in a static view of nature. Extinction--even mass-extinction--has been a constant theme throughout prehistory. Humanity isn't even the first single species to cause the mass extinction of a huge variety of animals: algae did it millions of years before humans even existed.
Animals compete for the same resources, and whenever there are changes in the environment, be they geographical or climatic, there are going to be extinctions as different species come into contact in new ways. Despite what a lot of badly-researched sci fi might tell you, evolution is not a process of improvement: no species is any more evolved than any other species, each species has simply evolved in different ways to meet the requirements of a different ecological niche.
The coelecanth was a fish that first crawled out of the water hundreds of millions of years ago, and which we assumed had gone extinct until one was caught in 1975. That fish's descendents eventually produced the first lizards, which produced the first mammals, which produced the first primates, which eventually produced human beings. Yet, just because we evolved from the lowly coelecanth does not mean that we are 'more highly evolved'--stick a human being and a coelecanth in the middle of the ocean for a few days and it should be clear that we are just evolved to do different sorts of things.
Part of the reason we're experiencing high rates of extinction right now is that there are more species now than at any other point, and a huge number of those species are extremely specialized to a certain type of lifestyle, meaning even a small adjustment in their environment is likely to drive them to extinction. Mr. Tibbles was a naughty cat: he hunted an entire species to extinction by himself. This was the Stephens Island Wren, a flightless bird which had evolved to live on nothing but the algae that accumulated on the rocky island.
This is not evidence that Mr. Tibbles was more evolved than the wren, because Mr. Tibbles, left alone on the island, couldn't do what the wren did: survive off the island's resources. The reason cats, goats, rabbits, and pigs have been successful when introduced in new areas is because they are generalists, not specialists. They can survive in a wide variety of environments even when they are not the animal best-suited to that environment, because in times of change and upheaval, generalists outperform specialists.
A group of scientists were testing the behavior of flies and discovered that if the flies entered an area and there was no food there, almost none of the flies would ever return to that area. Then, the scientists began to wait until the flies had checked an area, and then put food there after they left. Within a few generations, the flies who returned had been much more successful, and so their offspring predominated. Now nearly all the flies would return to the same areas, again and again.
Yet, when the scientists reset the test to the original conditions, the specialized behavior died out, after only a few generations, because spending the time and energy and brain space on that behavior was just not worth it. It's the same reason that isolated bird populations tend to become flightless: flight is great for moving around and escaping enemies, but it takes a lot of energy to maintain, so if all you have to sustain you is algae, and there are no predators to flee, you might as well drop the showy flight thing and use those calories to keep your body warm and alive.
One of the great benefits of this process to humans is that all of those horrible, terrifying treatment-resistant diseases we have produced by overuse (and misuse) of antibiotics are highly specialized, and so, if we just drastically reduce antibiotic use, normal, generalist strains of e. coli will drastically outperform specialist, antibiotic resistant strains and drive them out of the ecosystem, which is exactly what has happened in Scandinavia where antibiotic treatment reduction is already in place.
No matter what humans do, we won't wipe out life, and we won't 'destroy the environment', we'll just change it. There are bacteria that live on radioactive rods in the middle of nuclear power plants, and on boiling, magma-fed vents at the lightless bottom of the sea, and there are even bacteria that can live in a sterile, sealed container eating nothing but solar radiation. Sure, we could change the environment so much that we would kill off all the large animals, including ourselves, and most plants, but something else will just survive and take over. The Chernobyl site is now one of the most lush and wild natural preserves in all of Russia.
There is no single, static way for the world to be--the environment and the animals that live in it are always changing, and to some degree, humans complaining about the extinction of certain specialized animals is like an old person complaining that the world isn't 'like it used to be'. Just because the environment was the way it was when humans evolved, that doesn't mean it is the only way for the environment to be, or that it won't change, or that change is bad, or that we should or could stop that change.
But we should ask whether we want to destroy ourselves, whether we want to set up an environmental system that favors superbacteria and destructively invasive species, because in the end, it's not about the world, it's about us and what we have to live with. The world will get along fine without us, after all.(less)
I have a lot of friends who swear by Pratchett, but I found him rather dull. I tried reading the first book in the series, but I couldn't finish it. A...moreI have a lot of friends who swear by Pratchett, but I found him rather dull. I tried reading the first book in the series, but I couldn't finish it. A friend suggested this as one of his better outings, so I bit.
He seems to harp on the most obvious jokes, extending one-note gags into paragraphs, chapters, or even whole books. I found that out of every ten jokes, one would make me laugh and nine would make me groan and roll my eyes. Really not a good rate of return.
His world-building is passable, but the combination of vaguely interesting world and vaguely amusing jokes don't combine into something greater. Pratchett has nothing on the oddball musings of contemporary Douglas Adams, and doesn't have the same level of wit or insight.
His generic fantasy world full of groan-worthy jokes reminds me of endlessly 'punny' American author Piers Anthony (thankfully, without the nods to pedophilia). As a Brit, Pratchett does have a certain refreshing command of language, but it's not enough to escape the huckster jokeyism.
Comics have been going through a very public struggle with maturity for some time now. They were well on their way to catching up with other art forms...moreComics have been going through a very public struggle with maturity for some time now. They were well on their way to catching up with other art forms until they were hit with the 'Comics Code' in the fifties. The code was an outgrowth of reactionary postwar witch-hunting a la McCarthyism, and succeeded in bowdlerizing and stultifying an entire medium for thirty years.
For example, all crime had to be portrayed as sordid, and no criminals could be sympathetic. There goes any comic book retellings of Robin Hood. Good always had to triumph over evil and seduction could never be shown or suggested. In trying to write around these and other rules, it's not surprising that code era books got a little weird in their search for original plots. 'Superman's Pal' Jimmy Olson was forced to marry a gorilla no fewer than three separate occasions.
When they finally did shake off the yoke, following trailblazers like Steve Gerber and Alan Moore, authors were a bit over-enthusiastic, full as they were of pent-up stories and themes. What followed is colloquially known as the 'Dark Age', where all heroes were bad dudes, everyone had guns, and Wolverine guest-starred in twelve comics a month.
The release of all that pent-up violence and sexuality hit the industry like a ton of bricks, and soon, anyone who was anyone was penning stories of decapitation and prostitution, until someone titled a comic Youngblood Bloodshot Deathmate Red: This Blood's For You! and everyone decided it was time to go home. The authors seemed to assume that the inclusion of mature themes made for mature stories, when in reality, they were about as mature as a high schooler's marginalia.
And this struggle is still going on, to one degree or another. At the low end, Liefeld is still out there writing the same action plots, and somewhat better is Ennis, whose Preacher is a love letter to swearing, gross-outs, and bromance. Transmet (for brevity) also has its share of sex, violence, and puerile humor, but for Ellis, this is more than just an exploitation romp, it's a means to an end.
Though underground comics were rife with subversion and political satire, mainstream comics have shown up rather late to the party. Moore's comics are often political, especially his early works, Watchmen and V for Vendetta, but these were rather serious takes, coming from the school of post-modern realism.
In Transmet, Ellis is coming at the issue from a later vantage, that of subversive culture-jamming, most evident in his nods to Hunter S. Thompson's 'Gonzo Journalism'. In the sixties, writers of varying stripes adopted this style in rejection of the repressive fifties, but it took longer to spread to comics.
We can see the same form in action in Transmet, in Ellis' protagonist, Spider Jerusalem, a post-cyberpunk stand-in for Thompson. Most of the time, Spider is following a spiral of madcap self-destruction, doing ridiculous, violent, amoral, childish things in order to break people out of their daily ruts. The first step of this kind of subversion is always to break through assumptions, refusing to play within the system because house rules favor the house.
There is a good deal of humor and adventure in these romps, and their childish unsophistication is part of their charm, and their power. He's an unpredictable, moving target, and though all his actions are focused on specific goals, he makes sure that he is dangerous and entertaining enough to make his mark.
This is where the second step comes in. Once you have grabbed their attention and torn down their expectations, your audience is primed to listen to you with fresh ears. This is the whole point of bombast, wit, and humor. Comedians and Court Jesters are funny because it command attention and allows them to approach issues obliquely, sidestepping the usual thought-terminating cliches.
When Ellis gets these moments, he doesn't put them to waste. As a writer, he is capable of a biting vibrancy that few other authors can match, in comics or sci fi. He hits some of the high points of his impressive career in this book, but then, perhaps that's not so surprising.
This book is relying on two very powerful writing traditions: Gonzo and Cyberpunk, which both use similar methods of witty, idiomatic information overload to communicate their message. What saves this book from the cartoonish violence of a book like Preacher is what always saves cyberpunk: the pure strength of writing.
Both styles share an obsession with synthesis: creating a complex mix of disparate social elements and theories without growing too focused on any particular element. That is why the baroque high-water mark of revolutionary psychadelic writing shares the same location as the birthplace of cyberpunk: Philip K. Dick and Illuminatus!
Gibson really blew everything else out of the water with Neuromancer, and the attempt to pick up the pieces is called 'post-cyberpunk'. It's a collectio of disparate writings sharing a theme and a setting, but widely disagreeing on most everything else. Gibson's book was so prescient (and still is), that everyone else is trying to prove themselves the next technological and social prophet.
There have been a lot of people jumping on the bandwagon, but Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash stands out as one of the most interesting, complex, and purely enjoyable of the lot. Consequently, I spent a lot of time trying (and failing) to find another book that could match it, but with little luck. Not even Stephenson's been able to live up to it.
But there is a lot in Transmet that meets that desire for another Snow Crash, and maybe that shouldn't be so surprising, since Snow Crash was originally scripted to be a comic. It's almost as full of ideas, it's as unpredictable and enjoyable, and the writing has that precise mixture of intellectual and pulp action.
That being said, sci fi is not Ellis' strong suit. This is a soft sci fi if there ever was one, and Ellis' society doesn't hold up to the originality and perverse plausibility of Stephenson's. Ellis gives us sentient nanoclouds next to still frame cameras activated by button. It's not as bad as Star Trek, where you can disintegrate and remotely reintegrate people but can't fix a broken back, but it's not a hard sci fi built around the changes technology brings.
Ellis is more concerned with his characters and his politics, but luckily, he tends to hit his mark with them. Spider, like most of Ellis' protagonists, is a black-hearted, cynical bastard who lives by his own code and leaves a swathe of destruction behind, but as usual, he still manages to make him sympathetic. At his best, Ellis manages to remember that Spider's flaws are flaws, though sometimes, and particularly as he wraps the story up, Spider gets to be too much 'crotchety hero' and too little 'amoral force of nature'.
But it's a good comic, and more than that, it's a good piece of sci fi, though more on the 'Speculative Fiction' end, since it's more concerned with exploring the question of 'what makes us human?' rather than 'what makes travel above c possible?' It's sad and unfair that it never got an Eisner; it surely deserved it.
In fact, it's a crime that this great sci fi series ended in 2002, and that same year, the Nebula and Clarke awards went to a rewrite of 'Flowers for Algernon' whose sci fi elements were superfluous to the story. But then, it's usually too much to hope that a book will both be well written and get accolades.
Robertson's art is also solid, though I'm hard-pressed to think of any interior artist who could match Darrow's covers, but Robertson does admirably. His vision of the future is amusingly detailed and unusual enough to transport us away, and his sense of pacing is strong.
It's worth noting that it took the world twenty years to catch up with Neuromancer, with the premiere of the first Matrix, and that this series predates that landmark social event by several years. As we move closer to The Singularity, and technologies are developed more and more quickly, predicting the future will become more and more difficult. Already, sci fi is shifting to predicting next year instead of next century.
But Transmet looks further than that, because like all great thinkers, Ellis recognizes that to look forward, we must look back. His update of the dystopia to revolutionary politics post WWII is inspired, especially as it is twisted with Gonzo Journalism and Post-Cyberpunk. The best ideas are never one idea, and though Spider's politics sometimes grow to dominate the series, Ellis still contrasts them with a multitude of concepts, leaving us with a pleasing depth of insight.
I can only hope that more comic authors will realize that sex and violence--even at their most over-the-top--can be vital, complex parts of a story, but only if they have a point. There is no story element too outrageous for the arsenal of a talented, driven author.
As usual, it's a joy to see Ellis' madcap style, as he plugs the dangling cords from the cyberpunk machine into the rusty dystopian engine until the whole thing lights up like a 500-channel cold-fission laser-guided Christmas tree. You could do worse.
Compared to the Nineteenth Century's Romantic movement and the Seventeenth's Shakespeare and Milton, the Eighteenth has always felt a veritable void t...moreCompared to the Nineteenth Century's Romantic movement and the Seventeenth's Shakespeare and Milton, the Eighteenth has always felt a veritable void to me. There was a little bit going on in France with Diderot and Voltaire, and some minor British works by Swift and Defoe, but by and large, Eighteenth Century literature is Fielding and Pope.
He began his inimitable wit and wordly mastery with 'An Essay on Criticism' when he was only 21. It was a varied, vivid exploration of what makes writing good, and includes such oft-quoted lines as "To err is human, to forgive divine", "A little learning is a dangerous thing", and "fools rush in where angels fear to tread".
Four years later he added his contribution to the Epic Tradition with 'The Rape of the Lock'. One of the reasons that this was a slow century for literature was that it was a century obsessed with the superficial. Like all great Epicists before him, Pope captured the spirit of his age, but in this case, instead of capturing it in a broad net of climactic action, beautiful language, and political posturing, he speared it with an acerbic tongue.
His epic was a small one, but just as Milton reinvented the genre by replacing the hero with the villain, Pope revolutionized the genre by replacing the epic with the everyday. His lampooning of the high nobility and their self-importance allied him literarily with his contemporaries, such as Voltaire, who all prefigured the social and literary revolution of the coming century.
Pope plays a very delicate instrument with his epic, often balancing a thin line between respect and ridicule: the same line the nobility had to walk every day. His linguistic and conceptual abilities shine here, as does his humor, which lies on the upper borders of the clever and the witty.
Pope had an unfortunately backward view of women, nowhere reaching the subtle implications of Milton's autoerotic Eve or Shakespeare's Cleopatra, or even the powerful women of the Greek and Roman Epics. Yet his portrayals here do not show the same bias as his 'Epistle to a Lady', since he lets his mockery fall equally on the foolish men and women of his period, and often for the same superficialities.
His later works consisted of translations and numerous political treatises, which though scathing and brilliant in their way, do not continue the philosophic and artistic exploration begun in 'An Essay on Criticism' and expanded in 'The Rape of the Lock'. The Dunciad certainly has a similar bent, but is too historo-specific to really have the same effect, so 'The Rape of The Lock' is probably the best work of the best British poet of the Eighteenth.(less)
I read this book before I tried to tackle Pratchett on his own merit, so I may have to retroactively skew this review based upon what I now know. The...moreI read this book before I tried to tackle Pratchett on his own merit, so I may have to retroactively skew this review based upon what I now know. The book is enjoyable, but may suffer from the fact that it represents its two authors at what seems to be their most basic states.
There is no question as to the recognizability of both Gaiman's and Pratchett's respective styles here, but neither seems to add anything to the other. One of Gaiman's weaknesses is surely his general lack of humor. Anything that makes you laugh in his books isn't likely to qualify as a joke. While this could have been remedied by Pratchett's collaboration, his humor tends to be more groan-worthy than profound.
It seemed to me that, by collaborating, both authors felt a need to simplify and de-personalize their respective styles, which for Gaiman meant an unfortunate loss of much of his dark charm, and for Pratchett that he was even more watered down than usual.
I know a lot of people, especially fantasy fans, love this book, and I will admit that it is romp-y, easily digestible, and certainly doesn't betray the inclinations of either author. Unfortunately, it also doesn't surpass them or create anything new or interesting. The whole is less than the sum of its respective parts. However, certainly worth a read; if only to get a fix of Gaiman while waiting for him to actually finish his next book.
UPDATE: After reading Gaiman's Anansi Boys, I have come to find that he can be quite uproariously and side-splittingly funny. I am now unsure just what part Pratchett played in Good Omens at all.
Perhaps it speaks more to the age I live in than that of the author, but I'm always surprised to find a reasonable, rational mind on the other end of...morePerhaps it speaks more to the age I live in than that of the author, but I'm always surprised to find a reasonable, rational mind on the other end of the pen. Though Ariosto's unusual work is full of prejudice and idealism, it is constantly shifting, so that now one side seems right, and now the other.
His use of hyperbole and oxymoron prefigures the great metaphysical poets, and like them, these are tools of his rhetoric and satire. Every knight is 'undefeatable', every woman 'shames all others by her virtue', and it does not escape Ariosto that making all of them remarkable only makes more obvious the fact that none of them are.
Ariosto's style flies on wings, lilting here and there, darting, soaring. He makes extensive use of metafiction, both addressing the audience by means of a semi-fictionalized narrator and by philosophical explorations of the art of poetry itself, and the nature of the poet and his patron.
As with most epics, Ariosto's asides to the greatness of his patron are as jarring as any 30-second spot. His relationship to his various patrons was extremely difficult for him--he was paid a mere pittance and constantly drawn away from his writing to deliver bad news to the pope (if you're thinking that's a bad job, Ariosto would agree--the See nearly had him killed).
This is likely the reason that these moments of praise fall to the same unbelievable hyperbole as the rest. His patrons could hardly be angry at him for constantly praising them, but his readers will surely be able to recognize that his greatest compliments are the most backhanded, and merely serve to throw into stark contrast the hypocrisy of man--tell me a man is great once, and I will believe you, tell me five times, and I'll start to think you're covering for something.
Since we will all be oblivious hypocrites at some point (for most of us, nearly all the time), the only useful defense is finding the humility to admit our flaws. Great men never have it so easy: they cannot accept their mistakes, but must instead be buried by them.
Though Ariosto often lands on the side of the Christians, his Muslims are mighty, honorable, well-spoken, and just as (un)reasonable in their faith. The only thing which seems to separate the two sides is their petty squabbling.
Likewise, he takes a surprisingly liberal view of sex and gender equality, with lady knights who are not only the match for any man, but who need no marriage to make them whole--they are women with or without a man beside them. He even presents homosexuality amongst both sexes, though with a rather light hand.
His epic is not the stalwartly serious sort--like Homer, Virgil, or Dante--Ariosto is a humanist, and has none of the fetters of nationalism or religious idealism to keep him chained. His view of man is a contrary, shifting, absurd thing. The greatest achievements of man are great only in the eyes of man.
By showing both sides of a conflict, by supporting each in turn, Ariosto creates a space for the author to inhabit. He is not tied to some system of beliefs, but to observation, to recognition--not to the ostensible truth of humanity, but to our continuing story.
Ariosto took a great leap from Petrarch's self-awareness: while Petrarch constantly searched and argued in his poems, he found a sublime comfort in the grand unknown. Ariosto is the great iconoclast, not only asking why of the most obvious conflicts, but of the grandest assumptions. The universal mystery is only as sacred as it is profane.
Ariosto is also funny, surprising, and highly imaginative. Though his work is defined by its philosophical view, this view is developed slowly and carefully. It is never stated outright, but is rather the medium of the story: a thin, elegant skein which draws together all characters and conflicts.
The surface of the story itself is a light-hearted, impossible comedy. It is no more impossible than the grand heights of any other epic, but only seems so because it is not girt tightly with high-minded seriousness. Perhaps Ariosto's greatest gift is that he is doing essentially the same thing all the other epic authors do, the same situations and characters, but he makes you laugh to see it.
To be able to look at life simply as it is and laugh is the only freedom we will ever know. It is all wisdom. For this gift, I hail fair Ariosto: the greatest of all epicists, all poets, all writers, all wits, all humanists, all men--never to be surpassed.(less)
It can be really difficult to critique a work like this. Calvin and Hobbes stands as perhaps the greatest strip ever, along with grandpappy Peanuts an...moreIt can be really difficult to critique a work like this. Calvin and Hobbes stands as perhaps the greatest strip ever, along with grandpappy Peanuts and the bizarrely inimitable Little Nemo. Of course, as a child, I never knew that Calvin was a man who thought heaven was a lottery or that Hobbes was the father of rational political philosophy. However, truly great children's literature should never be inaccessible to adults. If it is, then its popularity amongst children stems merely from its ability to mesmerize their ignorance.
It was not only the philosophy of Calvin and Hobbes, not only the many levels of both meaning and humor, it was the exploration of reality itself; sometimes funny, sometimes poignant. One thing that many grownups seem to forget is that the world is vast and strange and that, often, the only way to come to terms with it is to strike out (in one's own idiomatic style) and have a bit of adventure. There can be no complacency in this world. Not in a world of dinosaurs, spacemen, and cardboard boxes of infinite technological capability.
I suppose I should mention the beautiful and evocative art for a moment, which had a sense of movement, gesture, and impressionistic reality that never failed to jump-start the mind just enough to get it going without limiting the open philosophical questions that we could never quite answer.
I think there must be something to be said for any strip where the most memorable moments were those of inaction and silence. It shows that Watterson expected a lot out of his readers, especially children, and that when we did the work of connecting the dots for him, we were really doing something invaluable for ourselves.
I guess Watterson is off living with his family now, and painting landscapes. I have an idea why he left. Gary Larson, too. I often wish they were still here to help us through these strange and difficult times. Whenever some new horror of inhuman humanity crops up, I want somewhere to go where I can laugh at it, where I can see the big picture, where everything isn't so simple.
In Watterson's comic, it was always the world that was impossibly wide, complex, and unfair. The only simple, rational part--the only important part--was you.
I know Jon Stewart, The Daily Show, and Colbert are more honest and reliable news sources than the rest of the media, I just don't believe it.
Ironical...moreI know Jon Stewart, The Daily Show, and Colbert are more honest and reliable news sources than the rest of the media, I just don't believe it.
Ironically, it is that same gap between knowledge and belief that has resulted in this sad state.
the reactionary, opinionated pundits keep talking down to these little basic-cable comedy shows, but the fact that their feathers are so ruffled shows that they are afraid, and that they consider this to be as serious as the rest of us.
Why is Stewart the journalist who asks hard questions about the war? Why does he seem utterly ridiculous when he simply imitates real people? Why is Colbert the one who asked the senator who tried to put the ten commandments in his state courthouses (Lynn Westmoreland) just what they actually were, showing that the senator could name only three?
More importantly, why doesn't this invigorate or upset anyone? Colbert's White House Press Corp address was the most impressive and honest satire on the state of our politics and the media who serve them. The fact that it was the only one should not diminish it.
The world is gone mad. If Revelation is come, I can only hope that even bad Christians get to go to heaven, because I don't want to be stuck here with the likes of Bush and Westmoreland. If I didn't have a front seat to the odd implosion of American culture, I might think about moving to Canada.
I think that the failure not only of Children's Literature as a whole, but of our very concept of children and the child's mind is that we think it a...moreI think that the failure not only of Children's Literature as a whole, but of our very concept of children and the child's mind is that we think it a crime to challenge and confront that mind. Children are first protected from their culture--kept remote and safe--and then they are thrust incongruously into a world that they have been told is unsafe and unsavory; and we expected them not to blanch.
It has been my policy that the best literature for children is not a trifling thing, not a simplification of the adult or a sillier take on the world. Good Children's literature is some of the most difficult literature to write because one must challenge, engage, please, and awe a mind without resorting to archetypes or life experience.
Once a body grows old enough, we are all saddened by the thought of a breakup. We have a set of knowledge and memories. The pain returns to the surface. Children are not born with these understandings, so to make them understand pain, fear, and loss is no trivial thing. The education of children is the transformation of an erratic and hedonistic little beast into a creature with a rational method by which to judge the world.
A child must be taught not to fear monsters but to fear instead electrical outlets, pink slips, poor people, and lack of social acceptance. The former is frightening in and of itself, the latter for complex, internal reasons. I think the real reason that culture often fears sexuality and violence in children is because they are such natural urges. We fear to trigger them because we cannot control the little beasts. We cannot watch them every minute.
So, to write Children's Literature, an author must create something complex and challenging, something that the child can turn over in their mind without accidentally revealing some terrible aspect of the world that the child is not yet capable of dealing with. Carroll did this by basing his fantasies off of complex, impersonal structures: linguistics and mathematical theory. These things have all the ambiguity, uncertainty, and structure of the grown-up world without the messy, human parts.
This is also why the Alice stories fulfill another requirement I have for Children's Lit: that it be just as intriguing and rewarding for adults. There is no need to limit the depth in books for children, because each reader will come away with whatever they are capable of finding. Fill an attic with treasures and the child who enters it may find any number of things--put a single coin in a room and you ensure that the child will find it, but nothing more.
Of course, we must remember that nothing we can write will ever be more strange or disturbing to a child than the pure, unadulterated world that we will always have failed to prepare them for. However, perhaps we can fail a little less and give them Alice. Not all outlets are to be feared, despite what your parents taught you. In fact, some should be prodded with regularity, and if you dare, not a little joy. (less)
It took a bit of time, at least from this particular volume, to recognize the reasons for Wodehouse's pre-eminance as British Humorist. I still did no...moreIt took a bit of time, at least from this particular volume, to recognize the reasons for Wodehouse's pre-eminance as British Humorist. I still did not find that those reasons were able to upturn Adams or Pope, but Wodehouse has a wit and verve which cannot be denied.
What I expected (and eventually got) was a bit of mastery of the art of the ridiculous situation, where the escalation of events and unlikely (but usually, rationally-following) coincidences provides an equal escalation of hilarity.
Wodehouse's wordplay is strong, but it is likely that my estimation of him fell in that it was not as strong as the aforementioned authors. I find that the greatest wit and humor comes with that one must work for; a sense that you have shared something with the author: bridged time and space and come to a coy little understanding. For me, the sense of such a wink and nudge which moves even beyond death connects the fundamental tragedy which underlies humor to the absurd tragedy of life, itself.
Not everyone needs such bizarre little requirements met, however; nor the ego-stoking of matching wits with some great author. Wodehouse presents little idiomatic tales which achieve the greatest challenge of any author: making pointless drivel seem as important in writing as it is in our everyday lives. In a world where books seem to have the ability to make all-powerful, beautiful, serendipidous, charming gods into boring cliches, he is a welcome refreshment.(less)
I think this story is probably the most successful example of 'random' or 'disconnected' humor amongst the numerous (mostly terrible) attempts I have...moreI think this story is probably the most successful example of 'random' or 'disconnected' humor amongst the numerous (mostly terrible) attempts I have come across.
The real problem with such a construction is that it denies a basis, as Morrison himself denies the influence of metaphor or allegory. I cannot stand the oversimplifications of didactism or allegory in writing, and prefer the presentation of a case by showing many views and ideas, and leaving the conclusion to the reader.
However, when a writer denies such effects and tries to write outside of them, he runs into another flaw: that his imagination and writing abilities are based in reality and specifically in the literary world with which he is familiar. Any piece of writing, be it fiction, poetry, or whatever, is a critique of other works that have influenced the author.
Even in the cases of the pulps, critics who later took those authors seriously were able to find symbolic meanings, especially in early sci fi. What Morrison does here works very much like those pulps, in that it embraces what is 'fun' and interesting and not what is socially and politically popular.
The author must also be careful not to replace those cultural messages with their own identity. This is a problem both of established but untrained authors and of authors trying to escape their own patterns. Morrison falls to this bleed-through of personality and opinions in some of his other works, but the apolitical nature of this one mostly spares him his usual fault.
Thanks to Andre for inspiring me to write this.(less)
At my middle school, there was a yearly book drive where everyone would bring in boxes of books from home and...moreThe first Piers Anthony book I ever read.
At my middle school, there was a yearly book drive where everyone would bring in boxes of books from home and all the kids could go buy books for a dollar. I would always buy anything that had a dragon or a knight on the cover. That's how I got into Piers, Dragonlance, Eddings, and all that other Junior High stuff. Not to mention Conan.
I got this book there, and needless to say, as an eleven-year-old, Anthony was hilarious. Especially in these early books, which had not yet become the endless list of fan-suggested puns and ephebophilic anti-sexuality that are his current fare. His early works are fairly amusing and harmless; even his penchant for escapism is toned down considerably.
Of course, looking back upon him, one cannot but blanch at his stilted prose, Mary Sue protagonists, puerile humor, and even more puerile sexuality. I know he does have some adult fans, and truthfully, I'm glad they're inside reading the latest Xanth novel instead of out in the world somewhere, voting.