succumbing to peer pressure

Monday, February 11, 2008

Miscellaneous Roundup

I finally finished the Dark Materials trilogy and was sorely disappointed by the ending. Pullman is pretty unabashedly against organized religion, and the Christian/Catholic Church in particular. But he's also not atheist (or at least, the theme of his books isn't anti-God), which is fine, of course, but somehow just didn't work for me as a plot device. I felt like the book needed more commitment, because what it ended up doing was just suggesting a replacement for the current structure, and not in any sort of novel or interesting, or even fully developed or detailed way. I don't know. Parts of the story were so interesting and satisfying, but I'm just not sure I can get over my disappointment in the ending enough to actually recommend the trilogy.

I started It Can't Happen Here, by Sinclair Lewis. I'm only a chapter in, but so far thoroughly satisfying. I guess I had to get to a place where I was starting to feel hopeful about the world again before I could face reading a treatise on all the ways that America keeps sliding toward fascism.

And speaking of hope, I have also continued to dip into The Impossible Will Take a Little While, and although I was unimpressed with the first section ("Seeds of the Possible") I am smitten with the second ("Dark Before the Dawn") featuring selections by Howard Zinn

Not a customary finale to a class in political theory, but I wanted the class to understand that politics is pointless if it does nothing to enhance the beauty of our lives. Political discussion can sour you. We needed some music.
To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places - and there are so many - where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction. And if we do act, in however small a way, we don't have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.

Nelson Mandela, and Vaclav Havel

Hope, in this deep and powerful sense, is not the same as joy that things are going well, or willingness to invest in enterprises that are obviously headed for early success, but, rather, an ability to work for something because it is good, not just because it stands a chance to succeed.
It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.

Maybe just because it's on my mind, but it's almost as if they're referring to Obama.

was kind of weird, with the prospective students, and getting made to feel (and called directly) old, but c'est la vie, I suppose.

A highlight was the McSweeney's Literary Extravaganza, featuring Eli Horowitz, Arkansas author John Brandon, some dude from my home town who swallowed swords (and a screw driver!), and Davy Rothbart of Found Magazine and This American Life. The two students with whom I hit it off came with me, and we laughed ourselves sick. All the men were hilarious, but Rothbart was my favorite, who told a vicious-yet-wonderful story about all the horrible tricks he and his brothers used to play on his deaf mother (the happy ending is that she now knows about all these things and thinks they're pretty funny too).

gave a lecture yesterday on the autobiography of the novel. Highlights include:
  • Attempting to get out of the army by claiming to be insane has a catch, in that "a man who wants to get out of the army cannot be insane."
  • "My parents used to joke that I was born, and 8 weeks later the British ran away. And really, how funny of a joke is that?"
  • if you're going to write novels about India and/or Pakistan, you have to reckon with religion, even if you yourself are not religious. "One such reckoning was Midnight's Children. And that went well."
  • "What you should know is that the time is going to come when you don't have a book to write, and yet you have to write a book." Vonnegut to Rushdie, early '80s.
  • "I once wrote, got into trouble for it, just for a change, that the British didn't completely understand their history because so much of it happened on foreign soil."
  • In the context of comparing fictional novels that contain truthful bits and allegedly non-fiction memoirs that contain fictional bits, Rushdie told a story about a female non-fiction writer who once claimed, "It was a metaphor for how unhappy I felt." To which he replies, "Not knowing the difference between a metaphor and a lie is one definition of insanity."
  • talked about his suspicion that Shakespear destroyed all of his notes, letters, drafts, etc. himself so that only the works themselves survived, because he knew the value of letting the work stand on its own, without the 'higher gossip' about his own personal life. "'Was Shakespeare good in bed?' is, I fear, one of the great unanswered questions." But Rushdie suspects that the answer is yes, he was good at that too.

All in all, as usual, a riotously good time. Rushdie is pretty clearly an asshole, but a damn funny one at that.

Oh, and AWB - he mentioned Tristam Shandy, along with Robinson Crusoe and Gulliver's Travels, as the best books of the 18th C.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah, I really liked the first two books of His Dark Materials, but the ending really did suck. Of course the Narnia books got kind of crappy at the end too.

I have no idea how they will change it if they ever make a movie of the third book.


1:40 PM  
Blogger Vance Maverick said...

Attempting to get out of the army by claiming to be insane has a catch, in that "a man who wants to get out of the army cannot be insane."

Did Rushdie claim this as his own?? This is precisely Catch-22.

10:30 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

D'oh! No, I just totally garbled that bullet point from my notes (how embarrassing!). There should be a whole 'nother sentence about Catch-22 as an example of truth in fiction. (and I loved that book in high school. must improve copy-editing of posts!)

9:48 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home