I thought it might be time to do another links post. So:
If a part of you doesn’t laugh when Emma Bovary takes her poison, or Jim stands there and lets himself get shot, or Anna kneels down to wait for the train, or Ahab goes down with the damn-ed whale then you haven’t been paying attention.
I don’t mean this the way Oscar Wilde meant it when he said that a reader must have a heart of stone not to read of the death of Little Nell and laugh.
I mean that Flaubert and Conrad and Tolstoy and Melville all intend us to see that there is something ridiculous as well as something beautiful in human beings taking themselves and their troubles so seriously.
Shaenon Garrity, with several things people who know Popeye through the cartoons tend not to know about Popeye:
1. Popeye is old. I don’t mean the strip is old. Everybody knows the strip is old. I mean Popeye himself is supposed to be a senior citizen. He’s a grizzled old sailor, with emphasis on the old, with extra old added on. Although his official bio now describes him as 34, according to the Segar-era strips he’s in his sixties, and his father (more on him later) is pushing 100. That’s why Popeye is bald and missing an eye. Because of the oldness.
Chris White, at McSweeney’s, solicits a little empathy for history’s failures:
It’s easy to care about a Lincoln or a Washington—they give us so many mattress sales. But greatness is a relative condition. There is no Lincoln without Pierce, and when you ignore those who failed, you miss out on the humanity of the past. You miss out on the reassuringly universal stories that will play out again in our future.
Colin Marshall at The War on Mediocrity has written “The Plight of the Social Maladroit,” a five-part series about how much of life—including the stuff that we seem to be doing by ourselves—is about connection and collaboration. Part one, part two, part three, part four, and part five:
As examples of the unsociable novelists the likes of which we stand to lose, Miller cites David Foster Wallace, J.D. Salinger, V.S. Naipaul and Thomas Pynchon. Fair enough. But could any set of names scream “outlier” louder?
And even they, in presumably that least collaborative of all art forms, collaborated. They collaborated with their publishers, their editors, their research sources, their friends and associates who read drafts. Most importantly, they collaborated with their audiences. That sounds like nonsense, and maybe it is, but if it’s not nonsense, I’ll bet it’s beyond relevant. What’s a work, after all, without an audience? I hate to go all zen on you again, but if an audience isn’t an important partner in a work, how different is that work from one hand clapping, a tree falling in the woods with no one to hear it, etc.?