The global party of stupid

by John Quiggin on September 21, 2013

Australia’s new conservative ministry has just been sworn in, and while it includes Ministers for Border Protection (that is, stopping refugees) and Sport, and even a minister for the centenary of the Anzac landings on Gallipoli in 1915, there are no longer ministers for science or higher education[^1].

This is part of a fairly consistent pattern. The US Republican Party recently vetoed the creation of an unpaid position of National Science Laureate. In Canada, the Harper government eliminated the position of National Science Advisor, among many other anti-science moves. All of this reflects the fact that scientific research on topics like climate change and evolution regularly reaches conclusions that conflict with the policy preferences or religious beliefs of rightwingers.
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Drink The Haterade

by Belle Waring on September 21, 2013

I don’t want to step on my husband’s post, so I am merely supplementing it, because I think there is something that deserves enough excerpts to warrant a post rather than a comment. To wit, this article from The Toast, “You Wouldn’t Like Jonathan Franzen When He’s Angry.” I am turning off comments to this post so we can talk in the thread below.

Jonathan Franzen is the angriest novelist in the world. He is the novelist who is so angry he cannot move. He cannot eat. He cannot sleep. He can just barely growl. Bound so tightly with tension and anger, he approaches the state of rigor mortis.

He is angry because Salman Rushdie uses Twitter, and nowadays people can buy books on the Internet, and the Home Depot, and he had to go to Germany one time, and also some women exist who have not had sex with him….

Think of all the women who have never slept with Jonathan Franzen. His anger must grow by the day. Soon it will envelop the world, and we will be forced to bow down in chains before it, and create ziggurats out of human corpses as terrible tribute. Some of these women who Failed To F#ck Jonathan Franzen might now be on Twitter, which is wrong because of a German essayist who is now dead.

To quote one of the most internetty minds of our generation, “heh, indeed.” Now I will speak my part, and then fall silent, except for the part about where we get into a huge argument in comments because I think pretty much all the Important Male Novelists of the mid to late 20th-century are such sexist dillweeds that it is actually impossible to enjoy the books. For me. Except William S. Burroughs, and that is because he does not want to sex chicks up. Not even a little bit. He wants us to be able to make clones, and then just go live on another planet with only men and boys and million-year-old crab creatures made of radioactive cadmium and then have gay sex there. It is astringently refreshing to have a novelist not care about having sex with you at all. It’s the best! Goodbye, poorly drawn female characters who exist as trophies for when the protagonists level up after a boss battle with Freudian analysis!

Now, dudes, part of shared bank accounts and having children and shit like that is that you can coordinate on stuff and divide responsibilities sensibly. Am I going to sit down and read about the Fourfold Root? No, I will ask my husband, “hey peaches, what’s this with the Schopenhauer here, am I giving a f*@k or what?” Then he can answer on account of having written a dissertation about it. And he arranges for everyone to go to the dentist, and parent-teacher conferences, and guy stuff like that which I as a mother, am not really into. Similarly, as John is a busy person who doesn’t have time to read novels which are both extremely long and quite bad, I can read them on our joint behalf. No, I can also read long good books on our behalf, so I can tell John crucial stuff about Proust like when the last volume opens and it seems as if all the characters have come in fancy dress but then… I read very quickly, stupidly quickly, a skill I primarily use to read the equivalent of a 500 page paperback, but made of internet bullshit, every day (I’ve checked). The Corrections, Jesus. It didn’t even have to be bad! There were many aspects of it that were very well observed and memorable. It needed an editor. It needed a nano-particle of self-awareness that was doing something other than comparing the distance of Franzen’s masturbatory ejecta to that of Philip Roth. Something that might, eventually, if nurtured in a caring bosom, maybe some kind of DH Lawrence glorying sheaf of wheat in the firelight thing, become humility. Just for like a second! It needed negative 4089 C of sexism to return to conditions amenable to reading rather than being the heart of a the giant blue-white star which is poised, even now, to go supernova in the center of the swirling storm of Eta Carinae. Let us never speak of Jonathan Franzen again.

Here Comes Everybody – And She’s Karl Kraus!

by John Holbo on September 21, 2013

We are bookish intellectuals here! Why then should we lack for a thread in which people can complain about Jonathan Franzen’s essay? I can sort of sympathize with Franzen’s evident desire to hit a trollier-than-thou Krausian high note. Suddenly Here Comes Everybody – and they all want be just as individual and superior as I do, the bastards.

In his defense, Franzen does seem to be aware that he looks like Calvin, complaining about the results of using the Duplicator Machine.

When Coase died I thought about penning, in his honor, a prolegomenon to a possible sequel to his Theory of the Firm. I would propose a theory of the Fall of the Book, organized around an account of precipitously falling transaction costs, sentence by sentence. Why is it ever better for an individual sentence to incorporate with hundreds or thousands of others? Why isn’t all intellectual life transacted on Twitter? (I’m busy today, so maybe you could write this theory, piecemeal, in comments, so I don’t have to.)

What happens to writing when every sentence can be – hence is under peer pressure to be – its own marketing department?

I do get why Franzen feels that he, as the serious author of big, serious books, is heroically trying to hold the line. (Full disclosure: I have never read The Corrections. I don’t have the time.) But the irony is that his Guardian essay isn’t complaining about anything for which there aren’t already perfectly good, complaining memes on Know Your Meme. Still, as Kraus remarks. “Many share my views with me. But I don’t share them with them.”