NO NOVELIST HERE

I bought 13 Ways of Looking at the Novel, Jane Smiley, and wondered if it was also overblown and overwritten. Yes, it is. The laudatory sentence on the back cover underneath the author’s photograph has errors in it. It states that Smiley possesses a mastery of craft. Mastery is difficult to justify and not complimentary. Stating there is a facility of craft suggests an acuity and uniqueness unmatched in others; they are essential traits in all literature: Every story has its own style and its own way of telling – the characters, the setting and the events are different. Having a facility means the author tells one story from another without effort. If mastery is the standard, there is trouble e.g. A Thousand Acres, derived from King Lear by William Shakespeare. Did old Bill got a lot of stuff wrong or loose in the original?

Next buyers of the book learn Smiley has “an uncompromising vision.” Is this the same uncompromising vision held by that politician, aka the orange turd? The word vision needs no adjective, no adverb, no particle modifying it. Visions are brain images which the brain uses to compile and put together persons, settings and events, essentials to a story. Saying that a story is uncompromising, or a vision is so wrong. The effort is not in its adamancy. Work accomplished by visions are sustained. Visions become continuous, prompting the imagination to prolong them.

When critics like authors use adjectives to puff a piece, inflate a book or aggrandize a writing, the language should be exacting and specific. Otherwise, persons reading the outside of the book [like in the movie Tropical Thunder] may infer an improperly put comment may reflect the author’s abilities, masteries and visions.

In The Tall Grass

Stephan King, Joe Hill

I have no idea why this story appeared in Esquire four years ago, and it is written by more one author. It does not appear difficult to write; it is poorly conceived and not well written.

At the end as a throw away thought to fill the space, a character thinks, I bet all of Kansas looked that way before people came and spoiled it all. NOPE! Before people came to Kansas at least 5,000,000 bison went north and south over that state every year eating all the grass. When Native Americans came, they set prairie fires to make hunting and traveling more convenient. There was very little tall grass in Kansas before whitey showed up. [Note Native Americans also set forest fires east of the Mississippi River to make hunting and agriculture easier. Those lands became “park” lands.]

In The Literary Offenses of James Fenimore Cooper by Mark Twain, the critic itemizes many paragraphs involving characters in a novel which offend literary sensibilities. Likewise these authors fail [which one I don’t know]. At any time during a story, the reader should be able to guess what a character will do. Not in this story. That is an impossibility.

Man [Cal] and woman [Becky] have been friends since childhood. They grow up. She becomes pregnant, but the child is not his. They decide to cross the continent by car when they stop in Kansas. By accepting Becky Cal becomes the biggest protagonist sap in all literature.

They stop at dilapidated buildings. The story does not add mystery or unsettle the reader by noting that settlement is no longer on modern maps. They hear a voice beseeching help, coming from an adjoining field. Cal and Becky want to help. They each venture in, at different times, and each gets lost, I think. They chase Tobin, a native Kansan who easily makes his way around because he uses tunnels constructed by the mole people of whom he is related. Throughout the hike there are many statements: The grass is tall. Becky and Cal yell at one another but have no idea where the other is. They don’t know where Tobin is. In one sentence the voice sounds like it came from a Manitoba mine 1000 miles north. It is a poor simile. Having read to that sentence I did not care if they ever left the field, or if they found one another, in Manitoba or Kansas. Essentially, the authors are not writing about real or representative human beings.

I suppose there are items (a red rock) to use for metaphors, like Dorothy’s Ruby Red shoes in The Wizard of Oz. If any reader does not believe the ending of The Wizard of Oz: “There’s no place like home,” no reader will be happy with the red stone derivation in this story.

There is no reason given why Cal or Becky decide to stop and follow the voice into the tall grass. Following the observations of each character the reader can guess: The characters are morons, idiots, imbeciles, retards and simpletons. Readers are exposed to one nonsensical action after another; none amounts to an effective novella. A big question arises: Do either Becky or Cal have search and rescue work as a life experience? NOPE. Never once is Tobin told to stay where he is and yell. Most search and rescue work personnel have an internal compass – north, south, etc. They would estimate the metes and bounds of the area to be searched and go no further, keeping track of how many footsteps (or time) have been taken in one direction. Most search and rescuers will not look in very dense vegetation, a natural setting sounding more like Vietnam than the prairies of Kansas. It also is reminiscent of the nineteenth century United States Army in very similar terrain trying the round up and placate the Native Americans in Florida.

Somewhere, there may be a great psychological twist in the story. I don’t know where it is, and I discount it as a contrivance.

WRITING DEAD

Another participant on WordPress, Dan Altorre, has wondered and ask why Walking Dead has any audience at all. His blog was posted. I read it, and wrote. Rather than comment on his short blog and the shorter comments, I’ve decided to post my comments.

I can’t believe there is any attraction of zombies who are bipedal and sometimes kill people (kill because that’s what zombies do). Amongst those people zombie hunters want to live a norm life of a 1950s sit-com, perfect if the zombies weren’t around. It is pure dualism, us versus them, the most elementary of messages.

Perhaps, but unlikely normal viewers, can rid the world of all the dead and bad people, like Wyatt Earp did. Do everything that can’t be done. Shoot them; knife them; toss them off cliffs. Essentially Walking Dead scripts are easy to understand, written to soap opera standards. Toss in cliches to bring emotion for the fore. If you got caught up watching the Soaps as a kid, you’re ready to join the Walking Dead audience. This is real formula: On page 30 of the script is a “turning point.” On page 38 there is a crisis of character.” Sadly the whole world knows what is going on, except ME.

Other than the soap opera aspects, death in Walking Dead is carved into our brains just like it’s part of the TV news. Killing Zombies relieves us of shock value as statistics of real killings of human beings mount. Zombie may take the place of the boogie-man like Don Trump. The whole world is watching. Human traits of empathy and grief become less meaningful and in the end are a waste of time.

These mind sets are detrimental to the rainbow society everyone likes to advertise. In history, countries, societies and cultures have lived through eras of death. In the last century pre-World War Two Japan was such a place. Life and human existence became cheap; Japanese generals sacrificed soldiers and sailors and civilians. That trait of the Japanese is no longer part of that vibrant country and its people.

I do not understand the lure of Walking Dead. It is not supported by any of the world’s major religions. It is neither penetrating and deep, psychologically or philosophically. Its substance can be mastered in an afternoon’s reading to learn all the nuances of zombies, the undead, vampires and other violent imaginary characters. It is probably this last point which makes Walking Dead a primary attraction.

P.S. This explains why audience members have learned Klingon but don’t know a speck of Spanish. Why people use Friends to support lifestyle choices, but are always running out of money. Why living on a desert island is a drag because there is no professor and no Internet.

 

 

 

 

 

MEIN KAMPF -General comments

MEIN KAMPF, Adolph Hitler

There is no way to review this book at once. The author’s strength is speech, specifically oratory. The first thing to know, the purpose of oratory is not to be reasonable and sensical. It is directed to the emotions of human beings, as though humans are being entertainment and are captured by the art of the speech before them. Hence, this author purposefully avoids attempts to explain anything in English or German.
It is not unusual for the modern reader to find any more of interest in the text than I did: 6.5 pages of 686 pages, less than one page of interesting text out of 100 pages. One poignant set of sentences explains why Adolph believes in Catholic priest celibacy. (p. 432) Adolph also likes to talk about syphilis and prostitution. (pages. 251, 254-55)

How hard is it to upset emotional prejudices, moods, sentiments, etc. and to replace them by others, on how many scarcely calculable influence and conditions success depends, the sensitive speaker can just by the fact that even the time of day in which the lecture takes place can have a decisive influence on the effect. The same lecture, the same speaker, the same theme, have an entirely different effect at ten o’clock in the morning, at three o’clock in the afternoon, or at night. (page. 473)
Sunday morning at ten o’clock. The result was depressing, yet at the same time extremely instructive: the hall was full, the impression really overpowering, but the mood ice cold; no one become war, and I myself as a speaker felt profoundly unhappy at being unable….
This should surprise no one. Go to a theatre performance and witness a play at three o’clock in the afternoon and the same play with the same actors at eight at night,
encroachments upon man’s freedom of will…(p. 474)
 In the morning and even during the day people’s will power seems to struggle with the greatest energy against an attempt to force upon them a strange will and strange opinion. At night…they will succumb more easily to the dominating force of a stronger will.
…mysterious twilight in Catholic churches, the burning of lamps, incense,
goal of oratory is “illiterate common people.” (page 475)

Since organization in the text is lacking, I write what Adolph says why organization is not important – in books or in politics. His first point made a few hundred times throughout the book: Adolph does not want anyone suspecting it was written by anyone academic, intellectual or disciplined. It necessarily stands to reason that Adolph prizes the superficial, craves spontaneity and revels in the nonsensical.

I am an enemy of too rapid and too pedantic organizing. It usually produces nothing but a dead mechanism, seldom a living organization. For organization is a thing that owes its existence to organic life, organic development. Ideas which have gripped a certain number of people will always strive for a greater order, and a great value must be attributed to this inner molding. Here, too, we must reckon with the weakness of men, which leads the individual, at first at least, instinctively to resist a superior mind. If an organization is mechanically ordered from above, there exists a great danger that a once appointed leader, not yet accurately evaluated and perhaps none too capable, will from jealousy strive to prevent the rise of abler elements within the movement. That harm that arises in such a case can, especially in a young movement, be of catastrophic significance.
…it is more expedient for a time to disseminate (p. 579)

This poorly constructed paragraph has three topic sentences; none are developed; none are related. For instance while arguing with himself about the value of organizing, he calls it dead but preferably a living development. What is being developed, dead or alive, organic or inorganic is not explained.
He next complains about the weakness of men, “resisting superior men.” Adolph includes himself among the superior minds. He always complains about people who read to gain knowledge, stiff intellectual types. Instead the best knowledge comes through oratory.
It is impossible to use oratory to extend wisdom or intelligence. It should be pointed out that during his life time, no one in Germany believed it necessary or worth while to memorialize any of Adolph’s words in stone. And note, Adolph was an absolute dictator in a totalitarian system.
Adolph’s third topic sentence demonstrates the jeopardy of this non-organizational approach. If the group leader does not know why he is doing, if he’s not on the ball and he’s wet behind the ears, and he is likely not the leader.
This is the ever-present fear existing in a movement: Following one path without realizing a different path needs taking, is catastrophic.But if a leader does not have the mental, social and acuity to advance the movement, it is time to choose anew.
Adolph believes wrongly that organization can be achieved by propaganda – use slogans, express fears, advance wants. Solutions should seem simple, however impracticable Adolph gives pages of propaganda notes, most of it is ridiculous and simplistic, except to a German.
Yet most political organization cannot survive on propaganda – use slogans to support an entire party, express policies of fearsome offer and advance hope based upon hate. Adolph omits the germs of ideas which stick with people into the future. It is the future sale of politics that Adolph finds tedious, boring and completely unpredictable. That was the history of him and his party. The Nazis were never the majority. Circumstances let them take executive offices, and Hindenburg’s death allowed Adolph to take all power.

The text of the MEIN KAMPF and subsequent events should not be considered inevitable, yet the readers and students frequently look at each and consider the book prescient. At best the text shows the sort of crank Hitler was when he became involved in German electoral politics, and it projects how he played to a exceptionally unsophisticated political people.

A note about the text in English. I’ve seen two English translations, 1943, and the most recent published as late at 1999. In each Edition are 686 pages; pretty much the words from page to page and the pages are also the same. Hence the page numbers above and in subsequent comments are from the 1943 edition.

NEW WRITER, OLD WRITER

Young and inexperienced, I once started stories and quickly put down 5-10,000 words (17-35 pages). I would next wonder where to go and how to get there.

Starting a story now might take a month or more to produce 5,000 words. The difference?
Production and enthusiasm depend upon the story, whether the setting, story or character may be emphasized, and how the writer (I) feel about any of it. But the primary difference is in the author’s (my) outlook. Enthusiasm and impulse remain the same today as it was, but I am more deliberate: I know it will be a slog, write every damn word about every perceived point covering each conceivable concept. The first draft is the one time the author has the opportunity to take this overall view: think freely and make every expression idiotic, moronic or nonsensical as well as completely, profound and experimental.
All later work pares the manuscript by rewriting within the parameters of the givens of the story; next comes editing and proofreading.
The slower launch today may mean energy is not marshaled; doubts linger about the quality of the plot and confidence might be fleeting. But confidence will build throughout a writing, doing 1,000 or 2,000 words a day, and feeling content having produced 20,000 words, 50,000 words, a first draft, and the next draft. It is that build of confidence, a building of ego, which allows a writer to finish a writing.

POLITICAL CORRECTNESS

Englishman Matthew Arnold wrote criticism about criticism in the last half of the nineteenth century. In an essay The Modern Spirit, Range of Modern Criticism, Arnold observes:

Philistinism! – we have not the expression in English. Perhaps we have not the word because we have so much of the thing…The French had adopted the term epicier (grocer), to designate the sort of being whom the Germans designate by the term Philistine; but the French term, – besides that it casts a slur upon a respectable class, composed of living and susceptible members, while the original Philistines are dead and buried long ago, – is really…in itself much less apt and expressive than the German form.

Arnold goes on to argue that the English should adopt philistinism, as the literary term he believes appropriate. The French word is not precise. In fact it conjures many meanings. Someone might be offended especially French grocers.

Arnold misspeaks. The French know epicier is the correct word because of the varied meanings it carries. The French know food; they know what to buy and where. The French themselves see no disrespect to any part of their business community. The French know there are many, many, many, many, many epicier ordinaire in France.

I stumbled across this criticism on criticism, and if Matt Arnold is the sort of person generating this sort of malarky plaguing everyone, everywhere we should be careful not to call anyone a Philistine, or an Etruscan or a Druid.

VARIOUS MOVIES

A SINGLE SHOT DON’T SEE. Appalachian man, Sam Rockwell, at the beginning of a divorce, goes hunting. He uses a rifle that looks like a shotgun. Aiming at a deer, he hits a woman in hiding. He’s shocked he killed the woman. He does not know who she is; he does not know she was living in his woods. There is no explanation about it in the movie. Sam is a moron mountaineer although he easily finds where she’s been staying and discovers a stash of cash which he appropriates. He conceals her body.

Next Sam Rockwell has to keep his cool, but he becomes a retard. He spends freely; he seems incredibly social, considering his house which looks like it hasn’t been cleaned since 1998. The boyfriend of the dead girl comes to town seeking revenge. He kills Sam’s dog’s. Since there are two strangers in the one-horse town Sam does not know who is the bad guy. Sam’s house is burgled. The body of the dead girlfriend is put into Sam’s freezer. Sam wonders who is plaguing him.

He wants to resume relations with his wife. Nope. A teenage daughter of a local diary farmer has the hots for Sam. There is a New Age scene where Sam shares a meal with her.

The film gets worse.

This movie need not be filmed in the backwoods, anywhere. It could be filmed in the front woods or along side a road. It might have been filmed in Frisco or in Westwood among the homeless. Sam Worthington would be noticeable by the sign hanging around his neck reading, I’m the biggest moronic, retard-fool on the planet.

The Canal (2013). The film is unnecessarily dark, with a poor story, mediocre dialogue and ill defined characters.

The International – Clive Owen, Naomi Watts. This is a predictable film with an excellent scene of dialogue (four minutes) between Owen and bad guy, Armin Mueller Stahl, which makes those opponents allies. At the end there are also good rooftop scenes of Istanbul.

After Hours – Griffin Dunne, Roseanne Arquette, Linda Floretino, Teri Garr, Martin Scorsese (Director). WATCH. This is as delightful and true a film as when I first saw it.

THE COMING WAR WITH JAPAN

George Friedman and Meredith LeBard

This book came into my possession in late April at a bag sale at a library book sale. So it cost a dime or perhaps eight cents. It was new and unread. It has a naval ship on the cover that looks of World War Two vintage. I was overjoyed. A book written in the 1930s about the American War with Japan. In a red banner across the top of the cover read in white letters: The #1 Bestseller in Japan. Wow, I was truly amazed at my luck. A book about World War Two written before that war and read by both sides.

NOPE. The book was published in 1993. The Coming War between Japan and the United States will have to wait, forever. What can be said about the hackers, George Friedman and Meredith LeBard. Like Richard Nixon, they’re selling used cars. Would you buy a used War from these tricks? Don’t bother buying a used book. On Amazon there are a few hundred at a penny a piece. These authors are emblematic of the 1990s – speculative, fantasy laced makers of drug ridden nightmares, and liars: “I did not have sex with that woman…” If Monica is coming back because she needs to be paid again, bringing back The Coming War is justified.

Note the book’s comments on the back:

Tight logic, superb research, clear writing. Friedman& LeBard don’t bask in the warmth this side of the cold war; they look ahead to the chilling possibilities that can follow [including Martian invasions and galactic explosions]. Lt. General Anthony Lukeman,, Executive Director, Marine Corp Association.

“…demonstrates with surprising thoroughness why their interests with diverge more and more…the underlying analysis of why Japan and America will change from their current partnership to more and more open rivalry may well seem prescient [for people who are maxed out on drugs]. James Fallows, The New York Review of Books.

“Friedman & LeBard make a persuasive case for the startling proposition that the U.S. and Japan are on a collision course leading to war within a generation. In an exegesis all the more chilling for its understated scholarship and wide angle perspectives, they predict an honest to goodness shootout…A thoughtful and thought-provoking what-if audit of the price of domination.” Kirkus Reviews. As always Kirkus says the most and says nothing. Kirkus Reviews uses big words – exegesis. What is a “what-if” audit. What-if the Yellowstone volcano erupted? Kirkus would be toast.

While President Bush prepares his series of high-flown speeches on the new world order…his advisers are reading a more down to earth analysis on the chances for world peace…The Coming War With Japan…” Peter Stothard, The Times of London. I know that President Bush was more low-down with the Japanese. Didn’t he toss his cookies into the lap of the Japanese President?

“…one of the most thorough and systematic analyses in recent years of the diverging interests of these two Pacific Basic superpowers. Peter Wiley, San Francisco Chronicle. This may be the most intelligent sentence the Chronicle has ever printed.

In one impressively researched section, they detail the ways in which the air, sea and land forces of Japan have been shrewdly and carefully built up, exploiting ambiguities in the country’s anti-war constitution. Christopher Hitchens, Newsday. Let’s hope Christopher Hitchens is correct.

There is a new book with the ominous title, The Coming War with Japan. It’s thesis is that Japan and the United States are victims today of the same historical forces that were at work in the 1930s and that another military clash is unavoidable. Lee Iaccoca, Chairman Chrysler Corporation, Los Angeles Times. In his imperious position at Chrysler, Iaccoca ignorantly misunderstands that totalitarian Japan of the 1930s differs greatly from the democracy there in 1990, and flourishing today.

Note the appalling quality of criticism. In this country criticism – this is wrong, that is correct – is not the point of the blurbs of any book. Instead the American public is delivered highfaluting, overstuffed phrases from names who likely have not read the book. Non-fiction criticism should be direct. It is not. It suffers from the same inept, poorly read, ignorance that is frequently found in the books themselves. Write a review, attach your name. Then, the next sloppy book by that set of reviewers will be favorably reviewed.

Schrunk & White, Elements of Style

In the late 1940s EB White wrote about Will Schrunk, his professor at Cornell. White was asked by the publisher of Schrunk’s book to revise it for a new edition. Hence, Schrunk & White, Elements of Style

In a 1957 letter and in White’s other essays and stories, it is obvious he departs repeatedly from Schrunk’s rules. The exception is when a rule is followed. It demonstrates that most of Schrunk & White came from Schrunk, not White. It reveals why White’s essays, letters and reports are second-rate, and cannot be read for knowledge, insight or inspiration. It explains why White’s criticism is not well written.

It also explains why White was a sell-out: Witness rambling rumination on Henry Thoreau, Walden, and White’s excuses for flaws: “To reject the book because of the immaturity of the author and the bugs in the logic is to throw away a bottle of good wine because it contains bits of cork.” A Slight Sound at Evening, Summer, 1954.

Take a specific problem first, coming from White’s pen and limited imagination. He refers to Walden being inmature which can mean anything and having bugs in its logic. Once a book is launched, it is usually unchanged. Walden has be immature and buggy since 1854. Thoreau’s only salvation is the residency in New England. If he had been from Tennessee or Nebraska, the book would be appropriately forgotten. Of course White is from New England and always supports the homeboy.

Next, if a good wine has cork in it, it can be filtered, and the cork removed. But no one can filter immediately bugs from wine. It is best not to drink the bottle with the cork in it, although in New England the natives may swill anything and swallow. Hence, White’s simile is wrong, and it’s wrong in real life. Law books report cases when critters like bugs get inside bottles and containers. The expert advice is, don’t consume them.

The greater problem is when White extols immaturity and bugs in logic. How much of that ineptness must a reader endure? If a human being reads poor writing and decides to write, then the consequent output will be poor quality. Human beings only learn if they read, comprehend and understand good writing – saying something in five words rather than 20. Knowing that five words can state the full thought [concept, idea] makes the writer more adept – five words makes the writing easier and more pleasant to read.

But White cherishes homeboy, Henry David, massively imperfect, boring and probably using drugs while dwelling in his pond shack, polluting the pure waters and uttering Wow, all the time. Thoreau wrote about simple, mundane events and impressions, things any high schooler might believe significant. We don’t keep those immature writings full of bugs around – even the students themselves toss them. And we don’t put those writers on postage stamps.  Drugs are a possibility explaining why Thoreau was immature and infested, but drugs are not an excuse to read him. It remains mystifying why White defers to Thoreau and likes him (except EB White also paid no attention to the rules in Elements of Style).