Monthly Archives: April 2012

On Being a Jerkface (Jonathan Franzen)

If you can get past the annoying new Salon design, this is a pretty level-headed review of Jonathan Franzen’s new book of essays.

Level-headed? Is that my greatest compliment? Well, Franzen seems to inspire levels of vitriol usually reserved for actual family members. Or exes. (Ex-lovers, ex-presidents, extreme makeover shows.)

And you know, he brings it upon himself. He publicly hates lots of things that people love: Twitter, e-books, the late capitalist civilization that has fatally encroached upon innocent nature. He wrote a less-than-hagiographic essay about the suicide of his best friend, a writer who is nearly sainted by the smart, passionate people he wants to read his books. He protested his inclusion in Oprah’s book club and then whined about how he was so misunderstood for it.

The New Yorker’s illustration of his infamous essay “Farther Away”

In writing that essay about mourning his best friend and rival, Franzen has deliberately created a discourse comparing him to David Foster Wallace. Which was a dumb idea. He’ll lose on nearly every measure of literary quality. But I’m not interested in comparing them. I like them both, and find both problematic.

Instead, I want to ask what Franzen gets out of being such a dickhead.

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Mother-In-Law vs TSA (Guess Who Wins?)

I was away from the bloggerator for a few days, but on my adventures, I saw this. Once more, The Atlantic’s Middle East reporter gave me the giggles.

Goldblog’s tiny, retired librarian mother-in-law was detained after the TSA screen-machine found an “anomaly in the crotch area.” Needless to say, there was no anomaly.

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Autism Awareness Month


You may have known that April is the cruelest month. You may not have known it is also Autism Awareness Month. To commemorate it, the Light It Up Blue campaign persuaded White Castle, the Empire State Building, the Hungarian Parliament Building (pictured above) and other institutions all over the world to light their buildings blue on April 2. A beautiful display of global support and community.

This photo came from the Atlantic’s series of images commemorating Autism Awareness Month.

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Ginzo is from Mars (Mad Men Tuesday)

One of the many, many surprises of this week’s episode was that, after Peggy crashed full speed into a very low glass ceiling and crumpled back down, it was her conversation with Ginsburg, about the Holocaust, that compelled her to seek her boyfriend’s comfort.

Mad Men is not the first work of art to juxtapose the horrors of the Holocaust with the excess of postwar US leisure culture. My favorite version of this grotesque technique isĀ Lolita, which also uses exploitative sexuality to try to make sense of the whole mishegas.

"Actually, I'm from Mars"

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Beautiful Writing (About Gun Control)

In last week’s New Yorker, the inimitable Jill Lepore lays out the history of gun control legislation from the Constitution onward.

Turns out, and it’s not surprising, that the current civil-rights-based interpretation of the 2nd Amendment was radical when the NRA started floating it in the 70s. For 200 years prior, everyone understood the Constitution to affirm the people’s right to form militias for the good of the commonwealth. The 2nd Amendment goes along with the 3d Amendment, protecting the commonwealth from a military regime (that part about not having to quarter a soldier without your consent).

Li’l militias soon got absorbed into the standing national army, and armories were publicly operated storehouses for the sanctioned army to use. Citizens used guns for hunting and didn’t think of the two as connected.

The right to defend your property from a shady-looking nogoodnik had nothing to do with it. But in the 70s, the NRA formed a lobbying arm. And during the Reagan administration, the NRA lobbyists started to succeed in getting this new, radical, civil rights interpretation placed in legal journals–and in getting it passed into law.

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Paranoia is a Philosophical Mode

Yesterday 3 different Jonathan Lethems converged in my head. Yowza! But it got me thinking about the nexus of SF, paranoia, and drugs. And the ways that we are still living in the 70s. And it also reminded me of how much I like Lethem.

1. This book came out and is getting reviewed, despite the persistent semi-underground status of both the author and its subject. Here’s a comprehensive, if sprawling, review of the book. Lethem wrote an idiosyncratic, personal close reading of a transitional Talking Heads album. Here’s a fun interview for the occasion. I love the Talking Heads! Ohboyohboyohboy!

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