Wednesday, March 19, 2008

ESD#27: celebrity and new criticism, revisited

I've been thinking again about celebrity and new criticism. I think about this subject a lot--like when I recently researched Ira Glass. What prompted me to do this? My latest thinking is that perhaps I like my art being sullied by the reality of an imperfect creator. It makes me feel less inadequate or less naive.

Regarding celebrity, after (gasp!) two years of reading, I'm removing it from Google Reader. It's disgusting, vacuous drivel, and I'm sick of it. It used to be occasionally funny, but now, never. The only thing I enjoy is finding the conspicuously ghostwritten posts--like when "Perez" used the word vitriol. Not Perez. I'm further annoyed by his current promotion of music (he's starting a label). Ugh. Good riddance.

Let's move on to more high brow culture.

E and I used to attend a lot of book readings. My favorite book reading story is when E saw Elie Wiesel read from Wise Men and Their Tales. Before Wiesel signed E's book, he put down his pen, shook his wrist and let out a long sigh. E felt so guilty, thinking, 'This poor man survived the Holocaust, and I'm wasting his precious life making him sign my book.'

I experienced my greatest celebrity awe when seeing Douglas Coupland read (for Miss Wyoming, maybe?). I've read every Coupland novel and love them all to a varying degree. He ran his Q&A session as an A&Q session, Jeopardy style--how apropos, considering his "top Jeopardy category lists" from Generation X. Oddly, after the reading, I didn't want him to sign my book. I'm not sure why. His books often touch on themes of art and isolation, so perhaps I wanted the purity of remaining disconnected from the author. In j-pod, a more recent novel, Coupland actually inputs himself, the author, directly into the story; clearly Coupland wrestles with new critic themes, too.

For my own benefit, here's a list of memorable readings I've been to, along with notes. This is one of those "notes to future self" lists, since even now these memories are fleeting. You may want to stop reading at this point.

Harold Bloom--I think we've seen him speak, like, eighteen times. His reading of Stories and Poems for Extremely Intelligent Children of All Ages was very insightful. He described himself as someone who was never meant to be a child; his childhood was very isolated. He recited Christina Rossetti by heart; it was quite moving.

T.C. Boyle--The short story he read was great, but I left thinking Boyle was a pompous ass. He probably is. My friend Deb was in the front row and nervously asked a question, as she has a major crush on him--so cute. Months later, I discovered that Boyle wrote Tortilla Curtain, which I thought was one of the most insightful and truthful books I've ever read about class, race and culture. My whole perspective of Boyle changed. When is the movie coming out?

Paul Farmer--Amazingly, a non-profit superstar can sell out the Sanders Theater. It's moments like this that I love Cambridge. I can't believe I still haven't finished Mountain Beyond Mountains.

Paul Feig--I've never laughed so hard at a book reading.

Frances Moore Lappe--She read from Hope's Edge, one of my favorite books. I had the pleasure of reading a few chapters before it was published (during some sort of activist workshop), and I was so pleased with the final product (despite the hard to read present progressive tense). A few years later, Lappe rented space in my office, and I got to know her on a more personal basis. This has prompted a lot of my thinking about new criticism and separating art from the creator. I'm too nervous to write about this experience here, so ask me about it in person some time.

Jonathan Lethem--Oh, Lethem. I read The Disappointment Artist over and over again, and never tire of it. Please write more personal non-fiction. Please.

Mark Pendergrast--There were only about ten of us crammed into a small space at WordsWorth after they sold half of the store. [Ugh, I miss that place. Harvard Square, take a good long look in the mirror. Do you like what you see? Do you realize what you've become?] I felt really guilty, because I asked him to sign Uncommon Grounds instead of the book he was promoting Mirror Mirror (oddly, E bought and read Mirror Mirror a few weeks ago, years after its release). I told him as such, and he replied, "It's OK. I really like this book." He was so sweet and funny. He signed it with the message, "Thanks for reading this," which was so clever, since he knew I had already read it.

Robert Pinsky--He produced(?) a documentary of people reciting their favorite poems. Touching stuff. This doesn't show up in the IMDB. Is it not completed? This was years ago. Hmmm.

Salman Rushdie--Fatwa jokes never get old. Some of the dialog he read was truly embarrassing (I can't remember the book). Rushdie should not attempt to write the voice of young American pop-culture. I wrote an essay about the night E and I saw Rushdie. It really captured that time E and I spent together before dating. Unfortunately, it's on an old computer that I can't get to start. I guess I'll have to be satisfied with the ephemeral memories of that night. Like all my ephemeral memories of life before dating and marriage.

Joseph Stieglitz--Boy, Stieglitz, did you ever predict our economic downfall.

Howard Zinn--I have no idea what he was promoting. Then again, he's always promoting something around here. I've seen him speak a couple of times.


Anonymous said...

yes! A breakthrough with cutting Perez out. FAIL.

To completely follow the tenants of New Criticism is impossible. We can not remove the author from the work no matter how hard we try. Bloom, while correctly identified as a critic who focuses on text above all else, is a Freudian romantic at heart. He is all about the influence of past writers on the present, and how the present writers must "kill" their predecessors; thus fulfilling a Freudian model of self identity.

I've been thinking about the author and their work as it relates to music. Mr. Hodjet and I went over this at lunch, how we can dismiss R Kelly and 50 Cent for who they are, but hold a measure of respect for Michael Jackson's music. Maybe the answer lies in the relative greatness of the art compared to their degenerate lifestyle (Oh, I get dibs on making this graph). I think that with time, the personal stuff fades. We might shy away from reading Hemingway in school right after his suicide, but now not give a second thought. It's good not to make a full criticism based on the author, since that will render a short list of approved works.

more on this later.

What about the poetry reading in that Harvard dorm. Why did we go (it was my fault) and wasn't the poetry absolute shite? Mr. Poopy Pants all talking about sex and the Iraq War. Shite sandwich.

I'd also like a 3rd post shout out by including the Walter Mosley story, or at least a link to prior post.

The_Writer said...

Great insight, and thanks for not calling out my apparent crush on Mark Pendergrast (who definitely is NOT crushworthy).

R Kelley's and 50 Cent's personas are completely tied into their art. Michael Jackson, not at all (except maybe that song he did with Janet... I can't remember what it's called... one of those backlash against the media type songs). So the former deserve to have their art judged through their character (albeit a persona).

Oh, wasn't I going to address this issue in a Wu-Tang essay about "riding through your hood in a Mr. Softee truck"? I need to get on that.