One way of defending yourself against hype, with its incessant promise of the new, is to adopt a blasé attitude: whatever it is, you’ve seen it five times before. And it could be said that hype, too, is old hat. After all, the rapid boom and bust of stylistic trends and individual reputations has been going on for as long as there’s been a bourgeoisie.
The Intellectual Situation
It doesn’t pay to be proud of what you’ve read, or anxious about what you haven’t. During the so-called canon wars of two decades ago, the issue at stake was which books professors ought to make people feel they had read. Also what they could teach in college. Canons in daily life, however, just demarcate the books you can count on other people feeling comfortable about in conversation. And these books are often capable of substitution—you don’t have to have read a particular one, if you know the rough feeling. You have read Kerouac. Unless you haven’t; in which case you can substitute Bukowski, Tom Robbins, or even Sylvia Plath.
Self help–style books about reading reappeared on the publishing scene in the last halcyon days of “Third Way” capitalism—when the world was embracing a kinder, gentler free market as a solution to all our problems, including the problem of universal education.
We are said to be undergoing a book review crisis. In Atlanta, Los Angeles, San Francisco, the book supplement sections of major regional newspapers—the traditional place for reviews with a wide audience, the vast and essential center of the book trade—have been cut down and folded into other parts of the paper. The book critics’ guild organizes resistance, but the market has spoken: Book publishers are no longer willing to dole out for advertising in the city papers when all the wealthier readers seem to be online, and the newspapers know they’ll get better short-term circulation figures if they devote more room to celebrity profiles.
The Voting Age was lowered from 21 to 18 only in 1971, by Constitutional amendment. A response to Vietnam, the consensus of the times was summed up in the slogan “Old enough to fight, old enough to vote!” Simple and direct. Like most of boomer politics, the campaign succeeded through an appeal from pride to shame: from the righteously self-centered youth of the Age of Aquarius to an older generation still capable of vague feelings of responsibility for their actions and the future effects of those actions. Its success, however, was at best incomplete.
Ultimately, the antipolitics of fear—as it would be more properly called—would deprive the person of his status as a political, even a social being; a man or woman would constitute, for public purposes, only a bare animal existence to be protected from the collapse of the natural environment and the engineered conditions sustaining that existence. This would be survival rather than life; and mere survival, no matter how comfortable or uncomfortable, is something less than being human.
I knew lots of people like that—unloved because unlovable. Toward them I was always cold. Maybe I held them at arm’s length to disguise from myself our shared predicament. And so, by trying to disguise something from yourself, you declare it to everyone else—because part of what makes a person unlovable is his inability to love.
Several factors aided the cubicle in its rise to monolithic status. The first was a seemingly minor shift in economic policy. In the early 1960s, the US Treasury instituted new rules for depreciating furniture assets in order to encourage more corporate spending. Furniture was given a shorter taxable life (7 years), while permanent features of a building would have a concomitantly longer one (39.5 years). This meant that, from the ’60s on, it became vastly cheaper to buy and replace office furniture and systems like cubicles, since corporations could write off cubicles, but not fixed office suites, on their tax returns.
Fiction and Drama
The book is on a table in [Barnes & Noble/Borders/Waldenstone’s/Dalton’s/Other, delete as appropriate], part of a 3-for-2 offer. You’ve also been meaning to read Seymour Hersh’s Chain of Command, and this too is in the 3-for-2 deal. They’ve got Gravity’s Rainbow by the notorious recluse Thomas Pynchon. Mao II by DeLillo, The Border Trilogy by McCarthy, Catcher in the Rye by Salinger, notorious recluses to a man.
At home, their mother had baked cheese-toast and warmed up a can of minestrone. She sprinkled paprika on the cheese for effect.
“The sermon was about being kind to the poor even when they are prodigal,” Jacob reported.
“We met Timothy Brennan, who is very nice,” Alice confessed.
Jake kicked her foot under the table. She had already taken off her shoes, however, and she cried out.
“How did you meet him?” Mrs. Putnam asked.
“On the way to church,” Jake said.
“Did he give you a ride?”
They could smell the crusts of the cheese-toast burning. The crusts could be sliced off, but usually a few black grains would fall and stick in the cheddar.
The owner of a factory—his underworld nickname was Toothache—sat in a café wondering how he was going to break the union. For a while this was the most important thing in his life. He was developing some ideas about it when all of a sudden a group of comrades walked past the café bearing a red flag. The factory owner decided that the revolution had come and he began to repent, and shed tears, and share his profits with the workers. But it turned out the parade was just part of a slow evolution, and there was still plenty of time to exploit, crush, and kill.
The fifty-year summer of Cody’s ended forever at 8 pm on July 10, 2006. Two other Cody’s stores, one on Fourth Street in Berkeley and one in San Francisco, were acquired by a Tokyo-based corporation called Yohan, Inc. On April 20, 2007, Yohan closed the San Francisco shop—which Cody’s had been criticized for opening while the Telegraph store was not doing well. Only the Fourth Street store remains.
“When you go abroad,” I say, because my students need convincing to read the work of a traitor, “you will talk to Americans and Europeans who know the names of two Turks: Hrant Dink and Orhan Pamuk. And if you can’t participate in an intelligent and well-informed conversation about both of them, you will be at a disadvantage.” . . . I don’t say, “You may also look evil.”
No one ever said Nick Denton was an altruist. But it’s important to note that Gawker Media was designed to compete with the corporations that Gawker abused from the sidelines, because this is what created the dissonance of the site’s later years. From the beginning, it was crucial that Denton hire novice writers for Gawker, not to mention the rest of his titles.
Now we’ve burned half the available oil, or close to it, and burning it (along with so much coal) has altered the earth’s equilibrium. Our future, like our past, may be virtually free of oil, and global culture, and many of the social safeguards we enjoy. Thus the novel of future catastrophe threatens to become a version of the historical novel.