Wednesday, January 17, 2007
Notes on PEN/Faulkner, Gimmicky Writers, etc...
We went to see E.L. Doctorow on Friday night at the PEN/Faulkner reading hosted by the Folger Shakespeare Library. I like the PEN/Faulkner reading series. As it turns out, however, I don’t like E.L. Doctorow’s writing. He’s part of a generation of American writers who are taken very seriously by critics and English professors, and are also commercially successful. Writers like Don DeLillo, Tom Wolf, Tom Robbins, and John Irving. They all suffer from the same problem: they write about stuff that they want us to believe is profound, but when it comes right down to it, is either trite, not insightful, or totally lacking in meaning.
For instance, Doctorow read a short story narrated by a man who had joined a cult. While smoothly written, the story had very little to say. It ends with the cult leader running away with all the cult’s money and the narrator’s wife. Oooooo, cult leaders are immoral hucksters! What a revelation! Never saw THAT coming! The problem, of course, with this conclusion is that, not only doesn't it add anything to humanity’s understanding of the universe, it’s actually, well, wrong. Jim Jones, David Koresh, and Marshall Applewhite, all died with their followers. What Doctorow wrote was what all we non-cult-followers wish to believe about cult leaders: they don’t actually believe what they preach; they are simply greedy con artists, when in fact the evidence proves otherwise.
Other examples of what I'm talking about: Tom Wolf makes the earth-shattering revelation in I Am Charlotte Simmons that college-age women HAVE A SOCIAL LIFE! Who knew? No one born in the last 40 years would be shocked by anything that Charlotte does.
Don DeLillo ends the prologue of Mao II with this: “The future belongs to crowds.” This sentence is so utterly devoid of context, concreteness, and even a peripheral relationship with meaning, that one may think that it must therefore be DEEP, so deep that I, with my tiny intellect, just don’t get it. In fact, it’s simply bad writing.
“Gimmicky” is the word I would use to describe all these writers. They pick something that has a particular hold on the popular imagination: cults, gangsters, girls-gone-wild, abortion, hippiedom, and then deliver exactly what their audience expects.
Regarding my own writing: Last week was a good week here at aportablesnack: my work poem was picked up by Wonkette, my post about DC Restaurant week was picked up by The Express, and someone actually posted my poem on Joel Auchenbach’s blog page. (By the way, poems are supposed to be grammatically incorrect!) Plus, I finally recieved a copy of my article about the Capitol City Market that was published on December 13 in the Current Newspapers (Georgetown Current, Dupont Current, Foggy Bottom Current, Northwest Current). Unfortunately, it’s not posted anywhere on-line. And finally my friend arjewtino was picked up by Gridskipper. A precedent setting week!