Posts Tagged ‘Michael Chabon’

Chabon on the American persidential election oratory

September 26, 2008

Chabon writes about his experience of attending the DNC in Denver and the role of spoken language and oratory in American politics (link via Laila Lalami):

The entire party convention is a collective act of that kind. It’s a throwback, a holdover, a relic, like baseball. It’s also, weirdly, a formal, public celebration of spoken language, a kind of political eisteddfod. A lot of the language I heard in the roughly thirty-seven speeches to which I listened was undoubtedly banal. The technique known as “staying on message”—picking one or two or at the most six things to talk about, and talking about them ceaselessly and in unvarying terms until they are no longer questioned, challenged, or even, really, remarked as they waft past the listener’s ear—is hell on poetry. The decimated vocabulary of modern American politics, confined to dwell on those islands called Family, Patriotism, Change, Future, and the Choices (Right and Dangerous), beggars most speeches down to their rhetorical rags and bones. In Denver the nearby presence of the Rockies tempted many of the speechwriters to pile up mountains of cliché.

Staying on message also tends to diminish the content of oratory. Most of the speakers offered up pretty much the same things, mutatis mutandi for region and generation and role in society, as those who preceded or followed them. The Message of a campaign is like a textured soy protein that appears at every meal in the guise of chicken or pork or the governor of Indiana, nutritious in its way but ultimately jading to the palate. “That is not the change we need,” Evan Bayh said, speaking of Senator McCain. And Amanda Kubik, a twenty-seven-year-old delegate from Fargo, North Dakota, said, “Barack Obama is the change we need.” In his acceptance speech, Joe Biden employed the phrase “that’s the change we need” five times in epistrophic succession.

I wondered if Obama ever wearied of the sham and extravagance and artifice. I wondered if his writerly ear rebelled at the nightly catalog of corn, platitudes, and dead language, or if perhaps the pragmatism so routinely underestimated by Obama’s opponents took satisfaction in the seamless forcefield of message generated nightly by the well-vetted objects of his speechwriters’ attentions. Or maybe, I thought, with his lyric grasp of US history, Obama enjoyed as much as I did the interstitial bits of procedural prose (“Ladies and gentlemen, fellow Democrats and friends, we bring you greetings from the great state of Georgia, the thirteenth state in our union, birthplace of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr….where we look to the future with an optimistic gaze…we, the empire state of the South, the jewel of the South, the great state of Georgia…), scenting the convention with their panatela reek of mock pomposity, the all but inaudible echoed trumpetings of the electoral past. Mostly, like everyone, I found myself wondering about the speech that he was going to give on Thursday night.

… Oratory demands not only stagecraft and poetry but the creation of a persona, and in this sense Michelle Obama’s speech carried twice the burden of any other speaker at the convention: she had to define herself, and in so doing, help to more sharply define her husband.

A very interesting piece; take a look!

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Chabon’s writing– not legitimate?

August 21, 2008

Vivian Gornick, in this interview, claims that it is:

Roth and Bellow are titanic figures, they’re beyond criticism. But really, what I am saying in this piece is that Jewish writing is over. That is the point of contention.

Jewish-Americans did something in American literature that no other culture has done— they created world-class literature out of the immigrant experience. And that’s the only thing that mattered in Jewish-American writing. Had Roth and Bellow not been major talents, you wouldn’t have Jewish-American writing. It wouldn’t mean anything. It would just be parochial, local.

But we cannot have major talent writing this stuff anymore because there’s nothing to write about. What made them major was their gripe, the chip on their shoulders. The rage that they felt at the world for keeping them out. That experience became a great metaphor. There is no hyphenated Jewish experience anymore. I have two nieces who are both Ivy League babies and they’re in the ruling class. There’s nothing they can’t do. Nothing.

So there’s nothing to talk about. There’s really nothing to write about. Yet you have young people who keep on doing it. All I’m saying is, it doesn’t count. Take Michael Chabon, or Jonathan Safran Foer. They’re cashing in on a world that’s long gone and they’re writing with open nostalgia. They’re making things out of it that belong to their grandfathers. It’s a habit to go on assuming that this is legitimate writing. But I truly feel it is not.

Link via Amitava Kumar.

A recommendation for Conan Doyle’s Brigadier Etienne Gerard series

January 31, 2008

I knew of Conan Doyle’s Holmes novels and stories; I also liked his Lost world, which I read it in tamil translation ages ago. However, I did not know about his Brigadier Etienne Gerard series; over at NPR, Michael Chabon strongly recommends these stories:

But did you know that in between gleefully killing off Holmes and somewhat reluctantly reviving him, Arthur Conan Doyle created another great fictional character, one who easily rivals Holmes — if not for intelligence, then for heroism, bravery and dash? A character who exceeds Holmes in the one trait in which the great detective, by his own admission, was always deficient: a rich and lovable humanity. This hero, a handsome, charming and resourceful cavalry officer serving in the Grand Army of Napoleon, has only one tragic flaw, though in his own eyes, of course, it is his glory and his single greatest advantage in life: He is a Frenchman.

His name is Brigadier Etienne Gerard, and he starred in 17 short stories that Conan Doyle wrote, with a palpable sense of liberation, after pushing Holmes off that Alpine ledge. In their day they were almost as popular as the Holmes stories, but I have to confess that even though I’m a lifelong Sherlockian, I had never heard of the good brigadier until his exploits and adventures were recently collected in a single volume.

In its pages you will find adventure, action, romance, love and self-sacrifice, hair’s-breadth escape and reckless courage, gallantry, panache and a droll, backhand humor that rivals that of P.G. Wodehouse. You will also find yourself, even more than with the celebrated stories of Holmes and Watson, in the hands of an indisputable artist. For more than any other adventure stories I know, these stories have a power to move the reader.

There is a very long excerpt too from the recent collection of this series; have fun!