Rose Tinted Hindsight
When it comes to educated hindsight, the way that we look back on the 1950’s (particularly in regards to McCarthyism and Cold War propaganda) with a sense of comfortable superiority and condescending ‘knowing’, might be akin to the way of which the 50’s kind of regarded itself; dismissive, and disingenuous.
Sitcoms and educational videos unanimously revolved around suburban Levittown nuclear families, American unity, and the newly narrowed-down gendered rolls being supplemented with anxieties of nuclear threat general seemed to be directly interlinked with the social climate and behavioral control the era is known for. Upon talking about this, and watching these sitcoms and education videos we kind of laugh about the absurdity of it all. How completely un-self-aware it all seems. Bad jokes hinting at the immaturity of young couples, ideas and concepts meant to be broad and encompassing obviously only applying to the context of caucasian suburbanites, and the sincerity of it all. One episode of I Love Lucy is about the husband and wife swap responsibilities laden by gender roles associated with the era and suburban living. The butt of the joke always about the supposed absurdity of a man acting as a woman or vice versa, and the motif/moral lesson at the end present in these sitcoms, is that each member of the nuclear family should be understanding of the other’s responsibilities, and should always try to be empathetic. Seeing this, we understand the absurdity of it all, and we also see the agenda, and dispersion of these ideas without any semblance of self-awareness, or hypocrisy.
We learn that the harms of McCarthyism are in how people were persecuted unjustly. The void of freedom of speech leaving thousands and thousands of innocent people with their lives ruined. We learn about The Hollywood 10, the millions of people investigated, and the fear caused by this paranoia. But we don’t learn about (and by doing so dismiss) how the oppression occurring was directly aimed at one specific ethnic group. We don’t talk about the dog-whistling. When Albert Canwell of the Washington State Legislative Fact-Finding Committee said that if someone discusses the racial discrimination of black Americans, or inequality of wealth in America then there is “every reason to believe that person is a Communist.” we see it as propaganda directed at the politically active, but ignore the coded language. We don’t talk about the persecution of the ‘sexually perverse’, and what the desolation of workers unions and workers rights activists meant to victims unaffiliated with the Communist Party. It doesn’t matter that the victims of McCarthyism were blatantly Jews and members of the LGBT community, or that 90% of blacklisted teachers were Jews, that 5000 federal workers were fired under the pretense of suspected homosexuality, that 21 percent of Americans believed most Jews were communists, that according to McCarthy himself, being against McCarthyism meant “you’ve got to be either a communist or a cocksucker.” Instead, we see the relative left, wealthy socialists, and literal Democrats largely composed of McCarthy supporters. We only see ‘communist spies’ themselves as the real victims of McCarthyism.
When we examine the contents of Gentleman’s Agreement, we notice how the narrative surrounds antisemitism, but somehow manages to completely ignore the holocaust which happened just a few years prior. This is a convenient allegory of how our own perspective narrows down American antisemitism to the holocaust. An atrocity that happened in Europe, and far away from the blame of Americans. This kind of essentially rose-colored perspective of oppression categorizes an enormous part of Western social injustices to a simple box that can be blamed on one facet, and in the process actively erases any semblance of personal responsibility to addressing ongoing and historical oppression. If the observation of narrative that ignores racial oppression is based on a dismissal of an atrocity, but ignore the ongoing oppression by both conservatives and communists, we, in turn, take ownership of that oppression, welcoming it with willful ignorance and dismissing personal responsibility and privilege. Ironically turning the Jewish scapegoat trope on its head, and using the holocaust as a scapegoat to ignore our own racial oppression of the Jewish people. It’s convenient too, because we can say the few people who supported the USSR with full knowledge of the USSR’s systematic and violent oppression towards Jews were the victims of McCarthyism.
To use a literary example of the era, we learn about beat generation and focus on the blatantly obvious distinction between counterculture and critique. The beats (as a motif predecessor of hippies) don’t offer any solution to the fear, distorted worldviews of America in the 50s, but opt out. Enjoying the benefits of being against, and laughing at the tragedy of it all while not fighting against it (see On The Road). The exception to this is Allen Ginsberg (Carlo Marx in On The Road) constantly criticized the Americas fear-mongering, censorship, and racism. And as a result of doing so, was targeted by McCarthyism. We ignore that he’s Jewish and the blatant involvement of his cultural perspectives leading him to be the most targeted. We ignore is homosexuality that’s so overtly announced and open in his poetry and by his own admission. We just learn that he was the biggest communist of them all. If our hindsight partakes in the same dismissal we’re criticizing the McCarthy era for, aren’t we doing the same thing?
Obviously with a sense of extended superiority one can claim it isn’t as bad, but if we are to situate ourselves as this omnipotent surveyor of ethical criticism, surely we shouldn’t be doing the exact things we’re criticizing. If we laugh at Marcus Klein’s inept analysis of how nothing was going on in the 50s and how he didn’t touch on the close proximity of the holocaust, shouldn’t we also say that there was ongoing oppression to talk about in the 1950’s?
We’re laughing at the dismissal of oppression and we’re dismissing oppression ourselves. The only difference is that we don’t live in an era of “straightjacketed” propaganda as Philip Roth described the 50’s. Instead, we have access to the information and tools required to deconstruct the things we’re criticizing. But we’re not using them.
America Was Never Great
My last blog post was about the way we look back at the 50’s cold war propaganda. Specifically about the erasure of antisemitism and homophobia we practice by ignoring how prevalent it was within McCarthyism. I’m particularly interested in the way that Western society looks back at past era’s, and how that hindsight is used.
The 2016 presidential campaign of Donald Trump focused heavily on how the American government throttled the supposed freedoms of everyday Americans. How politicians were inherently untrustworthy, and how individual rights should be more important that state legislation. Mantras like “Make America Great Again” were wistfully past around on bright red hats by young and old as a uniform of anti-establishment. An aura that successfully emitted the “fuck the washington machine” ideology of Trumpism. The idea is that America should return to its roots. The 50’s and 80’s of great American conservatism and material prosperity. Ronald Reagan successfully used “Let’s Make America Great Again” in his campaign regarding the 50’s. The individual and freedom of one concept running alongside Thatcherism, material prosperity and nuclear family values. The kind of ideas spouted by Coronet Film and the Red Book 1957 anniversary video.
The irony is that the motifs of the 1950’s weren’t about individual prosperity or personal gain, but trying to find a place within society, family, work and school life. What to do when the husband was out at work. How to act on dates. How to say no. How to behave in a school environment. Answers to questions that were filmed and propagated and woven into anti-Communist propaganda about how Russians viewed everyone as cogs in the machine of the state and how everyone dogmatically had to line up for bread and how that was just plain awful. Even the left itself parodied this dogmatic order by brandishing satirical concepts like ‘political correctness’ poking fun at the dogmatic nature of Marxist-Leninist political discourse at the time.
The ideologies of the 50’s were inconsistent at best, but if you look at magazine covers depicting couples dreaming about domestic bliss, and movies about high school socialites getting dates and greasers causing a ruckus, it really does not look like an era of cultural individualism, and the freedom of entrepreneurship, it looks like dogma and behavioural control. Being a cog in the machine. Doing your part. The exact things communists were supposedly doing, but somehow different.
‘Make America Great Again’ is a seductive illusion, but if “great” means individualism, then America was never “great”.
At the moment I’m really interested in the connection between the Beat generation and the subsequent hippie movement of the 60’s. I looked up a little bit about Jack Kerouac’s opinions regarding the hippie movement, and I’m aware that Allen Ginsberg was pretty involved in the “Yippie” party, and I also know that Neal Cassady hung out with members of that incredibly boring psychedelic band Grateful Dead, but I don’t really have any cohesive understanding of how the pop interest or at least acknowledgment of the beats had direct influence on the manifestation of the Hippies.
The geopolitical aspect of it, in particular, is interesting. Because I know that the beat generation somewhat flourished in its publishing and media success somewhat in New York, and the hippie movement began in San Francisco, which incidentally is where the beats also thrived. The sociopolitical and socioeconomic differences are also relevant and interesting. The beats mostly coming out of working-class writers, who in turn glorify and romanticize labour, while the hippies were mostly coming out of upper-middle-class suburbs on the fringe of South California and beyond. There’s also some ideological aspect of the two groups that somewhat conflict. Kerouac and Cassady adhering to the whole “playing it cool” and participant observation aspect of voyeuristic traveling, while doing benzedrine to get more hours out of the day with excitement and the obsessively towards ‘experience’, and hippies were obsessed with material individuality, dropping off the grid as functional escapism, and sitting down all day smoking weed. The two personalities and energies somewhat conflict with each other, even though there are plenty of similarities too.
Anyway, I think researching this connection would reveal a lot about the discursive aspects of the 50’s and 60’s, while also providing a lot of interesting sociological points regarding the two countercultures. Both their literary and cultural references running alongside each other.
My biggest trife with arguing about art is that while I don’t think any art is inherently more valuable than another, I do not see any problem with simply going “I like this piece of art more”.
I’m finding it really difficult to engage in academic content so heavily based around “what is art?”, and the concept around relearning how to read in a vestigial sense to have a greater understanding of works of literature. Saying this, I don’t really think my position against studying fiction is really all that valuable beyond going
The biggest issue about this all, is that i really just dont care what is considered as art or not. Its obviously a fluid concept
80’s Hardcore Punk, Literature, and the Beat Generation
I was thinking about the 80s counter-culture response to individualism/materialism through literature that we’ve been focusing on in class. (In regards to Tama Janowitz, and Bret Easton Ellis), and the focus, especially on specificities of glamour and gentry, showcased in Slaves Of New York fashion/high-end food etc. A lot of the responsiveness to this is the Hardcore Punk counterculture prominent in the 80’s, the problem is I’m not really familiar enough with specific literature relating to the content we’re looking at in class about it. Surely the explosion of zines and DIY culture obviously had a massive literary effect, but I can’t really see much of it in Brat Pack literature in the same was as the Beat Generation and similar countercultures. Obviously, they’re different, and a lot of Punk came out of a resentment of the 60’s hippie movements earnestness and supposed dullness, but the 80’s Hardcore Punk movement was rife with concepts that Tama Janowitz seems to be spouting out.
Tama Janowitz specifically witnessed the popularisation of the UK Punk scene while she studied in London in the late 70s, and was friends with a lot of Punk musicians more prominently associated with the 70’s New York CBGB’s scene (Lou Reed etc), but I don’t think this really relates so much with the conception of 80’s Hardcore Punk just because she met Sid Vicious and dyed her hair purple (which she recounts in Eleanor’s year long exchange to London). This is bizarre because there are so many aspects of the specific counter culture in Slaves Of New York. Hardcore was drenched in irony making fun of American earnestness and stripped away the vapid materialism associated with 80’s individualism. Preferring cropped haircuts, t-shirts and jeans attacking the excessive “Cartoon Punks” of the 70s, and 80’s hairspray Glam Metal bands that dominated commercial radio. Straight Edge in itself is intended as a giant ‘fuck you’ to the alcohol industry and the consumption of cocaine that was so emblematic of the 80’s. Some even attacked Hardcore’s own anti-corporate and anti-masculine uniform logic by incorporating varsity jackets and sports team merchandise into their wardrobes.
These things are mirrored in Tama Janowitz’s writing. The insecurities of obsessing over bourgeoisie fashion and high-class restaurants in “Engagements” showcases this. Cora being commodified as ‘someone who would look good to date’ resonates with this resentment of vapid materialism. Even the self-mocking at academics and intellectualism in the same chapter eats at this too. The thematic points are shared.
The Hardcore scene connected on other levels with the Beat Generation too, but in different ways. Notably, both scenes interest in freedom of speech. Allen Ginsberg befriended the singer of Dead Kennedys, Jello Biafra (whose name and band name incorporate same dark humor of 80’s literature) during an obscenity trial. Jello Biafra’s interest in dark humor and politics resulted in his album that used an H.G. Giger painting of copious gay sex that shocked the same way as Howl shocked.
“Ginsberg was an inspiration simply by being a friend. He sought me out; called me out of the blue in the middle of the DKs’ Frankenchrist obscenity trial to offer his moral support and advice. We talked about the difference between what was happening to me and what happened to him and William Burroughs in earlier years. He of course advised me to do a lot of meditation.”
Jello Biafra also talked later on about Burroughs perspective on the case that resonated with how beat literature responded to sexual repression and literary censorship. The idea of state power and structural control of thought and the senses in Beat literature pops up here.
“Well I think Allen Ginsberg was right when he said that the reason they [LA City Attorney’s Office, the PMRC, the Reagan administration] were so interested in pawing and prying into everybody else’s sex life and trying to control it, is (was) (that that is) the gateway into controlling the way people think, and the way people behave and giving people one mass lobotomy through fear so they’re a more obedient workforce in the ant-hill society.“
Anyway, I’m trying to draw a connection with the themes in 80’s literature, Hardcore Punk, and the Beat Generation. The chapter where Eleanor recounts her dinner with famous socialites when one moment a guest throws a dessert in the face of another guest just for both of them to stop and have their picture taken embodies this satire about performativity and cheesy individualism. This is something the Hardcore scene addressed, at least on an economic level creating a sort of egalitarian anti-celebrity stance with DIY culture. ‘The band is just as important as the audience’ is stressed. The chapter when vapid, starving-artist Marley Mantello meets his sister Amaretta (like the liquor Amaretto), and she recounts a pretty devastating story about pretending to be a lesbian and playing cruel tricks on a woman she met at a bar. Very much to Marley’s distaste, and the chapter ends with exploring her cocaine-fuelled suicide. This diatribe about materialism and 80’s hedonism seems to be mixed with a sort of resentment of dark humor. Maybe pointing to the emptiness of it, or saying that it should not be empty and self-defeating. Conceptually familiar in Hardcore were warnings against vapidity and self-defeat that were so prominent. It would be interesting to obviously research more into how 80’s literature connected with counter-culture movements on more than thematic levels.
I’ve been pretty into Grace Paley over the last few days. Reading every short story I can find and listening to readings of hers on YouTube. I found one reading where Leonard Nimoy described Grace Paley as “one of the very few contemporary writers who managed to capture Yiddish cadence, inflection, and syntax in modern American English” and I think that’s probably true. I listened to a reading of Paley’s of “A Conversation With My Father” read by Anne Pitoniak, and it was unfortunately pretty clear (by no intentional fault of Pitoniak) that the story was somehow sapped of cadence, adding punchlines where they weren’t, and ignoring jokes where they were. She kind of just managed to extract all the Jewishness from the story. Pretty bizarre. I’m not sure if reducing Paley’s work to her voice and ability as a speaker is fair on the work itself, but it does show how necessary her work as performance was.
There are a lot of parts from Wants, An Interest In Life, and A Conversation With My Father that I particularly enjoyed. Namely the sarcasm and deadpan observations in lines like “My husband doesn’t shop in bargain basements or January sales.”, but I’m not sure explaining them or listing examples is required. I think they’re pretty funny lines. I really enjoy her minimalistic ‘writing like you think’ prose, that is kind of like what French critics around that time called the ‘American Style’ of Hemingway’s matter-of-fact writing. She didn’t meander and used a small amount of vocabulary to express what she wanted with authenticity by ‘refusing to imitate’ more frivolous writers. There’s a lot of lines in her work that stand out as specifically profound or speculative, but the cadence of her prose is what makes them stand out. It’s not pretentious or self-congratulatory in any way, and I think that might be apart of what makes it seem so authentic. Reducing this authenticity to improvisation or spontaneity would be reductive as her adherence to revision proves that she didn’t just write like she just enjoyed the sound of her own matter-of-fact voice, and that she actually tried to get at something her original drafts didn’t portray that well. Her minimalism wasn’t a negative approach that lacked something more ‘complex’ writing has.
This blog post is something procrastination keeps holding back because I like Sylvia Plath heaps, and don’t really enjoy dissecting poetry due to sucking at it and not really finding it fun. The collection of poetry ‘Ariel’ is one of my favorite books, and The Bell Jar is terrific too. I think it speaks a lot, even up to decades after her writing, about disenfranchisement and institutional faults. The generation who were young adults in the 80’s and 90’s found resonance in her writings about cultural disenfranchisement and cerebral detachment. She was exemplary of these motivations by actually being fucked over in and by American Mental Institutions, and her story was brought to life through her work. She didn’t get to have an incredibly commercially successful Punk band a la Nirvana write a song about how horrible she was treated like with Frances Farmer, but her story was known.
The poem Stings ends with:
Of winged, unmiraculous women,
I am no drudge
Though for years I have eaten dust
And dried plates with my dense hair.
This is continuing the theme of Plath’s ‘Bee poetry’, and the part I enjoy in particular is the “I am no drudge” line. Plath is saying that she isn’t only a worker bee in servitude to the Queen and that she’s maybe something else. I like this animalistic metaphor and the biblical reference of using hair as a towel like Mary Magdalene wiping Jesus’ feet with her hair. Denial of servitude is interesting.
Letter In November contains the stanza:
I am flushed and warm.
I think I may be enormous,
I am so stupidly happy,
Squelching and squelching through the beautiful red.
This reference to pregnancy and happiness is really appealing set against the grim nature of a lot of her poetry. “I am so stupidly happy,” is such a great way to express joy, despite the self-deprecating concept.
I’m pretty awful with poetry and often just have to rely on other people’s interpretations to get by writing about it, but I enjoy it. Sylvia Plath’s poetry makes me want to understand poetry more and get into poets like Alicia Ostriker and Elinor Wylie because people say if you like Plath you’ll like them too.
I was sick for the James Baldwin lectures, so I’m having trouble with writing about him. His speech during the debate with William F. Buckley about the Black experience in America was really interesting, especially in its regard for its use of “I” and “My” as personal to describe the atrocities that the United States wrought on Black Americans. The use of “Your” earlier on in the speech is to a similar effect, addressing “You” as Black children. It’s obviously effective in acquiring empathy and relating to shared experience.
“It comes as a great shock…to discover that the flag to which you have pledged allegiance…has not pledged allegiance to you. It comes as a great shock to see Gary Cooper killing off the Indians, and although you are rooting for Gary Cooper, that the Indians are you.”
This concept of a “shock” as an action happening like a change of being in one state to another appeals to liminality and can grasp audiences with a relatedness that was probably pretty necessary at the time. Obviously, White Americans weren’t going to want to support civil rights based off thinking that oppressing someone else is bad, but if they are made to think of themselves as the receiving end, emotional captivity gives way to discourse surrounding equity. This debate revolves around White Americans as the recipients of the speech, and the captivation through the use of pronouns logistically grasps at that.
Raymond Carver’s short stories are about ‘ordinary people’ living in the Northwestern United States. He writes in a bleak, short fashion, and takes a lot of inspiration from writers like Grace Paley and Hemingway. Employing what French critics used to regard as the ‘American Style’. The stories he writes tend to focus on the collapse of the ‘average relationship’ in America, covering with grim success the ripples and long-lasting effects of relationships ending but ultimately creating new social ties between kin.
Often Raymond Carver’s stories revolve around a dramatic turn of events that change what the story seems to have been itching at during the entire narrative, and leaving the end both far-removed from expectations, and logically conclusive all the same. Many critics dislike the way he seems to leave characters without closure, but in Carver’s defense, that closure seems to be what the reader is looking for in terms of a clean story rather than what would be more emotionally impactful, or more to the point some of them are trying to make. Grace Paley’s story ‘A Conversation With My Father’ depicts this criticism (or a similar one) taking place by Paley’s father about a story she tells, lacking closure in his terms, but fitting with Paley’s intentions nonetheless. She also denies the impossible future of the protagonist, a drug-addicted mother, stating that she can and will get better despite pejoratives thrown at her lot by Paley’s father. This seems to resonate with the criticism of Carver’s characters, in which he himself designated often hopeful and not grim as many critics decided.
In any case, the short stories written by Raymond Carver explore intersocial responses to relationships, and this exploration in itself is as interesting as the reader decides.
Consumerist Monotony in American Literature
80’s American Literature’s central themes and focuses resonate deeply with both 1920’s and 50’s ideals of consumerism. Conveniently, the crossing point of these similarities has been exposed through the Awkward Books course and focus on literary criticism and ethics that the 50’s and 80’s literature we have studied have touched upon. The similarity of these concepts have tended to surround the American Dream, and call to philosophical notions that are often touched upon through representations of consumerism that we’ve been seeing in Language poetry (specifically Anne Waldman), Raymond Carver, Bret Easton Ellis and David Foster Wallace.
Language poetry exposes literary criticism and ethics with the use of repetition and focus on semiotics and sounds of words spoken aloud like with Skin Meat Bones and the ongoing analysis of the word “bone” being spoken enough times to lose its meaning, despite how malleable the single-syllable word seems to be. This calls on existentialist ideas presented by Sartre and Heidegger, and the external quality of language (which is the basis of Laura Andersons Language Is A Virus). Specifically, the ideals presented in Nausea in which the categorical usage in words are not innate, and are tainted with social values unlike the Aristotelian idea of objects having an innate essence. The formalistic constraints call to this, so does the scripted notions of daily life and slogan-like attributes of Language Poetry. Oftentimes the contents of the poetry seem to be made explicitly to fit the form, cutting itself off and feeling peculiarly boxed in.
These concepts are explored in criticism of consumerism, and the monotony of daily life seemingly shrouded in slogans and scripture. The need to fit into social roles and performative ideals through consumption in order to not be disenfranchised. Bret Easton Ellis’s Patrick Bateman is an individual concerned with the values expressed by the American Dream and paragraphs are dedicated to descriptions of his designer clothing, alongside intentionally on-the-nose references to Sartre (The college student holding a Sartre novel that he mistakes for a homeless woman, and the last line of the novel is “THIS IS NOT AN EXIT” which is a reference to Sartre’s No Exit). Bateman is a product of the system, and his ethics are a response to the social morality he is surrounded by. Favoring capitalism to define ethics, and ignoring anything but its supposed spiritual fulfillment.
In The Great Gatsby, Jay Gatsby is a man created by himself through his dream. A completely made up notional embodiment of escapism through fantasy during the Jazz Age. Nick Carraway sees through this, and disapproves of it, seeing it as a symptom of The Jazz Age. He see’s Jay Gatsby much like Patrick Bateman is represented: as an individual that embodies the American Dreams horrific conclusion. They share the same systematic conclusions and even if they go about it in completely different ways, they are both defined by American consumerism. They’re both fraught with a parody of the American Condition and the representation of oneself through what the American Dream promotes. Jay Gatsby is entailing the dark undertones present in the economic boom, the burgeoning middle class and materialism all being loaded with fear of an incoming economic bust. His character is a consideration of what’s at stake for the individuals involved in The Jazz Age.
“And as the moon rose higher the inessential houses began to melt away until gradually I became aware of the old island here that flowered once for Dutch sailors’ eyes — a fresh, green breast of the new world.”
50’s consumerism is expressed in this similar way in Plath’s poetry about the dark sides of domestic bliss, shining light on the confusion and base nature of gender roles and happiness through solidifying identity using purchase. This highlighted disapproval is a signifier of 50’s American Literature that we focus on. Plath’s disenfranchisement of the 50’s despite being directly involved in its prosperity. Social commentary here focuses on the confusion of young adults being lost in the inertia of an economic boom along with swaying societal ideals and morality.
Kerouac’s warnings of triviality and idealisation are seen in a great American road trip to signify this as well, and use a self-reflective glare to do so. There’s often references to the Depression, depicting the lives of worker migrants and Okies who suffered through the economic bust and what happened in the places they resided. Okies are glorified and represented as Beat down hitchhikers, and are continuously present in Sal Paradise’s travels. The ‘warning’ ever-present as a result of 50’s materialism states the idealisation of experiencing life through music and art and travel isn’t an escape, but a symptom taking part of what’s trying to be avoided.
J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher In The Rye is a rejection of the superficiality of the American Dream, pointedly using prep schools as an example of instruments of social control, not unlike Reagan era social reforms. The cruel indifference of New York City during the post-war economic boom is highlighted and references to consumerism are a focal point of Holden Caulfield. He says that most people are obsessed with cars and making money, and see’s growing up as synonymous to the limitation of freedom due to ‘rat race’ obligations and office work favoring escapism to avoid spiritual corruption but learns of its impossibility (much like in On The Road). Bourgeois values reinforcing the role of the family is a focal point of Pency Prep, and there’s even a passage where he makes fun of a classmate who dismisses everything “Bourgeois” despite being as much of a “Phony” as everyone else.
“You ought to go to a boys’ school sometime. Try it sometime,” I said. “It’s full of phonies, and all you do is study so that you can learn enough to be smart enough to be able to buy a goddam Cadillac some day, and you have to keep making believe you give a damn if the football team loses, and all you do is talk about girls and liquor and sex all day, and everybody sticks together in these dirty little goddam cliques.”
Lolita also partakes in this thematic critique, portraying a droll American road trip takes place and blends all the hotels/motels/lodges into the same thing. Confusing each with the other, and mocking everything in montage like Bateman’s clothes and products and colleagues. The literary technique of being intentionally boring to bore the reader into submission and desensitisation is used the same way too, rendering the offensive material affectless and playing on the affective fallacy in literary criticism and the existential philosophy of social morality.
Anyway, this blog post is unnecessarily long, and I’m kind of annoyed that I didn’t split it off into different posts to fill the quota, but my point is the shared central themes exposed while studying 80’s American literature in relation to 50’s (and 20’s) literature. Especially in regards to the dark sides of economic booms, and what the dark sides produce with examples of both disenfranchisement and embracement.
Language Is A Virus
Laura Anderson’s ‘Language Is A Virus’ takes concepts surrounding literary criticism and textual interpretation from the likes of Sartre and Heidegger to resonate with Burroughs ‘Language is a virus from outer space’. In Sartre’s Nausea, language is argued as anti-Aristotelian, a subjective template and not an essence that defines objects. The concept of language being a virus from out outer space comes into fruition in Burroughs’ Nova Trilogy.
During this course and my other English Literature course this semester, I have been learning a lot about external influences on literary criticism. Especially in regards to Camus and Sartre, who combined Aristotelian notions, but still obsessed over the power of social morality. Camus used the ‘American Style’ to thematically resonate with language without underlying flairs of metaphorical value, attempting to rid language of its externality.
I’m not entirely sure how much postmodernism has adapted with its internal speculation about looking at the world as a whole, considering as a literary and academic field it’s just as based on modernism as anything else post-Enlightenment. That being said, I really enjoy the self-criticism of it, and the problematisation of ‘self’ 80’s poetry espoused.
Incidentally, I’ve learned a lot about the power or magic of language in my Anthropology course this semester, specifically in regards to an ethnography called Witchcraft, Oracles and Magic Among the Azande written by E.E. Evans-Pritchard and released in 1937. He deconstructs Tylorian concepts of ‘savage’ religion, and makes the comparison of Azande Witchcraft to Western concepts of ‘luck’. An old granary might collapse on a passerby because of Witchcraft, or it might collapse on them because of ‘luck’. His point was that ‘savage’ reasoning and logic was just as ‘rational’ as Western ‘Modernism’.
Postmodern interpretive logic means that language is magic and has powers in Western culture. It determines itself as foreign and malleable, adaptive and mutated depending how its used and by whom. Language is a virus from outer space.
Station Eleven is a 2014 post-apocalyptic novel with a strong focus on English Literature and Theatre. I remember when I was learning about it in class a couple years ago I thought it was super funny and self-absorbed that the writer thought people trying to survive in a post-apocalyptic American wasteland would give a shit about Shakespeare or any sort of performance art normally reserved to well-off American academic types. I got that the point of it was more emotionally thematic, and about how these things bring spiritual purpose or joy to people, but it definitely felt hilariously not self-aware. Like how Americans tourists get confused at cashiers not accepting US dollars abroad, or Kiwis getting upset at New Zealand often being mysteriously missing from maps. But try telling a Shakespeare fan you don’t really care that much about King Lear, or telling an existentially frustrated New Zealander that the rest of the world doesn’t know New Zealand is a thing.
More to the point, post-apocalyptic fiction is boring and lazy. Not that realism is really that important in this genre, but it’s always really hard to believe all the survivors free of whatever zombie epidemic the majority of the world is inflicted with would rather kill each other than band together. Also, the zombie epidemic would probably have a pretty hard time actually spreading in the first place, considering America would be totally fine with bombing a city with 7 zombies in it and hundreds and thousands of unafflicted civilians. But I guess the people who write these stories think that survivors trading bottle caps for bags of seeds would be more likely to gush over Hamlet than an Edith Blyton novel or whatever.
In David Foster Wallace’s essay about young writers in the 80’s, he focused a lot on how critics perceive 80’s writer’s brand references as bland and repetitive. Then he goes on to make the comparison to 50’s literature or culture being surrounded by that same new oversaturation of corporate insignia and television, and states that writers in the 80’s are the first generation to have actually grown up accustomed to the over-familiarity with brands and tv entertainment. Pop Culture being the go-to for one-liners and quotes.
We’ve compared this branded media familiarity of the 80’s to 2010’s literature. The rise of fandom culture and young people defining themselves via Pop Culture consumption isn’t a new thing. Writers in the 80’s touched on it a lot, and made references to similarities in the 50’s with similar acts of consumption. One of the differences now being accessibility and over-saturation of media. Half the moments in Marvel movies, the biggest movie franchise, are literally just references to other media as if a reference in itself is a joke, or as if satisfying some base urge of intellectual acknowledgment, as if the movie in itself is saying “Yes, you understand this reference, feel smart”.
The growth of meta-humor isn’t that much of a new thing, and it might be responsive to the same branded references David Foster Wallace was talking about. Or the way that we have to rely on materialism because we’ll never afford a house or something. To pick at it like its a specifically 2010’s anomaly is a bit weird though, as for every bad joke in Deadpool 2 depending on self-referential humor, there’s a just as bad, self-referential joke in a Simpsons episode that aired 20 years ago.
I’m not entirely sure this feat emblematic of Ready Player One is really all that representational of general 2010’s literature. It is a bit cringe, but it was still probably just as cringe 30 years ago, and 30 years before that. I still liked Thor: Ragnarok.
2010’s Fandoms And Misogyny
Making fun of fandom culture is easy, and even infantilised musical theatre fans can do it to a degree but as embarrassing ‘liking something’ can be, it’s not that much different in practice to any other kind of nerdy activity, and you know, maybe there’s a little bit wrong with that. The mainstream acceptance of typically alternative interests being attributed to the actions of young women is kind of just overtly sexist and misguided. It’s based on ridiculous false nostalgia, in which nerds pretend graphic novels that suck now didn’t suck 20 years ago. The idea is that young women liking Marvel comics, Game Of Thrones or John Green books is somehow a bad thing, or an appropriation, trespassing into a boys club and permeating throughout literature and entertainment.
This sexism also just blatantly ignores its own hypocrisies. Obviously, it relies on the statistical representation of gender in alternative writing like comics and fantasy, but it ignores how these genres historically pushed away women and contributed to its own isolation. It’s also bizarre considering that even following its own logic, young men into these things are just as new to it as young women, despite one gender being more welcome. I’m not pretending that it isn’t probably incredibly frustrating seeing something people were bullied for liking 20 years ago being embraced by the bullies themselves, but young women aren’t the same people that bullied these frustrated nerds 20 years ago. This angst has transformed into bizarre conspiracy theories about Cultural Marxism. Ironically, these ridiculous conspiracy theories have managed to unhinge the value of a lot of actual decent criticism of new media. Like how the new Star Wars movie sucked, but not because of ‘Cultural Marxism’, but because it was just a crappy movie.
There is a lot of legitimacy to this angst as culturally significant, but the sexism is misguided. Maybe the mainstream representation of women seems akin to identity politics acting as genteel, in which anyone not engaging in it is deemed less-than by merit of their social class. Obviously, this is ridiculous, but emotional responses to being bullied aren’t always rational. Or maybe people just find a lot of ways to be sexist.
My favorite Flarf poem
This is a Flarf poem that I found on an article explaining Flarf poetry by Gary Sullivan:
Yeah, mm-hmm, it’s true
big birds make
big doo! I got fire inside
gonna be agreessive, greasy aw yeah god
wanna DOOT! DOOT!
oooh yeah baby gonna shake & bake then take
AWWWWWL your monee, honee (tee hee)
uggah duggah buggah biggah buggah muggah
hey! hey! you stoopid Mick! get
off the paddy field and git
me some chocolate Quik
put a Q-tip in it and stir it up sick
fuck! shit! piss! oh it’s so sad that
syndrome what’s it called tourette’s
make me HAI-EE! shout out loud
Cuz I love thee. Thank you God, for listening!
Truly inspiring. Invigorating. Postmodern and intellectual.
I’m not entirely sure why so many articles I’ve found about it on Google have mentioned Kanye West or Kim Kardashian. Do people really enjoy bashing them? Why isn’t making fun of them considered as pretentious as the poetry Flarf poets were making fun of in the first place?
Nathan Barley is a good show, or cultural artifact. It was released just a few days before YouTube launched in 2004. The show was about middle class Hipsters in London, often making fun of modern art and obnoxiousness glorified. But it was also co-written by Charlie Brooker (who wrote Black Mirror) which I think a lot of people would say that he’s just as Banksy-esque, and translucent as the obnoxious London Hipsters he was making fun of a decade prior.
Do people make fun of traits they see in themselves as problematic, in an attempt to rid themselves of pretentiousness? Or are they just not self-aware, and think they’re better than the people they pick on?