11 December 2007

Terrible Tues-day

Well, this week has sucked so far. The weather sucks; the news sucks; I'm desperately seeking The Daily Show's fair and balanced perspective on the electoral follies, but I'm not going to get it for the forseeable future thanks to the greed of the AMPTP (yeah, I really do believe that during the first year in which H'wood's revenues have surpassed $10 billion-with-a-b, they can't afford to pay the creators of their content)... and I despise reality TV, which is what we've got to look forward to.

In any event, a few entertaining — or, at least, entertainment-related — bits of miscellany, in no particular order:

  • This bit on Richard Prince and the meaning of plagiarism brings to mind the weakest part of Feist: the explanation of what actually constitutes "originality," which (I'm afraid) is just a slightly less clear gloss on "I know it when I see it."
  • Doris Lessing discussed the meaning of "literature" in her Nobel Prize acceptance speech.
  • Then, as always, there's the question of the relationship among High Culture, young artists, and general culture. On the one hand, we've got the Cassandra — or, in the view of many, Chicken Little — of classical music criticism, Norman Lebrecht, with more warnings about rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic (a film I'd like to see "rearranged" out of existence, but that's for another time). Then we've got the shock, awe, and dismay of an LAT staff reporter amazed that young classical musicians are engaging with popular culture, which perhaps proves only that the reporter in question has never before engaged with young classical musicians. (Another film reference — the short scene in Hilary and Jackie in which a piano trio, during a practice session, spontaneously improvises on a piece by The Kinks.)
  • And, within the field of speculative fiction, there's the recent Heinlein controversy: Was he a fascist, and if so does it really matter? Scalzi's rejoinder has a point: There's no question that Ezra Pound was a fascist of the worst kind, and yet some of his poetry and criticism from the 1930s represents the best of between-the-wars English writing. Really, though, the original article falls apart because it's making some bad assumptions:
    • That there really is a single "Heinlein". No, there wasn't; Asimov alludes to stark changes in attitudes in the early- to mid-1960s that resulted in estrangement. The real line, though, is probably The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, the last of Heinlein's worthwhile novels, and among the last of his worthwhile works. Somewhere around that time, he lost the ability to learn; perhaps it's then that he started believing his own press about not needing an editor. And here, I greatly disagree with Scalzi's quasidefense; Stranger in a Strange Land and later novels betray very, very little ability to tell a story, and even before then he seldom managed to integrate the thematic materials into the plotline without preaching. (Scalzi himself does better.)
    • That "fascist" is a defensible description of Heinlein's politics. No, it wasn't; he's much closer to Falangism (not surprising for a pre-nuclear-age graduate of that trade school in Annapolis). That admittedly fine distinction, however, requires some understanding of both pre-nuclear-age Western politics and literary theory... and neither appears in the LAT article.
    • That, regardless of the above, it matters. I read books. I don't invite the authors home for lunch (and if they did, they'd better have pretty spice-acclimated palates). I know the difference between the two. The word is not the writer; the writer is not the word; and the reader is neither.

    In short, it's another silly argument that draws attention away from anything that needs, or even desires, attention. Bluntly, it's not going to influence Heinlein's sales or standing in the speculative fiction community to point out that he had character flaws. Leaving aside for the moment that many rabid fen are unable/unwilling to hear any criticism of any kind of Heinlein — and this is really no different from the overenthusiastic comparative-literature professors who will hear no criticism of Proust — he's dead, Jim. Nothing anyone says now will change his attitudes, work methods, or anything else.

And the Grinch was a great guy, at least until his heart grew three sizes. And as long as he stayed a cartoon.