Archive for August, 2010

Time and Jonathan Franzen

August 15th, 2010

A nice piece on The Corrections author Jonathan Franzen’s appearance on the cover of Time magazine, particularly for the quote about his feelings, pre-Corrections, about the orthodox idea of the American novel, born by the likes of John Updike and Saul Bellow.

“Expecting a novel to bear the weight of our whole disturbed society,” he wrote, “seems to me a peculiarly American delusion.”

I think the idea that a single book can stand for swathes of its society is why I’ve been drawn to American writing. But I think Franzen was right. America is much too fractured for these examinations of its tortured middle classes to represent anything wider than just that.

It’s not like I’d ever expect a novel set in Britain to stand for anything other than what it’s specifically about. What I suppose I mean, then, is that the dream of the American Novel is probably just a expression of the fallacy that the US has a classless society.

So, in real terms, Franzen’s appearance on the cover of Time doesn’t mean a whole lot. But it does suggest that his new novel, Freedom, is a bit of alright. And yeah, that’s worth at least some excitement.

Link roundup

August 15th, 2010
  • Thirty Five Images of Space Helmet Reflections – A compendium of faces peering from within bulbous glass at the great beyond (via Berg).
  • The New Science of Morality – “Nearly all of us doing this work are secular Liberals. And that means that we're at very high risk of misunderstanding those moralities that are not our own.” Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt’s talk on how western liberal culture, the one that has essentially built the foundations for the study of human psychology, has a restricted moral spectrum compared to other cultures around the world, and why confirmation bias means it’s much to easy for these psychologists to profoundly misunderstand other cultures.
  • Granta: Cinema's Invisible Art – An essay on the scriptwriter's talent of spare but vivid description, from the Coen brothers to Shane Black's awesome script for Lethal Weapon. No, really.

Link roundup

August 5th, 2010
  • Charles Holland on Inception – A sober but enthusiastic view of Inception, noting its ludicrousness while loving its film-within-a-film complexities. Like a very, very good episode of Doctor Who on an unlimited budget, he says, rather explaining my misgivings: I don’t much like Doctor Who’s delight in story mechanics over, well, just telling a good story, which is why Inception didn’t quite enthral me.
  • Wired: Inside the iPhone Network Meltdown – Nice piece on the commercial realities of AT&T’s experiences with its exclusive iPhone deal. Turns out that scaling up its data network to meet iPhone’s (plus Blackberry and other smart phones’, surely) demands has already cost the company $37 billion, with another $14 billion this year.
  • FT’s CEO on why paywalls are commercially and morally necessary – “The paper’s digital subscribers reached 149,047 at the end of June, up 27% year on year and 17,000 up from January.” Kinda think you need the specialisation, market type and scale of the FT to have this sort of success.