Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Recent Reads: Franzen, Wallace, Frampton

I thought I would post a few essays that have had a major impact on me recently. I'm getting lazy with my blogging recently, and am seldom interested in writing in this format any longer, but I am always interested in other writing, and good writing, and in passing it on so it can continue to be realized by anyone willing to put forth the patience and attention. Thankfully I have a grand patience for my inattention to this blog, and will likely continue to harvest those patient fruits of neglect.

The first essay is by Jonathan Franzen and may be important to anyone who is concerned about the state of the written word and its impact (or rather, lack of permeation) in our culture in the US after the Vietnam War, or perhaps, after the 1950's and the advances of other forms of media into mass, available culture. It contains an important analysis of the different types of modern readers, and addresses the raison d'etre shared by many writers which is no longer validated, visibly, in culture. Please read it if reading and the reception of art are important issues to you. It is one of the most important essays of the last decade as far as I'm concerned.

Digressions on the Photographic Agony, by Hollis Frampton, is an analogical picture, in words, of photography's seemingly rigid, but all to terribly prescribed, rendering of its own history. If you like Borges, Chesterton, or Beckett, do eat here. It's a feast, and your sense of the construction of mythologies existing as intemperate facts, given credence by only their lack of contestation, will perhaps turn from a sense of tragedy into a sense of humor. Unabashedly, I hold that no one as sharp as Frampton in letters and languages has ever touched in pen, the arena of the modern institution of the arts.

The third attached essay is by David Foster Wallace. It examines the historical foundations of grammatology and their corresponding rhythmic dispensations in the publishing and professionalizing word of dictionary expertise. It highlights a very specific shift in linguistics that changed the course of the English language forever, the shift in prescriptive vs. descriptive uses of language, and their corresponding uses in the publishing of dictionaries. Perhaps suggestion, is truly, more important than instruction and more potent. The essay speaks of the undervaluing of different dialects that are, in no manner of speaking, (no pun intended) tied to intelligence, which are simply scorned as inferior worlds of communication in the realm of academic English. This is a good essay if pedagogy is important to you, you scan different dictionaries for the better description of a word (like me), you simply don't trust the authority of arbitrary foundational science, or you are interested in the rhetorical game of stakes that can arrest suggestion, inference, or perspective into an inveterate beast of mythological, unadulterated fact. If you are pretty sure that everyone means much of the same thing that you do when they say words that you know, this essay might force you to shit your epistemological pants.

Do enjoy.

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Jonathan Franzen - Perchance to Dream: In an Age of Images, a Reason to Write Novels

Hollis Frampton - Digressions on the Photographic Agony

David Foster Wallace - Tense Present: Democracy, English, and the Wars Over Usage

2 comments:

Joshua Lore said...

I'm only partway through Franzen's essay from Harper's, but this quote resounded powerfully: "The dollar is now the yardstick of cultural authority, and an organ like Time, which not long ago aspired to shape the national taste, now serves mainly to reflect it."

He has extended this further already: our literature and movies have made this same shift. This is something I'd like to explore a little more. Our narratives no longer make demands, they simply appeal to popular themes, much like today's popular, international novels which appeal to many of us "liberal college youngsters." I know that Peter Kreeft highlights the situation from a similar angle in "Love is Stronger than Death," when he says that our stories no longer give us heroes, but simply protagonists enduring certain, unfortunate "events" and "experiences," and this change is far more dangerous than it may initially appear.

Michael Serra said...

Josh, I think you are right about the displacement of heroic, quixotic figures in much of the cultural forms that we encounter today, as far as my experience goes. The nihilism of our culture does not have any pagan nobility or morality to lean on, as its gods have dissipated, and the literary history that we encounter is a history of modernist literature, beginning with my experience, and branching out, thereof. Of course, not to say that this is not valuable, in fact, it is most of what I know of literature, which is a fact that is perhaps to be weary of and disappointed in.

Fredric Jameson has much to say about the state of the postmodern narrative, and I am looking forward to complementing it with that Kreeft essay.