Perhaps this fundamental disconnect between the balance implied by its title and the economic realities of literary life circa 2014 explains the underthrob of panic that courses through a number of the essays in the new collection by writers outside the orbit of Planet MFA. Harbach, who edited this new volume, has tapped his stable of n+1 writers, a fair number of whom, like him, went to Harvard and earned six-figure advances for their first books. Whatever is ailing these folks, it isn’t lack of chutzpah or unwillingness to do what it takes to succeed, and yet what was clearly intended as a series of artsy-smartsy essays examining the state of play in literary America too often comes off as an extended moan of self-pity from a once-cosseted corner of Brownstone Brooklyn.
"D’Arcy traces the expanded use of “like” to speakers born in the 1960s, but says the language feature came into its own with speakers born in the 1970s, “so that by the time you get to speakers born in the 1980s, you get these entire sequences of quotations that recreate an internal thought process.” This accords with the pop cultural history of the usage, which first became famous when Moon Unit Zappa (born 1967) accompanied her father Frank Zappa’s 1982 hit song “Valley Girl,” with an improvised monologue taken from slang she’d overheard at parties and at the Sherman Oaks Galleria in Los Angeles’s San Fernando Valley. The same year, Sean Penn starred in Fast Times at Ridgemont High, partly filmed at the Sherman Oaks Galleria, and the rest is, like, history.”
Michael Bourne, “Like, OMG! ‘Like’ Is, Like, Totally Cool, Linguist Says”
What is certain is that it is imperative for those of us in the educated elite – and if you’re here, chances are you are part of the educated elite – to be clear about what we’re discussing when we speak about standard written English. We are speaking about a language that is both thriving and powerful, and that many of us paid dearly to master. It is ideally suited to some linguistic tasks, such as reasoned argument and imaginative fiction, and perhaps less well suited to others, such as, say, advertising copy. But standard written English isn’t “right.” It isn’t “better.” It is merely one language among many.
Would you rather be sentenced to almost eight years in prison or be forced to read Malcolm Gladwell? Convicted eco-terrorist Rebecca Rubin was sentenced to five years in prison and told to read Gladwell’s David and Goliath. The judge believes Rubin could learn non-violent protest from Gladwell. Pair with: Our own Michael Bourne’s review of the book.
But perhaps this is part of Gran’s point. Hipsterism, with its veneration of all things vintage, grassroots, and artisanal, is almost by definition an aesthetic of nostalgia, the expression of a generational yearning for a pre-post-industrial era when the stuff of life — food, work, clothing, facial hair — was “authentic,” which is to say shaped by human hands. So far at least, two books into the series, the points on Claire DeWitt’s compass, Brooklyn, New Orleans, and San Francisco, are hotbeds of hipsterism, and Claire herself is an exemplar of hipster cool. She frequents vegan restaurants, sees a traditional Chinese medicine healer, spends a lot of time hanging out in small clubs watching indie bands play, and when she’s in trouble she seeks help from a former California surfer turned Buddhist lama.
Would you eat the marshmallow or would you resist temptation? That is the question. Our own Michael Bourne gets to the meat of why the mallow experiment fascinates us at The New York Times Magazine. “The tale of the marshmallows, as presented in Goleman’s book, read like some science-age Calvinist parable. Was I one of the elect, I wondered, a child blessed with the moral fortitude to resist temptation? Or was I doomed from age 4 to a life of impulse-driven gluttony?”
"Every day while I was reading an advance copy of The Orenda this summer, I drove past a billboard advertising The Lone Ranger, which showed Johnny Depp in war paint with a dead crow inexplicably plopped on top of his head. That’s why Boyden’s work is necessary. We all know Depp’s Tonto is a travesty, and the movie justifiably tanked at the box office, but we don’t as a culture seem to know what to put in the place of that war-whooping savage that filled the screen of the million-and-one Westerns we all watched on TV as kids. In The Orenda, Joseph Boyden is quietly, brilliantly showing us the way.”
No great hand reached down from the sky and made me a writer. I made myself one, by writing.
Until that moment, I hadn’t really understood what I was doing there, why I had written my play in the first place. Now I knew. I had loved my friend back home, and we had drifted apart, as friends do, and I was trying to work all that out, what it meant to love somebody and have that end. Here I thought I’d written a topical one-act with a trick ending, and really I had written a love story.
When an audience is with you, it’s like running a rapids, that same raw power and unpredictability, and even the best actors can do little but hold on for dear life and hope the boat doesn’t capsize.