Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Importance of Plot

Think of the 1962 John Ford western, “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.” On the surface it’s a terrible western, utilizing few of the colorful aspects of the genre.

There are few visible open spaces. No breathtaking photography. Most of the film is shot on a sound stage, in black and white. The two leads, John Wayne and Jimmy Stewart, are too old for their parts. The style of the film is creaky, as if it’s a deliberate throwback to a 1920’s movie.

One thing the film has going for it is its plot. The main body of the film is a flashback, within which is another flashback which reveals the key to the story. A box within a box within a box. The movie demonstrates the importance of plot in examining the nature of myth by revealing buried truth.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Telling Stories

The public is hungry for stories. The National Football League (NFL) is overwhelmingly successful because it tells stories. It tells stories leading up to games, and has plotlines that last throughout the season. How will the different abilities of Tim Tebow be utilized—or will they be utilized? Will Michael Vick live up to his immense abilities and secure success for the Eagles? Will TV celebrity Peyton Manning comeback from neck surgery? Will the New Orleans Saints survive the suspension of their head coach for the entire season? What’s the status in the league of the running game? How will rookie Andrew Luck to against veteran icon Tom Brady in tomorrow’s game?

Each individual game tells a story. The outcome is seldom known; often surprising. The game proceeds with dramatic ebbs and flows, from surprising scores to jarring injuries. The fans are emotionally invested in the plotline and the outcome of the story.

Everything in life is a story. What happens next? The recent election campaign was a story, albeit one that for some of us went on too long. It contained ebbs and flows, even one or two surprises.

What’s known in the culture and academia as “literature” lost its standing in the culture when it stopped telling stories.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Authoritarian Literary Person

Here's a link to the infamous Dave Eggers 2000 Harvard Advocate interview.

Lest you think this was an isolated incident, in the next several years after this Dave Eggers acted vigorously to shut down all criticism of himself and his organization.

It's fairly unprecedented in any field, in U.S. business history, for an entrepreneur to come out so strongly to shut down all possible un-nice things said about him. Colonel Parker? Phil Spector? For them, the press was a given. You accepted the slings and arrows coming your way as part of the game.

The tragedy is that the unthinking literary crowd has gone along with Dictator Dave's way of doing things. (One must wonder what he's like inside the organization. But then, that's not anything we ever hear about, is it? Not something anyone would dare investigate.)

The Dave's rant makes rough sense from his own perspective. But it's a completely egoistic perspective. He should be immune from all criticism and competition merely because his intentions are good. He does many wonderful things for the world. He's wonderful, period. How dare anyone say anything bad about him, anyplace?

This led Eggers to overreact against his critics-- critics which included the Underground Literary Alliance-- but now all critics are gone. Mum's the word. Smooth sailing only in happy face McSweeney's World.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Pop Zeitgeist

Trendlines are clear. Literary fiction and poetry are diminishing in influence, as media flagships which sustain the stuffy art-- newspaper book review sections and mainstream magazines-- are themselves vanishing. Pop literature is a tidal wave.