Writing for love or money. Obviously, not everyone is Franz Kafka who leaves instructions to have their manuscripts torched after their demise. Given the current legal wrangling over the cache of Kafka papers, maybe Max Brod should have been a little less stiff-necked. Most writers want the green and they want it now.The truth seems to be that the publishing industry is as down and dirty any other.
Its not about writing per se, but about popular entertainment. The industrial age is over. Our economy is based on entertaining ourselves. How can one explain the other-worldly success of the Harry Potter franchise, and what does it reflect on the general state of publishing, the art of writing and the trade-offs between quality and the need to rake in fresh cash by cosmetic tampering with generic formula and convention. Off the shelf. Harold Bloom bought a Harry Potter book and his digestion of the prose lead him to say he “suffered a great deal in the process.” Is this the dumbing-down of culture?…
Harold Bloom ( 2003 ):THE DECISION to give the National Book Foundation’s annual award for “distinguished contribution” to Stephen King is extraordinary, another low in the shocking process of dumbing down our cultural life. I’ve described King in the past as a writer of penny dreadfuls, but perhaps even that is too kind. He shares nothing with Edgar Allan Poe. What he is is an immensely inadequate writer on a sentence-by-sentence, paragraph-by-paragraph, book-by-book basis. The publishing industry has stooped terribly low to bestow on King a lifetime award that has previously gone to the novelists Saul Bellow and Philip Roth and to playwright Arthur Miller. By awarding it to King they recognize nothing but the commercial value of his books, which sell in the millions but do little more for humanity than keep the publishing world afloat. If this is going to be the criterion in the future, then perhaps next year the committee should give its award for distinguished contribution to Danielle Steel, and surely the Nobel Prize for literature should go to J.K. Rowling.Read More:http://www.boston.com/news/globe/editorial_opinion/oped/articles/2003/09/24/dumbing_down_american_readers/
Although I have an affinity for much of low-fi culture, the words of Bloom cannot really be disputed, but only within a given context. For what it is, its a mudslinging contest, a cat fight, that brings attention to the book business. Otherwise it becomes moralizing social criticism which is the issue here. Obviously, Stephen King is not Philip Marlowe; but, Bloom relies on some elaborate theoretical constructions, glued and nailed together as a substitution for outright moral claims. Whether he is conscious of this or not is on a conjectural basis only. Probably not. Ultimately, publishing is a biz. Like basketball. its about “content” and skilled commodities. Its market economics; the books are not that important. What counts is the collateral damage: films, derivative products etc. To be honest, the Potter films have been very enjoyable all in all, leading me to surmise that the books, peddled as literature are actually modified screenplays. Still, its an okay read if its taken for what it is.No writer is going to reinvent the wheel.
It seems Joseph Heath’s examination of economist Thorstein Veblen exposes all the problems of Bloom’s position. Its almost the narcissism of small differences. He’s pushing the consumerist wheel as well from his perch in the ivory tower:
Joseph Heath:Yet in retrospect, it seems clear that many of these critics were simply appalled at how many of their own “leisure class” habits Veblen’s critique unmasked. (His classification of “high culture” as merely another form of conspicuous consumption was a particular sticking-point with Theodor Adorno, who described Veblen’s attitude in this regard as “splenetic,” “misanthopic,” and “melancholy”…Status is the central concept in Veblen’s analytical framework. Status is, in his view, more fundamental than class, private property, or any other economic concept. Indeed, a proper understanding of status is essential to understanding any of the routine assumptions made by economists, such as the “irksomeness” of labor and the desirability of leisure . Veblen conceives of status among humans as a stratification system, no different in principle from the hierarchies that structure social relations throughout the animal kingdom (from the “pecking order” among chickens to the dominance relations among our closest primate ancestors). It is grounded in judgments that establish an invidious comparison, which Veblen defines as a “comparison of persons with a view to rating and grading them in respect of relative worth or value” Read More:http://homes.chass.utoronto.ca/~jheath/veblen.pdf
Again, Bloom is assuming that change is enacted by personal consumption choices. Probably a fallacy and economically bereft of common sense. Change appears to only arise through large scale collective action, that is organized and rarely spontaneous. Whether we have a better society if we read Don Quixote instead of Art Spiegelman is unlikely. It comes back to the voting with your pocketbook argument, which in the hands of Bloom is truly elitist, undemocratic, and favors the most affluent. His harangue is specifically directed at the unwashed masses who will never have a tenured position at an Ivy League school, and Bloom re-directs responsibility away from the corporate producers of culture and places the burden for cultural change on those least involved with the entire market apparatus, King and Rowling simply being metaphors for the masses.
Bloom:I was incredulous. Rowling’s mind is so governed by cliches and dead metaphors that she has no other style of writing. But when I wrote that in a newspaper, I was denounced. I was told that children would now read only J.K. Rowling, and I was asked whether that wasn’t, after all, better than reading nothing at all? If Rowling was what it took to make them pick up a book, wasn’t that a good thing? It is not. “Harry Potter” will not lead our children on to Kipling’s “Just So Stories” or his “Jungle Book.” It will not lead them to Thurber’s “Thirteen Clocks” or Kenneth Grahame’s “Wind in the Willows” or Lewis Carroll’s “Alice.” Read More:http://www.boston.com/news/globe/editorial_opinion/oped/articles/2003/09/24/dumbing_down_american_readers/
One of the most compelling misconceptions in North American society is the belief that the individual holds a form of power through personal shopping decisions. It seems to be a ruse, a necessary illusion that has the effect of keep people from getting together to make real collective change. The processes and systems are more complex, however Bloom’s assertion on the “ubiquity of cliches makes it a particularly easy read, demanding so little of its readers that it effectively weakens imagination rather than bolsters it” is beside the point. Casablanca is considered a great film. kudos to John Huston. It is also the most cliche ridden movie ever made. What would Bloom think?
Bloom:Recently I spoke at the funeral of my old friend Thomas M. Green of Yale, perhaps the most distinguished scholar of Renaissance literature of his generation. I said, “I fear that something of great value has ended forever.”…
…Today there are four living American novelists I know of who are still at work and who deserve our praise. Thomas Pynchon is still writing. My friend Philip Roth, who will now share this “distinguished contribution” award with Stephen King, is a great comedian and would no doubt find something funny to say about it. There’s Cormac McCarthy, whose novel “Blood Meridian” is worthy of Herman Melville’s “Moby-Dick,” and Don DeLillo, whose “Underworld” is a great book. Instead, this year’s award goes to King. It’s a terrible mistake.Read More:http://www.boston.com/news/globe/editorial_opinion/oped/articles/2003/09/24/dumbing_down_american_readers/
Harold Bloom and Stephen King represent the ultimate literary face-off: those who elevate writing style above story, and those who believe the style should be subordinate to the enjoyment of the story. Like aged Capulets and Montagues, both sides — not unlike Mr. Bloom and Mr. King — have been hammering away at each other for decades. What better fodder for the Book Examiner? Read More:http://www.examiner.com/book-in-national/harold-bloom-says-j-k-rowling-is-cliched-stephen-king-inadequate-what-then-should-we-read
Joseph Heath:It is therefore, first and foremost, a system of rank. “Ownership began and grew into a human institution on grounds unrelated to the subsistence minimum. The dominant incentive was from the outset the invidious distinction attaching to wealth”.
When the size of the economic surplus becomes sufficiently great as to permit stable relations of exploitation, the stage is set for the emergence of an explicit class society. The predatory character of the upper class is reflected in the fact that it is not only exempt from any “industrial” employment, but is positively barred from it. This produces a sort of transvaluation of values, in which the useless becomes celebrated, precisely because it serves as sign that one is a member of the dominant class – hence the social significance of leisure. Of course, the instinct of workmanship is never entirely extinguished. Once the predatory class is sufficiently entrenched, fewer opportunities present themselves for displays of prowess. Thus this class invents for itself new, labor-intensive activities, which may involve great effort and skill, but which are demarcated from the activities of the laboring classes by virtue of being explicitly futile in their aim. Sport is the most obvious example, but more
controversially, Veblen also includes under this rubric religious observances, etiquette, esoteric learning (such as classical languages), aesthetic appreciation, “domestic music,” and a variety of other activities ).
Hence the perverse spectacle of the best (if not necessarily the brightest) applying themselves with boundless energy and selfless commitment, developing advanced competencies in activities that have absolutely no redeeming social value. The term “leisure class” is, in this respect,
somewhat misleading, since members of this class often find their lives to be just as hectic and demanding as those of the laboring classes. This is why Veblen describes leisure, not as mere “indolence,” but as a “performance”. (For example, he observes that, “good breeding requires time, application and expense).Read More:http://homes.chass.utoronto.ca/~jheath/veblen.pdf