Posts from 3rd May 2004

May 04

I’ll Take You There by Joyce Carol Oates

The Brown WedgePost a comment • 299 views

I’ll Take You There by Joyce Carol Oates

This is, according to the listing in the front of this book, Oates’s 86th book in less than 40 years – and since it’s from way back in 2002, she’s probably passed 90 by now. There’s never been a serious literary writer, as far as I know, who comes close for productivity.

I sometimes wonder if that is why she gets quite a lot of stick in some quarters. It shouldn’t be a reason for that: there is no inherent inverse law governing quantity and quality. Her work shows no sign of being slapdash or facile, in its design or the individual sentences, which strike me as painstaking and intense and precise. I sometimes wonder whether, if she were male, she would be more highly regarded, whether a man writing with such intellect and force might be more easily appreciated, but that’s a pointless dead end.

This is a novel about a thin, intelligent and intense young would-be writer at college in the ’60s – all details that certainly fit Oates, but I’ve not bothered to investigate whether this is at all autobiographical or not. I think she’s too clever for anything so simple, and anyway I don’t really care. It’s very sharp, nasty and funny about sororities and academic and collegial hypocrisy, equally incisive and unsentimental about her protagonist (I don’t know if that makes this more likely to be about herself or not – in a rather circular argument, I’d have to know a lot more about Oates to guess). It covers a certain amount of racial politics, in a way, but the focus is firmly on individuals, on people of high intelligence who can’t fit in with their peers at all, for all kinds of reasons. She’s always been strong on such things, and on how young people build images of others, but I guess I like her most when she is dissecting how people and events are mythologised (Broke Heart Blues, Black Water, Blonde)(or maybe I just prefer books beginning with ‘B’).

I think it’s the intelligence of her prose that makes me regard her so highly: the Faulknerian repetition, striving for a power and exactness, the willingness to worry a detail of feeling into the ground. One other thing too: I have only read a minority of her books, but I don’t think any one has been much like any other, nor have any seemed like they could ever be the work of any other writer. This is always a good thing, I think.

The only reason

Pumpkin PublogPost a comment • 211 views

The only reason i’m linking to this story is so i can use the line “Snapple Crisis Hits New York” and make you sing frank and walters songs to yourself all day…

when i hear the phrase ‘dumbing down’ i reach 4 my gum…

Do You SeePost a comment • 200 views

when i hear the phrase ‘dumbing down’ i reach 4 my gum…

I can’t quite make up my mind abt Nick Knowles’s Historyonics, a BBC TV series for kids (?judging by the timeslot?), which retells historical events in a form which reminds Old Man Me of the long-ago pre-Python slapstick series Do Not Adjust Your Set… The presenter – Knowles – intrudes a lot into the recreations, but if that sounds a bit David Starkey for you, there’s also oodles of anachronistic gags and games with what-you-the-viewers-know (or think you know), and just silly fun dressing up, more even than Michael v.tight-trousers Wood wd be happy with, I feel. I missed Guy Fawkes, Robin Hood and Richard III, but I?ve enjoyed Dick Turpin and Julius Caesar?s two invasions of Britain. One of the things that this format can be very smart indeed about, of course, is the matter of who’s telling you the story and what their agenda is: Turpin and Caesar were both very smart self-publicists, and as a result the story we know abt them is still somewhat determined by their own PR skills at the time. Another thing Historyonicsis better at than the kind of spooky-filter point-lens-at-their-legs reconstructions you get in a typical Simon Schama showoff piece, is actually how horrible real history back in the day might have been: Knowles – who writes them – gets fairly hardcore events on-screen by turning actual real bloodshed into kids’ slapstick, but he has a neat way of working with the knockabout to remind you that, if it wz happening to you, this-or-that element in the story wd be as awful as [insert present-day atrocity here]. The young Turpin torturing an old woman by holding her down over her own logfire, for example. Or the druid in the Caesar piece, who casually drops that he knows what he knows bcz of the child-skinnings and sacrifices that are part of his job. The Romans vs Celts line owed a little bit too much to Asterix – not that this source of viewpoint for us moderns shd have been overlooked, more that it was given an easier ride, say, than the Roman perception of self (which wz interlocked very neatly INDEED with present-day imperialist delusions and self-importance).

Personally I’d have liked a wee bit more Christopher Hill in the analysis of the ambiguous celebrityhood of highwaymen in their day – it was hinted at (Turpin had apprenticed as a butcher, but the above-board meat trade collapsed, so he became a poacher, and so on – well, a speedy class analysis of the pol-economy REASON for the collapse of the meat trade wdn’t have gone amiss… it wasn’t as if there isn’t plenty of other class analyses, of differing CULTURAL attitudes to eg highwaymen) but not followed through. OK maybe my assumption that there are self-appointed gatekeepers harrumphing at this travesty is my own form of snobbery, but if this is part of sleb-led DIY TV’s legacy, it’s not an awful part by any means.