Monday, February 16, 2009

Presidents' Day Treats

Gerald Early reflects upon the pulp in the African American Literature section.

Dick Cavett looks back on the day Updike and Cheever both came on his show (with video!).

And Wyatt Mason continues to defend Netherland, discussing the very passage I used as Exhibit A in my complaint about the book.  Almost makes me think Mason has been reading Corresponding Fractions.

Much of what O’Neill does with tone in Netherland is, yes, subtly ironic. If you miss, or just don’t like, said tone, you’ll not unreasonably find his prose precious. Take this bit, where the narrator is reflecting on flying from NYC to London to see his wife:
That country might have some meaningful relation to my country of physical residence, and so every second weekend, when I traveled to London to be with my wife and son, I hoped that flying high into the atmosphere, over boundless massifs of vapor or small clouds dispersed like the droppings of Pegasus on an unseen platform of air, might also lift me above my personal haze. That is, I would conduct a retrospective of our affable intercontinental dealings and assemble the hope and theory that the foundation of my family might after all be secure and our old unity within reach.
I’ve got to think that O’Neill’s “dispersed like the droppings of Pegasus on an unseen platform of air” is knowingly too much (i.e. the high-flying language overreaches in the same way that the character is overreaching in his hopes that flying high will put his earthly cares behind him), just as his “conduct a retrospective of our affable intercontinental dealings” is deliberately lawyerly–that is to say it puts the real emotions at a rhetorical remove. If both of these parsings of mine make you say “Poppycock,” though, Netherland isn’t likely going to do it for you.

Poppycock, indeed. 

I see what Mason is saying—that O'Neill wants us to see Hans's detachment, his pompously inflated language; that Hans is kind of like Winterbourne in Daisy Miller—the story is about all he's missing in his telling of the tale. But I don't buy it. I was prepared to read the novel that way. Surely, I thought, the novel will do more to wink at how tediously self-absorbed this incredibly privileged guy is. Surely the end of the novel will lead him to some self-revelation or at least demonstrate the shocking lack of such a revelation. But, as far as I can tell, it doesn't.

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