Monday, January 8, 2007

marcus and gladwell, writers of nonsense

Last night, I was only mildly tipsy on red wine, but still tipsy enough to doubt my cognitive abilities. I read an awful sentence that made no sense in Greil Marcus's The Shape of Things to Come: Prophecy and the American Voice and I told myself to reread it tomorrow (now today) to see if it made sense then. It does not. It is a totally awful sentence that makes not a lick of sense. Marcus is a big fan of long dashes, as are many writers unable to construct coherent sentences, but even with that long dash this sentence still makes no sense:

"The American's personal drama must always become American—and in this sense, while everything that matters is secret, can never really be known even to those who carry the secrets, nothing is private." (100)

Marcus's writing is always a bit messy, but normally it is messy and somehow coheres into something approaching brilliance. This book, so far, is just messy. It opens with a discussion of American prophecy, tracing a line from John Winthrop to Abraham Lincoln to Martin Luther King, Jr. That opening section isn't so bad, but really doesn't say anything of note, something that hasn't been said before. Then the next section is a huge section on Philip Roth's American trilogy that is mainly just quotes from those novels. The big problem though is that Marcus fails to effectively tie this chapter into what is presumably his theme about American prophecy.

The next section, which I am in right now, is about David Lynch's Lost Highway, and this section is a lot better than what preceded it, which is good and also a bit sad, because the main reason I got this book was to read Marcus's analysis of my favorite writer, Roth, the analysis which was more than a little disappointing, not to mention that it included that terrible sentence quoted above that says a lot and signifies nothing.


Yesterday, I also read Malcolm Gladwell's piece on Enron, which is totally maddening. It reads like a parody of Gladwell's style: simplifying things with neat little systems, in this case mysteries versus puzzles, and tying in totally unrelated things to add parallels to your argument, in this case intelligence work on Nazi missile plans. Through all this nonsense, he obfuscates what it is a clear cut case of wrongdoing, the Enron debacle. Who the fuck cares if it's a mystery or a puzzle? Irrelevant! I was beginning to enjoy Malcolm Gladwell, but this article and its sympathetic nonsense toward Enron make me doubt Gladwell.

Maud Newton does a much better job of verbalizing her dislike of this article than I am able to muster at this time. That is because I need to go out the door to possibly see a band, possibly go to a gay sports bar, and definitely get out of the house, interact with some human beings.

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