Friday, July 6, 2012

Sheila Heti’s How Should a Person Be: Compelling and irritating - Slate Magazine


A few years ago a member of the Nobel committee charged with choosing who wins the august prize every year complained that American writers were collectively immature, self infatuated and generally provincial in the fiction they write. Granted , this was during the W years when few in the world had nice things to say about anything coming from the United States, let alone its literature, but this novel, as described, underscores the substance of the the committee member's complaint: even in sections some defend as a self aware joke, the trials and tribulations of a generation that is simultaneously over network and incapable of discourse that isn't cast as an ironic aside to their own sense of absurd specialness sounds less inviting than a forced tour of your own living room. It is a low grade egomania .

We realize , however that the author in question, Sheila Heti, is actually Canadian, although born in England , and that the committee member was referring to his pained experience with writers born in the United States, The remarks remain a useful analog, however ,  so lets amend  my original remark (not that there is anything truly original about it; bright Canadians who think they are geniuses, even in an ironic sense, are about as annoying as stupid United States citizens who haven't a clue that they are inappropriate, chest thumping galoots.

While I don't disagree that the Nobel judge was demonstrating his bit of provincialism by accusing American writers , as a whole, of being immature and self-infatuated. His basic gripe, though, it dovetails  with a slew of youngish, bright and utterly uninteresting writers who cannot write fiction that even pretends to see beyond the vanity of being young . 

There is a time in most people's lives when what later seems like obvious truisms seem so profound; many of us for a time, think they are profound and true because we assume that we're the only ones who who have had these ideas. Further, some of us take longer than others to realize that what we think are special insights and ironic readings of the world are mannerisms that have been borrowed from movies and books and that they've been practiced in the mirror too often for too long. Sheila Heti sounds like that kind of writer. The problem with being the center of the universe is that if, after a while, you don't lighten up, the gravity will crush you. 

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