Sunday, October 6, 2013


 The Guardian continues to give Jonathan Franzen novelist room to vent; this week he opines at length that modern life is horrible, awful, far, far inferior to the good old days when he was young and the internet was only a dream fools had after a  tequila binge.

I was born in 1952, and 'though being somewhat older than Franzen, I think he's become a tiresome, humorless prig who views modern life through a filter that renders repetitive results. It's a natural instinct to resent and resist change, but truly smart and creative people cease with a protest that will not be heeded and adopt to the changes times and technology have brought us. 

Often enough, the writers, poets and playwrights and publishers and book retailers who embrace the means available to them find themselves doing more interesting work; it means that they are engaged with the world that swirls about them and are fearless enough to interrogate shifting assumptions and remain relevant to readers who, I think, like to read writers with stylish prose styles wax poetic on the doings of human contradiction and convulsion. 

Me, I love the internet, and I haven't had to give up the things I love, ie, literature, movies, poetry, jazz and blues, writing. The social sphere has been changing for the last 30 years, and I prefer being in on the conversation. Franzen continues to mumble about his fabled good old days, he continues to rue the dawning of the 60s and all the decades since. What a pathetic sight, a premature elder alone in a room with the shades drawn, the floor littered with crushed party hats and shriveled balloon skins. It was a great party, Jonathan, but it's over. Much fun and sadness has transpired since then. Did you miss all that.?


  1. H.L. Merkin3:04 PM PDT

    The problem in the Western World is that there is no countervailing force to the insatiable demand for technological change. Organized religion has abdicated this role; in America, they are as gung-ho for new media as any institution. No one dares question the benefits of electronic communication in any form. Every vector of power is delirious with delight as they surrender to texting, tweating, blogging, blarfing and anything else that the tech wizards submit to public consumption. Where’s the coercion to conform, you might ask? In the unavoidable flaws of a democratic society – no one wants to be a square, to be “left behind.” The expectations of your friends to be updated via facebook or your boss to reach you via your smartphone are so overwhelming as to eliminate the need for overt coercion. For all his verbosity and weenieness, Jonathan Franzen has done us a service by pushing back against the presumptions of the high tech imperative. It’s a lonesome job, but SOMEBODY needs to do it, prig or not. I'm glad Jon is Grim.

  2. On a basic level I would agree with you, that experience was more nuanced and greater meaning in other years before technology encroached on that private psychic space we and made our pleasures less joyful, cheaper, less rosonating, but that level would be emotional, not really sociological. History, in a very strong sense, has been technology and capitalism 's constant debasement and decentering of the personal, the meaningful, the authentic; gadgets of all sorts, whether the printing press, radio, movies, television, public universities, have reduced previous centers of cosmology-cohering , rearranged social arrangements between classes and institutions and made everyone with half a wit rethink what they thought they knew and construct their own version of being thrown out of Eden. And the same nay sayers to progress--progress in this sense being neither positive nor negative but rather being inevitable, unavoidable despite the appearance of resistence-- that what was in place was better because things were slower, richer, more nuanced. Yes, quantity changes quality, but Engels, credited with coining that pert phrase, neglected that the change needn't be for the worse; in many cases it can be argued that technology , with it's capacity to create new kinds of contexts in which experience is had, registered and expressed, has improved quality. More often than not, though, my guess is that what Engels and Franzen miss is that things change because they have to--change is the only constant--and that however much we want to regard ourselves as a culture of educated , discerning inviduals, we have a herd mentality; men and women are species being who behave as such. Our principle difference with other animals in regard to our basic responses and reactions are that we language skills that helps create the philosophy and art that helps us believe that we make everyone of our decisions through the choice use of free will. Some of us are smarter than others, though (yes, I believe that) and one is tasked with making the best choices about what to WITH the new technologies rather than grouse and complain that something need to be done ABOUT the new world that is constantly unfolding. Franzen is not a moralist about good virtues and a better life that is now gone, he is an obsessive crybaby who trades in nostalgia as a means of making himself distinct from other literary sorts who want to be cultural critics . His mourning over an idealized past isn't a moving paen at this point, it's schtick.


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