June 30, 2005
Thought for the day

"If an author can write for the ages, why does she bother with the minutes?"

Joseph Bottum

June 26, 2005
Announcement

Some time ago, I added another title to my roster: I am now fiction editor of Doublethink. This is somewhat fitting—last year, I wrote an article for the quarterly magazine on the decline of the short story. (And thanks to Michael of the Two Blowhards for sending more readers over to that piece recently, along with his kind words.)

Our first short story appears in the Spring 2005 issue. It's entitled "Hack," and was written by me. It's not yet online, so you'll have to read it on old-fashioned paper if you're curious. I'll post the link when it appears. (Thanks must be given here to the provider of a "writer's retreat," during which the story was written.)

We are, of course, looking for submissions. We prefer stories of 2,000 to 4,000 words, although we will consider fiction of any length. Stories can be on any subject, although as editor David Skinner suitably puts it, "it is possible we'll look a little more kindly on fiction written with an audience of youngish, ambitious, intellectually engaged, politically astute readers in mind."

Take a look at our last year of issues and see if you think your story belongs there. Successful submissions will receive payment.

Please feel free—encouraged, actually—to post this call for writers on your own blog. Submissions should be e-mailed to me. My account for this site seems to work only sporadically, and I've been told I miss a lot of mail, so please send to kelly dot torrance at gmail.

June 22, 2005
On Books

My latest American Enterprise Online books column is now up:

Thomas de Zengotita asks hard questions in his new book, Mediated: How the Media Shapes Your World and the Way You Live in It (Bloomsbury). “[I]s there anything you do that remains essentially unmediated, anything you don’t experience reflexively through some commodified representation of it? Birth? Marriage? Illness?” he writes. “Think of all the movies and memoirs, philosophies and techniques, self-help books, counselors, programs, presentations, workshops. Think of the fashionable vocabularies generated by those venues, and think of how all this conditions your experience.”

Unfortunately, he doesn’t provide many answers. The big idea of Mediated, the result of 30 years of research, is that modern man has lost his connection to reality...

June 19, 2005
In Print

I have a book review in this week's issue of The Weekly Standard. Leo Bogart's Over the Edge: How the Pursuit of Youth by Marketers and the Media Has Changed American Culture blames marketing's faulty assumptions for the increasing sex and violence in our culture:

And while the pervasiveness of quotation and the number of statistics scattered throughout the text can be mind-numbing at times, Bogart is engaging on the inner workings of television and its self-regulation. But he fails to offer any real solution to those, like himself, who care about what children see on their TV screens.

His main recommendation is ending the Federal Communications Commission's automatic renewal of licenses. But he also spends many pages explaining that research shows a complete lack of consensus among viewers about which material is suitable for what age group. Why government bureaucrats should make these difficult calls Bogart never explains.

June 17, 2005
Dear Mr. Rubin

I'm a little astonished that a newspaper would actually publish something that makes me laugh out loud. This open letter to the publisher of Doubleday is quite good:

Saw that story you planted in The New York Times the other day in hopes of finally making me break. No dice. You should know me better by now. If I've written you once, I've written you - not counting this letter - 28 times, and has my message ever changed, my resolve ever wavered?

It's about time, pal, you get it through that thick skull of yours: I, Mark Bazer, am not buying "The Da Vinci Code" in hardcover.

June 13, 2005
Harmful reading

My latest Brainwash column contains my take on Human Events' list of the "Ten Most Harmful Books of the 19th and 20th Centuries."

June 10, 2005
Headline of the week

"Beethoven was a narcissistic hooligan." I can't really make out the argument in this Guardian piece, except that the author doesn't like "dark" music:

If Beethoven had dedicated his obvious talents to serving the noble Pythagorean view of music, he might well have gone on to compose music even greater than that of Mozart. You can hear this potential in his early string quartets, where the movements often have neat conclusions and there is a playfulness reminiscent of Mozart or Haydn. If only Beethoven had nourished these tender shoots instead of the darker elements that one can also hear.
He likes the "vivacity of Mozart," "Bach's perfectly formed fugues and Vivaldi's sparkling concertos."

He also writes, "Above all, Mozart's music shares with that of Bach an exuberant commitment to the Enlightenment values of clarity, reason, optimism and wit." My review of a book on Bach's conflict with the Enlightenment will appear soon, so I won't say anything about this. But I will say to his characterization of what sort of music he does like, that there is plenty of melancholy in Bach.

Dylan Evans sounds a bit like Allan Bloom for the classical set:

In A Clockwork Orange it is the fourth movement of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony that echoes in the mind of Alex whenever he indulges in one of his orgies of violence. Alex's reaction may be rather extreme, but he is responding to something that is already there in this dark and frenzied setting of Schiller's Ode to Joy; the joy it invites one to feel is the joy of madness, bloodlust and megalomania. It is glorious music, and seductive, but the passions it stirs up are dark and menacing.
It's a bit odd to hear someone criticize Beethoven's work for being too personal when Beethoven saw much of it rather differently. Yes, he was a Romantic, but he was also writing about mankind.

Political art redux

A few months ago, I reported on an excellent talk by Terry Teachout at the American Enterprise Institute. A longer version of that talk, on "The Problem of Political Art," has now been published, in the Wall Street Journal and In Character. An excerpt:

You might go so far as to say that the authors of such plays suffer from what conservatives call the "entitlement mentality." It isn't just that they feel no responsibility to make arguments that might prove persuasive to those who disagree with them, or at least haven't yet made up their minds. They no longer acknowledge any responsibility to their audiences. They appear to believe instead that so long as an artist thinks all the right things, he need not go to the trouble to be amusing, subtle or even interesting. All he need do is make his characters say the right things, and he's entitled to the approval of his enlightened brethren. No one else matters.
TT also writes, "Of the 200-odd new plays I've seen in my two years as a working critic, not one could be described as embodying a specifically right-wing political perspective, nor do I know any New York-based playwrights or actors who are openly conservative."

Jonathan Leaf may fit the bill. He's written for National Review and The Weekly Standard, and looks headed for a promising career in the theatre. The New Republic's James Wood called his "Pushkin: A Verse Tragedy" "the best verse play in English since Shakespeare." Gosh. I haven't seen any of his plays myself, but my Doublethink colleague David Skinner has, and speaks highly of his latest work in the new issue. You can read more about him in this Doublethink profile of the playwright from last year. I wonder how many other artists have started their careers using game show winnings.

Last year I quoted a very good piece by Mr. Leaf on the novel. It was published in the New Partisan, which is a publication very much worth your time.

Thought for the day

"She is central to my argument that literature can depose religion as an ethical resource. It's astonishing to me how she knew so much about the human soul in a way that I don't think anyone else knew about motives and actions except Shakespeare."

Christopher Hitchens on George Eliot

June 09, 2005
On Books

My latest American Enterprise Online books column reviews a new volume on a subject most of us don't think much about. Spring Forward: The Annual Madness of Daylight Saving Time is a charming light history, filled with fun facts. For example, did you know that China only has one time zone? The country is as broad as the United States. When the sun rises at 7 am in Beijing, the Western provinces don't see sun until after 10.

June 07, 2005
Second thoughts

Roger Ebert has suddenly remembered what he got into the business for. After taping an edition of his television show in which he gave the tepid remake The Longest Yard a thumbs-up, he attended the Cannes Film Festival and, as The New York Times puts it, "saw 25 films with much higher aspirations." So it found it rather difficult to write a positive review of the movie for his Chicago Sun-Times column. He left his thumb up, but added: "I would, however, be filled with remorse if I did not urge you to consider the underlying melancholy of this review and seek out a movie you could have an interesting conversation about."

Thought for the day

"My dear child, you can give it a long name if you like, but I'm an old-fashioned woman and I call it mother-wit, and it's so rare for a man to have it that if does you write a book about him and call him Sherlock Holmes."

—Dorothy L. Sayers in Clouds of Witness

Happy 77th Birthday

"In a way I feel a bit like Sargent, who decided after a while that he didn't want to do any more portrait assignments. They had made his reputation, but he felt he'd done enough of them. What he wanted to do was something light and carefree, so he took up watercolors - and what watercolors they were! I think I could happily turn my hand to the cinematic equivalent."

James Ivory

June 06, 2005
Work

I've hardly seen my own apartment in the last month or so. However, this last trip was more of a working vacation. Although nothing like that for the participants of "Novel: A Living Installation." Three writers moved to a commune in Queens for a month, in the hopes of finishing novels. This New York Times piece on the "event" is surprisingly boring. Not one visitor is quoted on what he saw or thought about the installation. And where is the gossip, the stories of tension and emotion?

No matter what the artistic results, I'm extremely impressed (and surprised) about one thing—it appears the events were not turned into a reality show.

June 01, 2005
Thought for the day

"Neither a borrower nor a lender be; For loan oft loses both itself and friend; And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry."

—Shakespeare, Hamlet