The Weight of Reference

Give Max some solutions for his revision of society at [email protected].

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OK, you win. I'm a hack. Not even a first-rate pretender.

The question remains, "What do I do next?" Well let me tell you what's left after you spend a week in a library.

So I'm reading three types of texts:

1. "Herzog: The Limit of Ideas:" Jonathan Wilson's 1990 critique of Saul Bellow's novel about the relationship between ideas and the world.

2. Two reviews published by the London Review of Books, one on Zadie Smith's "The Autograph Man" and one on Rick Moody's "The Black Veil."

3. Jane Jacob's 1961 "The Death and Life of Great American Cities."

Let me outline a progression between these texts.

First we have the discussion of community and meaning, a very pragmatic text about how streets and sidewalks can facilitate and aid the development of a naturally functioning public sphere (as opposed to the institutionalized and enforced versions).

OK, so that's established. Should a community be more than this shared physical space? How do we address problems that go beyond the city's physical structures?

In "The Limits of Ideas," we're introduced to a new dichotomy regarding the relevance of ideas. The book is one in which Saul Bellow takes on what is commonly understood as the life of letters: a man who finds himself in a emotional crisis and is searching through his repertoire of intellectual tools in hopes of finding some sort of comfort. In "The Limits of Ideas," Jonathan Wilson is convinced that Bellow pits the personal against the intellectual.

The concern here is with the applicability of ideas and information. We have a sense of the real and a sense that what we're thinking about doesn't have anything to do with the real.

Finally we have the latest trend, straight from the London Review of Books. I haven't read either of the original texts, but both critics are lamenting the treatment of information as a character.

James Wood writes that Zadie Smith is coping with the nervous writing referencing style of the United State's pop-savvy two Davids (Eggers and Foster Wallace). He says Zadie's subject is the pop references.

James Wolcott makes a similar critique when describing Rick Moody's exercise in failed subjects, "The Black Veil." He writes that Moody's book lacks a plot and is overly concerned with detailing a family tree project that begins with seemingly insincere motivation and ends after discovering false starts and failed leads.

Both critics bemoan the lack of an overarching theme or some sort of transcendent quality. They write that the authors get too caught up in the exhibition of their silly little games. They overlook that the novel is more than stylistic exhibition. You know, that element in fiction that ties all of humanity together. According to these critics, these novels lack ___.

In the end, we go from a very specific notion of what community is in relationship to a very real space and then shift to a shared community meaning a shared information database.

And this is the problem with my writing so far. I'm writing about why we need something new, how some new meaning needs to be erected, about what kind of value system must substitute the protestant work ethic shaped and reared by the aging invisible hand. However, I never propose new solutions.

Maybe this is the job of the visionary. While I lack the capacity for such lucid dreaming, I doubt we can rely on the idealists to erect the new structures. But those snorers aren't our answers. We've given up on the transcendental. We've abandoned our radical imaginations and cannot indulge the prole, prosaic ordinary.

Oh yes, what a fine example of binary thinking. I know, so passe.

And so my predictions for our soon-to-be-realized post-work society: the equivalent of senior citizen pottery classes or elementary school dramatic productions. That's right, I'm talking about government-sponsored public art.

Isn't there something repulsive about the tepid flavor of public art? Is it all just a matter of context?

A joke: What do you call a pragmatic idealist? Practically romantic.


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