Sunday, December 27, 2009

What is Your Opinion of the Human Species?

I had planned to read Guns, Germs, and Steel over the holidays. (Appropriate, right?) I guess I imagined it as a quiet time to relax over a sprawling non-fiction book. I stopped mid-way through the first thirty pages, after Jared Diamond was busily pointing out for the millionth time why his book was important (and how it wasn't racist).

This is something that annoys me to no end, and seems to happen fairly often with non-fiction: authors feel the need to preface the actual book with a declaration of relevance. Why? Isn't it really just an extended cover letter or jacket copy? I'm assuming because the book made it into print (and won the Pulitzer) that it is relevant, necessary, and not racist - you don't have to beat me over the head with it. And I've already started to read the book, you don't need to sell me on it.

Moving on:

I recommend reading this interview that John Yau did with Rosalyn Drexler published by The Brooklyn Rail in the summer of 2007. Something I love about the Rail is that their interviews come off as conversational, they allow their subjects space to digress, to tell stories about their friends and their lifestyles. In a world where most media boil down interviews to the most pungent five questions, and then even further for a single blocked stand-out quote, flipping through the Rail comes across as incredibly honest and relaxing.

"I don’t know what the right thing means? Nothing is right and nothing is wrong in art. Maybe it’s a bad thing to be open. (laughs) Maybe you should not reveal too much. However there’s almost nothing left to reveal. Every recipe has been imitated. People don’t even care if the soufflĂ© has fallen, or who first made it. Or even if the information is true or false. Or the art is true or false. What is the answer? What is the question? Ask me later. Right now I’m busy dying." -Rosalyn Drexler (her painting, The Dream, is above)

[See also, The Brooklyn Rail's interview with Sherman Drexler.]

For Christmas Eve we went to my cousin's house where her three daughters seemed to migrate from one electronic device to the next. It made me think of this recording that Studs Terkel did with StoryCorps in Chicago before he passed away, that lingers with me. It begins with Terkel asking, "What has happened to the human voice, vox humana, hollering, shouting, quiet talking, buzz?"

I recommend reading the transcript of the recording, or better yet, listening to it. What he says makes me feel sane.


Francis said...

You read 30pp of Jared Diamond. I own Collapse, another of his tomes, and have read not one single page--though I have to confess to being interested in JD's analysis of the decline of varying civilizations. In this regard, are we living in a new world, or is this the same old world, despite the advent of social networking. I am not really cereal about about this supposition. Some things are just nice to utter, as if I were a parrot mimicking nothing. It's like those old World War Two movies where the destroyer is spotted through the sub's periscope and the sub descends for the attack. Ahoy there, Francis Levy

Rodger Jacobs said...

I read a number of non-fic tomes this year that carried prefaces by either the author or another writer, which, in effect, summarized what I was about to read. Annoying. It's an electronic media tic that has carried over into some publishing circles: note, for instance, the way many news networks such as CNN will lure the viewer into a news story by effectively pitching them the story they are about to see -- same thing, but more annoying in print.

Bart Simpson said...

I think you have missed the point entirely! The overarching thesis of Guns Germs and Steel is racism itself is based on the fallacy that members of the white race are genetically superior, when history shows they were simply lucky and when given the same resources, members of "non-white" races act as any other people do. He is not attempting to claim that he is not racist. A certain justification of relevancy somehow always makes it into academia, but don't let a shitty introduction spoil a very well written and researched book! Of course, if any book that makes it into print is "relevant necessary and not racist", Sarah Palin's publisher has got some esplainin' to do!