Writing about the second staged exchange between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney Detroit News columnist Nolan Finley exclaims: “This is what a debate should look like — two well-matched heavyweights pounding away at each other, unable to knock each other down, but determined to keep slugging.” He then proceeds, rather lamely, to say, “In the end, who won probably depended on who you wanted to win going in.” (No need to read more of his analysis to know for whom he was rooting…)
Slate’s sampling of newspapers’ coverage of the event features headlines like “No Pulling Punches in Feisty Debate” (Las Vegas Review-Journal), “They Came out Fighting” (New Hampshire Union Leader) and “Obama, Romney Come out Swinging” (Richmond Times-Dispatch).
In his New Yorker blog, John Cassidy manages to liken Obama to both Jake LaMotta and Muhammad Ali before saying, “Enough with the boxing metaphors.” He doesn’t mean it, however. “Truly, though, it’s hard to avoid them,” he continues.
The problem is precisely how easy it is to rely on such clichés. Rather than actually saying something insightful, pundits just reach for the most obvious comparison from sports. Presidential debates are contests between two opponents, and so are boxing matches. Really? You don’t say…
Perhaps it would be worth trying a little harder.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged Barack Obama, Boxing, Debates, Detroit News, Jake LaMotta, John Cassidy, Las Vegas Review-Journal, Leon Spinks, Mitt Romney, Muhammad Ali, New Hampshire Union Leader, Nolan Finley, Richmond Times-Dispatch, Slate, The New Yorker | Leave a Comment »
Thinking about the season’s presidential and vice-presidential debates, I find myself consistently returning to a line from George Orwell’s Diaries. In 1936, while gathering material for what would become The Road to Wigan Pier, he went to see a politician speak and wrote afterward: “it struck me how easy it is to bamboozle an uneducated audience if you have prepared a set of repartees with which to evade awkward questions…” With both awkward and not-so-awkward questions, candidates simply say what they planned to say, and some listeners actually do, somehow, believe what they hear…
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged Debates, Diaries, George Orwell, The Road to Wigan Pier | Leave a Comment »
Eric Hobsbawm’s obituaries invariably mention the historian’s “Age of…” series — The Age of Revolution: 1789-1848, The Age of Capital: 1848-1875, The Age of Empire: 1874-1914 and The Age of Extremes: A History of the World, 1914-1991. Those books do make an impressive set.
It was his essays, however, that I found myself returning to, having recalled Hobsbawm insightfully remarking on subjects I also chose to address. Open Letters Monthly, for instance, published (under a title I never liked) something I wrote about jazz festivals in which I cite Hobsbawm’s 1994 essay “Jazz Comes to Europe.” A piece I composed concerning Labor Day (forthcoming in Cream City Review) is informed by another essay collected in Hobsbawm’s Uncommon People: Resistance, Rebellion, and Jazz.
The Guardian reports that Hobsbawm submitted a manuscript to his publisher a few months before his death. It was a collection of essays.
Posted in Essays | Tagged Cream City Review, Eric Hobsbawm, Essays, Jazz festivals, Labor Day, Obituaries Uncommon People, Open Letters Monthly, The Age of Capital, The Age of Empire, The Age of Extremes, The Age of Revolution, The Guardian | Leave a Comment »
Suzanne Burns, a fine Oregon writer, has a new collection of poetry coming out soon. Her publisher, Night Bomb Press, is offering free shipping on orders of Ghost Wife placed before November 7. Here’s where to go for the deal: http://www.nightbombpress.com/preorders.html.
I met Suzanne a few years ago at the Wordstock book festival, at which we both reading (simultaneously). Having since read her earlier work, I’m now eagerly looking forward to the new one.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged Ghost Wife, Night Bomb Press, Oregon, Poetry, Suzanne Burns, Wordstock | Leave a Comment »
A few things that caught my eye:
- Having never read any books by Bret Easton Ellis, I can’t say whether David Foster Wallace’s criticisms of the author of American Psycho (as relayed by Slate) have any merit; however, having slogged through a couple Wallace tomes, and having observed the witlessly earnest ardor of DFW fans, I tend to side with Ellis, who dismisses Wallace as a “fraud” and finds the “halo of sentimentality surrounding him embarrassing.”
- The New Yorker’s books blog, Page-Turner, has a fascinating item in which Philip Roth corrects mistaken allegations concerning the origins of The Human Stain (a novel I write about in Fighters & Writers).
- Volume VIII of The Chaffey Review, containing three poems of mine is out, as is the fall issue of San Pedro River Review, featuring a poem by my wife, Nancy (who also has work forthcoming in GreenPrints).
- The fall issue of The Paris Review includes an interview with James Fenton (whose A Garden from a Hundred Packets of Seed I recently read). The brief excerpt posted has me looking forward to reading the whole thing.
- Also looking forward to Ian McEwan’s Sweet Tooth. McEwan’s Canadian publisher provides some of the novel’s historical background.
- Despite negative assessments of the movies like Tom Carson’s in The American Prospect, I am undeterred in my curiosity to watch the just-released-on-DVD films of Norman Mailer.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged A Garden from a Hundred Packets of Seed, American Psycho, Bret Easton Ellis, Davis Foster Wallace, Fighters & Writers, GreenPrints, Ian McEwan, James Fenton, Nancy J. Rodwan, Norman Mailer, Page-Turner, Philip Roth, San Pedro River Review, Slate, Sweet Tooth, The American Prospect, The Chaffey Review, The Human Stain, The New Yorker, The Paris Review, Tom Carson | Leave a Comment »
In Fighters & Writers I mention several of the countless writers who expressed interest in, and were inspired by, boxing, such as Lord Byron, Albert Camus, Ernest Hemingway, Norman Mailer, Budd Schulberg and George Plimpton. I could have, but didn’t, name another literary connoisseur of the fight game, Vladimir Nabokov. In a 1925 essay on the sport published in English for the first time this month by The Times Literary Supplement, the author of Laughter in the Dark and Lolita says “there are few spectacles as healthy and beautiful as a boxing-match.”
Clearly writing for a non-expert audience, Nabokov points out some salient facts that should be widely know but, even decades later, still are not. For example, it was not “commonplace humanity that led to the appearance of boxing gloves,” he points out, but instead a wish to protect fighters’ hands. He astutely observes that calling Jim Jeffries the “great white hope” hinted that “black boxers were already becoming unbeatable.” He’s a little shaky on dates, estimating that the championship fight between Jeffries and Jack Johnson occurred “twenty-five or more years” before he was writing (when it was 15), but he gets something essential right, something that gets to the heart of what Nabokov call “the art of boxing” and its appeal for writers. Recounting the crowd dispersing after a heavyweight bout, he states his conviction that within the witnesses “there existed one and the same beautiful feeling, for the sake of which it was worth bringing together two great boxers, – a feeling of dauntless, flaring strength, vitality, manliness, inspired by the play in boxing. And this playful feeling is, perhaps, more valuable and purer than many so-called “elevated pleasures.” Even if not everyone who saw the fight Nabokov took in at the Sports Palace in Berlin walked away with this “beautiful feeling,” he and many scribblers before and since certainly did.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged Albert Camus, Berlin, Boxing, Budd Schulberg, Ernest Hemingway, Fighters & Writers, George Plimpton, Heavyweight boxing, Jack Johnson, Jim Jeffries, Lord Byron, Norman Mailer, Sports Palace, Times Literary Supplement, Vladimir Nabokov | Leave a Comment »
Other than mentioning his graceful turn on a New York stage as blacklisted-writer Dalton Trumbo (which I was fortunate enough to see), I have nothing to add to the reports of Gore Vidal’s death. Here are excerpts from the American Humanist Association’s notice:
The death of Gore Vidal on July 31, 2012, at the age of 86 has humanists mourning the loss of perhaps American’s best known public intellectual. As honorary president of the American Humanist Association since 2009, Vidal added an enthusiastic, progressive and dynamic voice to the AHA and the humanist movement.
“The progressive and humanist values Gore Vidal repeatedly espoused moved the culture in a positive direction,” said David Niose, president of the American Humanist Association. “He spent his life pointing out the places in society that needed the most attention without worrying who might be embarrassed or upset by his opinions.”
“He’s been called an iconoclast, a provocateur, and a misanthrope,” said Humanist editor Jennifer Bardi. “And of course Gore occasionally said things that gave humanists pause. But he was forever dedicated to the cause of enlightenment and exposed injustice and hypocrisy at every turn.”…
The targets of Vidal’s criticism included the Religious Right, American expansionism, political changes done for “national security,” and the military-industrial complex, among others items. His advocacy for individual liberty, separation of church and state, and reason and rationality embodies the mission of the American Humanist Association.
Vidal first made a name for himself with the 1948 publication of The City and the Pillar, a book that created turmoil because its main character is openly homosexual without also being seen as unnatural. He was forced to write several subsequent novels using a pseudonym because reviewers and advertising outlets blacklisted him….
At first known for his novels, he later became known for his essays….
I count among those who hold his essays (the ones that don’t descend into crackpot conspiratorial thinking, that is) in especially high regard.
The New York Times, a paper with which Vidal had squabbles, has a fuller obituary.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged American Humanist Association, Dalton Trumbo, Gore Vidal, Humanist, New York Times | Leave a Comment »