Posts Tagged ‘generalizations of otherwise idiosyncratic preferences’

In Defense of Grammar

Hi, I’m Tim, and I’m a language pedant.

I’m a corrector; you know, one of those guys that corrects you when you say something incorrectly. Think you can get away with disinterested/uninterested mishaps around me? Just ask Rick Reilly. Use reference as a verb when you mean refer and you’ll get a scolding. Same goes for legitimize instead of legitimate (that’s a long a sound at the end: legitimāte). Don’t get me started on the subjunctive mood. I prefer my friends be accurate there, and I don’t think this is particularly unique of me because nothing can be particularly unique.

The Elements of Style sits within reach on a shelf of my desk; I don’t have time to go walking to the other side of the room (and the real bookcase) in case of a grammatical emergency. In my abandoned novel, William Strunk, Jr. was a prominent character.*

*Probably one of the reasons for the adjective “abandoned.”

Although I’m what most would call a stickler, there are some suggestions I don’t always listen to. And clearly, I like to audaciously flaunt some of the basics. Can’t end with a preposition? Please. No starting with a conjunction? Ever hear of transitions? I can’t remember the last time I didn’t split an infinitive. This isn’t Latin.

Nevertheless, Ammon Shea’s attack on “language pedants”—his words—in Sunday’s New York Times Magazine felt personal. Shea expresses his frustration with “inveterate correctors” and reveals his own plan to topple them: via precedent!

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In Search of the Great College Drama

It seems an obvious question: How come no good television shows have been made about the American college experience? Tonight, NBC debuts Community, a hitherto critically regarded comedy about a diverse group of community college students—few of whom are actually of college age. By my count, it’s the third major television show set at a college, and the other two are Felicity and Undeclared, so you know how loosely I’m using “major.”*

*It’s very possible I’ve forgotten another show, but believe me, I thought about it for a long time.

While the college landscape has been neglected, there has been nothing short of a plethora of high school dramas. Beverly Hills 90210 appears to have started the trend, with shows such as Dawson’s Creek, Freaks and Geeks, Gilmore Girls, The O.C., One Tree Hill, Friday Night Lights, Veronica Mars, and Gossip Girl following suit. On the other end of the spectrum, there have been a number of comedies about 20-something singles, most notably Friends and How I Met Your Mother.

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In Memoriam: David Foster Wallace

DFW 1

 

One year ago today, David Foster Wallace killed himself.

I can remember where I was and how I found out, but not any real emotional impact. I was of course disappointed that a writer I had read and enjoyed was dead, but it was an abstract sense of disappointment; I mainly remember feeling surprised.

Now, however, it doesn’t seem weird or surprising at all: Reading Wallace’s fiction, pretty much any of it, is to become intimately acquainted with a mind that contemplates death and dread and depression on a fairly regular basis. This, of course, is in addition to the public knowledge that Wallace battled depression for twenty years. Wallace was, it turns out, a prime candidate for suicide.

Instead of surprise, I now feel intense and profound sadness about the death of David Foster Wallace, the kind of sadness that borders on anger. Almost every time I read or re-read one of his pieces now, I think about how terrible it is that the mind that wrote these words is no longer with us. I think about how many more years, and consequently how many more books, he should have had. I think about the things he might have written about the world as it has changed just in the last year, and would have written in the coming years. I think about the implications of a man that brilliant being so hopelessly depressed.

The only things that can make us feel so angry and upset, however, are the things that make us proportionally happy. And the truth is that these emotions make up only a small fraction of those I feel while reading Wallace: What I feel most of all is happy.

“Happy” is one of those prosaic and overused words that are hard to properly define, but it seems quintessentially appropriate here. The feeling I have while reading Wallace is akin to that of listening to the climax of your favorite song, or being in the company of a really good friend. It is the feeling of being completely and utterly at peace with the world.

Wallace’s writing is intelligent and complex, and engaging on an intellectual level in a unique way; it is funny and clever and insightful—but all of this was clear to me from reading his first book of essays. What his fiction showed me, though, was a narrative voice that is all of these things, but also transcends them. His writing is not just intended to be funny and smart and insightful, but also to make us happy (in a way that is also funny, smart and insightful). His writing is good because it inspires the morally good, nonhedonistic kind of pleasure (more on this to come).

At the time of his death, I called Wallace my “second favorite living writer.” In hindsight this feels absurd. Not only had I read far too little of his work to make that kind of judgment, but upon reading more I would realize that he is, for me, the best writer who has ever lived. Continue reading

I Think My Logic Is Beyond Reproach

First off, John, thanks for pointing out that you’re kind of a contrarian. Based on your posts earlier this week that attacked typical American villains in Atticus Finch and checks and balances, I was afraid you were going too mainstream. I was waiting for your next post: “How To Strangle Puppies.”*

*With special co-blogger… that’s too easy.

Second, it is interesting to note, as I did oh so long ago, that it’s far easier to hold the stance you do—that some things’ greatness is ineffable—when those things are considered great by the general populace. It’s not often that one really challenges you on your love for The Beatles, Dylan, Shakespeare, The Godfather, or The Wire. They are all part of the cultural canon by now, perceived as the best of the best. (It’s also notable that another work of culture that you once explained in your typical terse “You just don’t get it” manner, Rihanna’s “Umbrella,” didn’t make this list; maybe because it’s not considered part of the canon, and you know how ludicrous it sounds now to claim that the song is great because it just is.)

The point is it’s a lot harder to say these things about less beloved artists; someone along the lines of, oh I don’t know, Barenaked Ladies. Individuals with non-conformist tastes are forced to defend them far more often; how many times have you or Josh condemned my preference for BnL? And how many times have you been condemned for your disbelief in God?

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The Point of No Reproach

I am, in general, a big fan of criticism, iconoclasm and contrarianism. I use some variation of the phrase “thinking critically” pretty much everyday. Whenever conventional wisdom forms about a certain subject, I instinctively take the opposite point of view.

Some people view these characteristics as flaws, but I consider them a point of pride.

In spite of this inclination towards criticism, there a few subjects on which I am downright dogmatic.

I noticed this most recently while reading Infinite Summer, the online book club for David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, probably my favorite novel of all-time. There was a discussion of the novel’s inclusion of endnotes and whether or not this aligned with the book’s themes, or was simply a stylistic pretense. My gut instinct, however, was to dismiss those who were anti-endnotes as morons who couldn’t possibly understand the book. Continue reading

(Some) Things Fall Apart

Bill Simmons has offered a much more negative (and more succinct) review of Funny People on Twitter. And while I disagree with him about this particular film, he has set off an interesting debate on Twitter about the concept of movies that “fell apart.”

Now, as is inevitable in a democratic debate forum like Twitter, this has devolved into people ranting (can 140 characters be a rant?) about movies they don’t like.

The original concept, however, is intriguing. Let me outline what I think it takes for a movie to Fall Apart: 1) The movie had to be on track for greatness. The first half, or two thirds, or three-quarters of the film have to not only be good, or better than the second half, but excellent (this rules out Funny People from the get-go). A film can only “Fall Apart” if it has gotten your hopes high with a great start. 2) The final act has to not only go awry, but fail so spectacularly that it tarnishes the initial greatness. In other words, you can’t appreciate the good stuff in the movie because the ending was so bad.

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In Defense of… Barenaked Ladies

“I could hide out under there / I just made you say, ‘Underwear.’”

It’s kind of an embarrassing confession: Barenaked Ladies are my favorite band.

You see, my relationship to music has been a very simple and static one. I grew up listening to non-threatening, easy-on-the-ears ‘90s rock. I never really stopped. I never had an emo phase, a classic rock phase, or a synth phase. Hearing Dylan or Pearl Jam or Eminem didn’t change the way I thought about music, let alone in a profound way.

Because of all this, I’ve been told I don’t really “get” music.

But I don’t think a lot of people “get” Barenaked Ladies, either.

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