Posts Tagged ‘Shakespeare’

Monday Medley

What we read while getting another reason to avoid Atlanta….

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Louie Louie Louie: Come On, God & Eddie

Just a perfect description....

As Season Two of Louie continues on FX, John S and Josh will be offering NPI readers their reactions to each episode. At the end of the season, they will rank the episodes. Get excited. Continue reading

Aught Lang Syne: The Worst of the Decade

Now, the raison d’etre for NPI’s look back at the last decade is to emphasize the cultural highs that the Aughts offered to those who lived through them. We are not here to condemn, and call the Aughts “the decade from Hell.” And so far we’ve stuck primarily to things from this decade that were truly awesome.

But, to paraphrase Shakespeare, the evil that decades do lives after them; the good is oft interred within their bones. This decade wasn’t all fun and games, and I’m not even talking about historical disasters, like 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, Mumbai, the tsunami, and the economic meltdown. No, this post is reserved for things that are truly detestable: bad songs, bad movies, and bad TV shows.

It seems pointless to waste words criticizing Cavemen, Gigli, and Paris Hilton’s 2006 album Paris—those horses have long since been dead and buried. Instead, this post will be about things that received inexplicable attention, unjustified praise, and undeserved popularity.

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Paul Shirley Doesn’t Like The Beatles

Et tu, Paul?

Listen Mr. Shirley, we like you here at NPI. We like sports. We like books. We like people who write good books about playing sports. You even tweeted at Tim. But if forced to choose between you and the Beatles, well, we’re gonna have to go with the Beatles.

Now, I have no problem with unconventional stances; in fact, I like them a lot. And I have no qualms with someone’s personal tastes. It’s also true that people who don’t like the Beatles are unfairly maligned (you guys should form a support group with people who don’t think The Godfather is that great and people who think Shakespeare is overrated).

 

Some of what you say is certainly true: “[T]he mythology that surrounds the Beatles has overwhelmed rational humans’ ability to judge the band by its music.” There is no denying that when you are brought up and essentially conditioned to think something is good, that is going to affect your judgment of that thing, whether your judgment is positive or negative. Continue reading

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