Too much temptation. Too Little wisdom.
LIKE classic French cooking, the best American crime fiction relies on a limited number of simple ingredients (which may be why it’s so popular in France). Too much temptation. Too little wisdom. Too many weak, bad men. Too few strong, good ones. And spread over everything, freedom. Freedom and space. The freedom (perhaps illusory) to make poor choices and the space (as real as the highways) to flee their consequences — temporarily, at least. Corny and crude in the way of all great folk art, the intrinsically pessimistic crime novel — as opposed to the basically optimistic detective novel — is not about the workings of human justice but the dominion of inhuman time. As devised and refined by James M. Cain, Jim Thompson and their gloomy paperback peers, the crime novel aimed its cheap handgun at the heart of America’s most prized beliefs about its destiny: that the loot we’ve scooped up will belong to us forever and that history allows clean getaways.
Kirn, W. (2005, July 24). ‘No Country for Old Men’: Texas Noir. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2005/07/24/books/review/no-country-for-old-men-texas-noir.html?_r=0
A Kindness Set Point
My resistance was based, in part, on the fact that compassion meditation was a little annoying–but more significantly, it stemmed from a deep-seated suspicion: that we each have a kindness set point, the result of factory settings that could not be altered, and that mine may not be dialed particularly high.
Harris, D. (2017). 10% happier: how I tamed the voice in my head, reduced stress without losing my edge, and found self-help that actually works: a true story. London, England: Yellow Kite.
As a description of our collective recession-era funk, “Falling Down” is to the early ’90s what “Network” was to the late ’70s. Written by Ebbe Roe Smith, the movie appraises the state of our national disease in a manner that goes far beyond what economic indicators tell us. If the last election was about change, the soul sickness shown in “Falling Down” reflects precisely why that change was essential. It’s the grim chart at the end of our hospital beds.
Hinson, H. (1993, February 26). Review: Falling Down. Retrieved from http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/style/longterm/movies/videos/fallingdownrhinson_a0a7f7.htm
Falling Down is not meant to be seen as the anatomy of a madman, but as a spectacle of civil despair in which some people give in to galvanizing self-pity and others cope as best they can.
Canby, V. (n.d.). Review/Film; Urban Horrors, All Too Familiar. Retrieved February 26, 1993, from http://www.nytimes.com/movie/review?res=9F0CE0DC113FF935A15751C0A965958260
All That Messiness
And it feels like self-esteem presaged many of these other simple, straightforward stories; it feels like today, it’s increasingly common for academics to sell — often onstage at a TED Talk — simple, one- or two-sentence accounts of human nature that supposedly are the key to solving problems that have been around for decades or centuries or millennia.
Like self-esteem, grit scrubs away so much of the complexity and inequality that determines who gets what, and who succeeds and who fails, replacing all that messiness with a clean and memorable storyline that can be summed up in a sentence or two.
Singal, J. (2017, May 30). How the Self-Esteem Craze Took Over America. Retrieved from http://nymag.com/scienceofus/2017/05/self-esteem-grit-do-they-really-help.html?mid=facebook_nymag%3E
Need to Believe
But I also know as a reader, when the writer gets sentimental, you drift because there’s something fishy going on there. You recognize a moment that’s largely about the writer and the writer’s own need to believe in something that might not in fact exist.
Avni, S. (2003, February 11). No way out. Retrieved from http://www.salon.com/2003/02/11/leblanc
Very Dumb Things
“The reason men from 18 to 25 die is because they do very dumb things,” Crossmon said. “I’ve seen this for 30 years. It’s generally alcohol related. During that time in my life, I should have died a hundred times over.”
Smith, M. L. (2017, June 19). With his son lost at the bottom of the river, a father turns to one man who might find him. Retrieved from http://www.startribune.com/with-his-son-lost-at-the-bottom-of-the-river-a-father-turns-to-one-man-who-might-find-him/429133433/
Quest for Truth
How dare you not consult a for-profit brand’s public relations department in your quest for Truth.
Feinberg, A. (2015, August 11). Tinder to Vanity Fair: Fuck You, North Koreans Love Us. Retrieved from http://gawker.com/tinder-to-vanity-fair-fuck-you-north-koreans-love-us-1723547611
This seems to have been the first use of ‘‘perfect storm’’ in the sense in which it typically blows through the news cycle today: as a tool for backward-looking exoneration. A single error in judgment might merit consequences. But if enough people are implicated in it, it becomes not a mistake but a phenomenon: something to be explained rather than punished.
This kind of ‘‘perfect storm’’ is seductive because it speaks to the unnerving condition of living in a time when much of our well-being is tied up in vast, convoluted systems that few people comprehend. There is a paradoxical comfort in seeing the failure of these systems as a kind of apocalyptic metaphorical weather rather than as the conscious failure of the regulators, executives, and politicians who have been entrusted with power over our lives. It casts them, and us, as noble casualties, like the crew of the Andrea Gail.
Homans, C. (2016, January 20). How the ‘Perfect Storm’ Became the Perfect Cop-Out. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/24/magazine/how-the-perfect-storm-became-the-perfect-cop-out.html?action=click&pgtype=Homepage&version=Moth-Visible&moduleDetail=inside-nyt-region-2&module=inside-nyt-region®ion=inside-nyt-region&WT.nav=inside-nyt-region%3E
The Other Half
Half of America is furious at the other half, unable to agree on even previously uncontroversial topics like the weather.
Lyall, S. (2017, June 9). Paying a Price for 8 Days of Flying in America. Retrieved from https://mobile.nytimes.com/2017/06/09/business/what-its-like-to-fly-for-a-week-straight.html?smid=fb-nytimes&smtyp=cur&referer=http://m.facebook.com
Not Have to Fail
The increasing inability of many readers to construe fiction as anything other than roman à clef, or the raw material of biography, is both indulged and encouraged.
There are arresting glimpses here and there, fragments shored against what the writer must have seen as his ruin, and a sympathetic reader might well believe it possible that had the writer lived (which is to say had the writer found the will and energy and memory and concentration) he might have shaped the material, written it into being, made it work as the story the glimpses suggest, that of a man returning to a place he loved and finding himself at three in the morning confronting the knowledge that he is no longer the person who loved it and will never now be the person he had meant to be. But of course, such a possibility would have been in the end closed to this particular writer, for he had already written that story, in 1936, and called it “The Snows of Kilimanjaro.” “Now he would never write the things that he had saved to write until he knew enough to write them well,” the writer in “The Snows of Kilimanjaro,” thought as he lay dying of gangrene in Africa. And then, this afterthought, the saddest story: “Well, he would not have to fail at trying to write them either.”
Didion, J. (1998, November 9). Last Words: Those Hemingway wrote, and those he didn’t. Retrieved from http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/1998/11/09/last-words-6
♰✡ Chest Thumping
A recent poll conducted by religious researcher Barna Group found that U.S. Christians identified more with the Pharisees than with Christ. This squares nicely with what we plainly see – that U.S. Christians wield their god as nothing more than a justification for chest-thumping self-righteousness.
Yancy, G. (2017, June 19). Is Your God Dead? Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/19/opinion/is-your-god-dead.html?action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story-heading&module=opinion-c-col-left-region®ion=opinion-c-col-left-region&WT.nav=opinion-c-col-left-region%3E
It is easy to be impressed by such a sight, but no one could be seduced by it. Awe is what despots seek because they cannot nurture affection. Intimidation breeds obedience and even a craven kind of attachment, but never tenderness. London used to win people with charm; now it controls them with fear.
Behr, R. (2015, June 29). Goodbye London: why people are leaving the capital. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2015/jun/29/goodbye-london-moving-to-brighton-house-prices
They Cost Too Much
Hire them at 20, they’ll be keen and will work for peanuts. Keep them at 30, they’ll cost you more but still have a lot of energy and experience and something to prove. Get rid of them at 40, they cost too much and they’re resting on their laurels. They’re done.
Flood of Effluvia
Howard Stern: Today, with electronic media and social media, can you imagine starting out, you come up with a joke, they put it on the Internet, and it’s kind of like over, the material’s been used up, it spreads so fast.”
Jerry Seinfeld: No, but it doesn’t because there’s such a larger flood of effluvia from everybody, yapping and tweeting and Internet that no one can pay attention to anything so things get less attention.”
The Howard Stern Show. (2013, June 26). Sirius XM Radio.