A Funny, Brazen Franzen Friday

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A Funny, Brazen, Franzen Friday

Over at National Post, Emily M. Keeler has some apt and awfully funny observations about American novelist Jonathan Franzen (Not Yet Read). In reference to Franzen’s recent interview in The Guardian, Keeler writes:

In the words [Franzen] used, in the Guardian, against everyone young: “I thought [young] people were supposed to be idealistic and angry. And they seemed kind of cynical and not very angry. At least not in any way that was accessible to me.” It’s here, in his inability to humanely imagine what it might be like to occupy the consciousness of a person under the age of 40, where the novel falls down. Instead of portraying characters with fully realized consciousnesses of their own, he uses them as too-often artless ciphers for the rage he wishes people my age would feel.

His anger at millennial feminism, at the incrementalization of public opinion after the advent of social media, at young people in general, with our apparent lack of an appropriate response to the world he lives in, is more alienating than it is engaging. Even as he throws in a few great jokes to chew on – the novelist has repeatedly been made into an example of male privilege, targeted by other writers for his blithe sense of male entitlement, and so includes in this book a section by a male journalist who is so neutered by love for his feminist artist girlfriend that he sits down to urinate as a gesture of his willingness to handicap his masculine privileges – his disdain for his reader is as clear as his displeasure in the world he’s depicting.

(Read the whole thing.) And isn’t disdain just another word for resentment? And isn’t that just what America needs, more resentment? Some supporters of Donald Trump seem to think so. But, having recently written how resentment only breeds resentment, I can only add an observation from the late great Walter Jackson Bate:

The whole range of misunderstandings, rivalries, and resentments that divide human beings from each other is viewed, in short, as the product of imagination acting upon what we now call ‘anxiety,’ or the chronic, crippling preoccupation with our own problems and fears. Johnson himself uses the word, as when he states that ‘anxiety’ tends to increase itself. By keeping a man ‘always in alarms,’ and looking at all costs for safety, it leads him ‘to judge of everything in a manner that least favours his own quiet, fills him with perpetual stratagems of counteraction,’* and, by wearing him out ‘in schemes to obviate evils which never threatened him,’ causes him to contribute unwittingly to the very situations he fears.

–The Achievement of Samuel Johnson (1956)

To find out if Purity, Franzen’s latest work “fills him with perpetual stratagems of counteraction,” one will have to ask him. But I’m somewhat filled with counteraction in the sense that I’ve had little desire to read Franzen’s work up until now. A new experience awaits.


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