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Monday, June 22, 2009


* The trailer for the SF-infused Paul-Giamatti-as-Paul-Giamatti comedy Cold Souls causes io9 to ask whether "Charlie Kaufman" is officially a genre yet.

* Kari in the comments directs us to a defense of Holden Caulfield against the spurious assertions of irrelevance I blogged about yesterday.

* Bruce Schneier: SF Writers Aren't a Useful Aspect of National Defense—a followup to an article I posted last month. Via Boing Boing.

* Also not useful: classifying "protests" as "low-level terrorism activity."

* The Art of the Title Sequence considers the end of Wall-E. Via Kottke.

* What's wrong with the American essay? I'm not sure anything is, but certainly not this:

The problem, of course, is not merely our essayists; it’s our culture. We have grown terribly—if somewhat hypocritically—weary of larger truths. The smarter and more intellectual we count ourselves, the more adamantly we insist that there is no such thing as truth, no such thing as general human experience, that everything is plural and relative and therefore undiscussable. Of course, everything is plural, everything is arguable, and there are limits to what we can know about other persons, other cultures, other genders. But there is also a limit to such humility; there is a point at which it becomes narcissism of a most myopic sort, a simple excuse to talk only about one’s own case, only about one’s own small area of specialization. Montaigne thought it the essayist’s duty to cross boundaries, to write not as a specialist (even in himself) but as a generalist, to speak out of turn, to assume, to presume, to provoke. “Where I have least knowledge,” said the blithe Montaigne, “there do I use my judgment most readily.” And how salutary the result; how enjoyable to read—and to spar with—Montaigne’s by turns outrageous and incisive conclusions about humankind. That everything is arguable goes right to the heart of the matter.

“The next best thing to a good sermon is a bad sermon,” said Montaigne’s follower and admirer, the first American essayist, Ralph Waldo Emerson. In a good sermon we hear our own “discarded thoughts brought back to us by the trumpets of the last judgment,” in the words of Emerson’s essay “Self-Reliance.” In a bad sermon we formulate those thoughts ourselves—through the practice of creative disagreement. If an author tells us “love is nothing but jealousy” and we disagree, it is far more likely we will come up with our own theory of love than if we hear a simple autobiographical account of the author’s life. It is hard to argue with someone’s childhood memory—and probably inadvisable. It is with ideas that we can argue, with ideas that we can engage. And this is what the essayist ought to offer: ideas.
It doesn't seem to me at all that American letters suffers from a lack of hypotheses confused for certainties.

* And Shia Labeouf may live to ruin Y: The Last Man after all.