Sunday, November 21, 2010

You can never get away from yourself

I'm reading as fast as I can, those books that everyone's talking about, even if I have to skip over certain passages, you know, the ones that slow me down because they're full of big words and complicated thinking. It wasn't always this way. Before I got into the book business, I used to read for comprehension -- but there's no more comprehension for me, comprehension is too costly in time and attention. Comprehension is a gift. Nowadays, I don't have a moment to spare, especially for a book I don't publish. So I fake it and move on to the next item. Execute, execute, execute. Let someone else read for comprehension, some ambitious retiree down in Scottsdale puttering around his air-conditioned casita. I can't do it any more: it takes all my mental energy just to string clauses together in a plausible sequence, half believing the author intended what I take her meaning to be.

I hate hate hate compound sentences, especially ones with difficult words in 'em, like reading Heidegger, that deliberately obfuscatory Kraut. Who the hell wants to read a prick who makes you work for meaning? I'm too tired to think when I read, I want the essential shite handed to me on a silver platter. What they call sound bites, or slogans, aphorisms if you like, those little dancing memes that infect generation after generation. I want easy answers coming out of fast books. That's all I have time for.

I want reduced-fat books, sugar-free prose, big margins, loose leading, lots of white space between letters. Perfect for skimming, a happy intellectual meal. And they've got to be short too. None of these big 800-page volumes, with their painful insistence on being Important. I don't have the time to get tangled up in all those effin words. If someone can't tell a story in less than 200 pages, either they're being deliberately self-indulgent or their overwrought imagination has failed them. Same thing with big ideas -- hasn't anyone these days heard of the old saw, "Brevity is the soul of wit?" One damn idea at a time, please. I opened a book by this Danish crookback Kierkegaard -- who the hell does he think he is, taxing my brain like that?
Fear and trembling my arse.

I was bummed out at the lack of intelligibility around me. I couldn't grasp meaning for nothing. So I went to hear this Slovenian dude Žižek down at the Cooper Union, you know, that venerable school in New York where Lincoln delivered his famous speech back in 1860. Looking like a bearded prophet in a sweaty tee shirt and jeans, Žižek ranted and spat, feinting and bobbing around his arguments like a spastic pugilist. I couldn't understand half the words he said, even though people sitting around me insinuated that there were some big ideas rattling around inside that impenetrable accent of his. Impossible to tell. I took a little comfort from the crowd, mostly NYU types lapping up his schtick like kittens licking cream. I feel for these kids -- who amongst my generation would want to trade places with them? I tried reading one of his books once but it had way too many disconnected assertions in it along with a whole lot of gargantuan words, heavy as lead. Made my head hurt after a couple of pages. No time for that shite. I figured I'd get the gist from his lecture but the live delivery was equally opaque. Ninety minutes should've been five. Capitalism is bad, globalization is a crock, and so on. Yeah, okay, so?

I used to listen to Mahler, now it's the Beach Boys for me. I used to read like my life depended on it, now it's an effin job. I buy notebooks, start writing, and give up after a couple of pages. I don't have the time. I can't give anything my undivided attention for too long. Of course, Žižek is right, the way we live is not sustainable. Even worse, it's not enjoyable. It kills joy, the ceaseless chasing after cheap goods, and the exercise of power for capital's sake. But tell me, poot, when can I do something about it? When am I gonna have the time to address the issue? I've got manuscripts to read, books to skim, errands to run, email to answer. I've got to buy some groceries and make dinner. I'm reading as fast as I can, hoping to find the pearl in the prose, trying to keep my eyes open. I want more caffeine. I want to go to sleep, but I'm paid to stay awake. It's gotten to the point where I say, dear God, the least you can do is stay awake with me.

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