Saturday, December 18, 2010

We Get Mail!

From the mailbox:1
From: [Redacted]

To: The Epicurean Dealmaker

Sent: December 13, 2010 2:24 AM

Subject: I need advice way more that the other slobs who write you


I found your commentary through ftalphaville which [I] read as part of an Investment Banking class (ridiculous I know but it sounded interesting when I was registering for classes), at my small liberal arts college. I don't read your stuff to learn about the industry since you aren't actually a great source [Ed.: Hmph] and that being completely ignorant of banking practices is obviously not a significant barrier to entry [Ed.: We're beginning to dislike this yahoo]. Rather, I like the access to poems, books, movies, and vocabulary continuously used in [your] posts. What I'm curious about is how you developed your cultural literacy [Ed.: Beginning to feel slightly mollified...]. It seems like there has to be a better guide to the humanities that the New Yorker [Ed.: Now there's a sensible fellow]. I've looked at your list of books on Finance but I'm more interested in what you would recommend for general life.

Thanks. Hopefully [it] hasn't been Mark Madoff writing this stuff for the past couple of years.

[Signature redacted]

* * *

Dear Redacted:

Your suspicion is correct: I am not Mark Madoff.

That being said, I must say I think your stated quest to better yourself intellectually and culturally is somewhat quixotic and self-defeating, given the fact you have already indentured yourself to the blinkered worldview of the socialists, communists, Marxists, and professional malcontents who no doubt hold the curriculum and teaching methods of a small liberal arts college such as yours hostage. Show me a female professor of Comparative Literature and Gender Studies at your school who has shaved her legs once in the past 15 years, and I will hold out slim hope that you have a passing chance to wrest your intellect free from the New-New-Anti-Canon in which you are being indoctrinated and learn to think for yourself.

You may understand my caution as the natural perspective of an individual who was schooled at a time when Dante, Shakespeare, Tolstoy, Hemingway, and a baker's dozen of other Dead White Males were not viewed as constructive rapists, intellectual imperialists, or empty, brainless dictation machines for the magical ur-texts of their corrupted, patriarchal social milieus but rather as a pretty impressive collection of clever fellows quite talented at pushing words around on a sheet of paper. Sadly, my worldview is completely bereft of understanding or subtle appreciation for the finer points of Crypto-Columbian Transvestite Literature from the sub-Amazonian basin from 1953 onward. In other words—as your professors will gleefully tell you—I am a complete idiot.

Nevertheless, I am unapologetic in my advocacy of Dead [insert race or ethnic persuasion here] [insert gender or sexual preference here] authors from what is now disparagingly known as The Canon. Notwithstanding some of the very valid accusations about context, bias, and socially-driven contingency which professors and theorists of literature have made against these individuals and their texts for the past few decades,2 I contend these works have undiminished interest and value for every thinking person. Why, you may ask? For the same reason these works and these authors have survived the great winnowing of poor, mediocre, and near-great authors and works over centuries of Western (and other) civilization: namely, they are great fucking writers.

Quality matters. No matter what age, pedigree, or recommendation comes attached to a work of art, if it is lousy, I don't read it. And neither should you. Life is too fucking short for bad writing.

* * *

On the other hand, I do not recommend you become a snobbish consumer of art, either. I find no-one so tiresome and uninteresting as a person who contends that only a certain kind, type, vintage, or source of art or writing is "worth" reading. Bullshit. Read it all, and make your own decisions. But keep an open mind, and look for new material, media, and artists using the only criterion that really matters: is it any good?

By the same token, do not sneer at entertainment value. Why should you look down upon a book, or a movie, or a photograph you find beautiful or entertaining, even if it has no "deeper" artistic content?3 I do not enjoy reading mediocre novels, but I enjoy the crap out of some mediocre movies (as well as some good ones). Does that make sense? Is it consistent? I don't know, and I don't care. That's just how I roll.

So, as you may now see, I am pretty close to an omnivore when it comes to art and literature. The real limiting factor to my consumption of and familiarity with art is simply the time to enjoy it. Because of that, I read and reread a lot of classic fiction, some poetry, and quite a bit of nonfiction. I watch current release and back catalogue movies. I develop favorites, and I revisit them often. That, combined with a pretty robust associative memory, allows me to harvest these materials for the blog posts you enjoy (!) here.

As such, it is a personal strategy. It may not work for you. But let no-one tell you there is only one right way to approach art or literature, or one culturally-approved list of acceptable works to enjoy.4 Develop your own list, and your own approach, and tell the rest of us to take a hike. I, for one, will not take offense.


1 Guaranteed transcribed as received verbatim, save for a few minor grammatical corrections necessary to render the message comprehensible to anyone in possession of a brain before 1985. As Joe Pesci said in My Cousin Vinny, "Yoots."
2 Which, frankly, if they have any merit, have only enriched a sensitive reader's appreciation of the texts in question. Art is about layers, Onion Boy, and—generally speaking—the more layers the merrier. I think a lot of textual criticism is nonsense, but I also think a lot of it is quite insightful and interesting.
3 Are you sure there is none? Have you looked carefully enough for it? I wouldn't be so quick to judge, if I were you. Just an FYI.
4 For those of you who really want a list, here's a quick, unsorted one that I might start from, if I were in a magnanimous mood. It's not comprehensive or complete, but you could do worse, in my opinion, than to consult these heavyweights: T.S. Eliot, Conrad, Yeats, Tolstoy, Dante, Shakespeare, Hemingway, Chandler, Montaigne, Austen, Joyce, Cervantes. The list—and, frankly, even the books that comprise it—is less important that what you make of it, so enjoy.
5 It occurred to me, after I published this, that I did not address your question regarding the source of my vocabulary. One explanation is that it comes from long reading of fiction and nonfiction works (like those above) which use such language, an early immersion in Latin in high school, and—I am not immodest to admit it—a prodigious memory for such things. The other, truer explanation is just that I'm a freak who loves and collects words. There is no training for that, just therapy. It's called blogging.

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