Welcome to the Playpen, our space for ferrety banter and whimsical snippets of things that aren't quite long enough for articles (although they might be) but that caught your eye anyway.

at 06:26 on 01-01-2016, James D
I feel the same way about Bukowski - did he have some misogynist views? Sure, plenty. But most of his stuff (that I've read, at least) was heavily autobiographical, and not put forward with an authoritative narrative voice. If that isn't enough for some people to enjoy his work, that's fine, but for me the difference between "this is the way I see things" and "this is the way things are" is enough to let me enjoy his viewpoint without the negative aspects ruining the experience.
at 01:01 on 01-01-2016, Arthur B
But I would think Burroughs is worth a read from the human experience point of view, and that horrible shooting did loom over that work in a big way. But to consider that his work offers some simple views on manliness or something is of course ludicrous.

I think this the bit which is key. Whatever Burroughs was doing with his writing, he certainly wasn't trying to put himself forward as some sort of role model and he would have probably been aghast at anyone suggesting that he was one. You can think what you like about Burroughs shooting Joan Vollmer, and you can hold him as criminally responsible as you like, but it doesn't really make much difference one way or the other to his writing because, at least in my reading, he never asks you to endorse the shooting - or, for that matter, any of the other autobiographical bits he works in.
at 22:18 on 31-12-2015, Janne Kirjasniemi
Yeah, I think the article's point was to lampoon what could be construed to be the Esquire article's approach to the subject. That is, that being a man is some sort of moral stance and the literature listed gives guidelines to what that manliness is. Of course some literature offers some strong (and very often very wrongheaded) views on morality or virtue, but approaching literature and valuing it through its prescriptive or didactic qualities is a very narrow-minded approach and misses the point of great literature. That is that it is not about what being a good human is about, but rather how large, varied and pretty absurd the whole human experience is what ever way you approach it.

And from that point of view, the spectrum of human experience through the artists words and the readers construction of meaning from them, you could compile lists of works worth a read for any human, which from the point of view of a men's magazine's sales department would come through as books for men to read, but whether that was the point of the Esquire list, I do not know and am really not arguing for.

But I would think Burroughs is worth a read from the human experience point of view, and that horrible shooting did loom over that work in a big way. But to consider that his work offers some simple views on manliness or something is of course ludicrous.

The greatest problem of that Esquire list is that it is so heavily lopsided, that simply saying it is biased and subjective is not really enough. I mean, that is someone's list of best books, but it is offered as Esquire's list and not just some random guys list.
at 21:16 on 31-12-2015, James D
Well the article was clearly sensationalized to get attention - not saying that that necessarily invalidates any of its points, mind you, but the details also probably shouldn't be taken literally.
at 20:36 on 31-12-2015, Robinson L
I'm not terribly familiar with either case, but my understanding is that Burroughs fully intended not to injury or kill. What he did was immensely (and tragically) reckless, but not deliberately malicious; whereas Mailer was deliberately malicious. That, as I understand it, is the distinction, and it seems a reasonable distinction to me.

@Ichneumon: I feel like I ought to say something more in response to your message, but I can't seem to find the right words beyond thanking your for speaking out. And as far as I'm concerned - not meaning to speak for anyone else here - scream away, if you feel so inclined.
at 16:10 on 31-12-2015, Janne Kirjasniemi
Getting into the car somewhat voluntarily I meant to write.
at 16:09 on 31-12-2015, Janne Kirjasniemi
Perhaps it would be comparable to getting into that car drunk and drugged with a passenger likewise drunk, in withdrawal and getting into the car. A tragedy to be sure, but Burroughs was culpable for it, whatever his intentions actually were.
at 11:07 on 31-12-2015, Bill
He pointed a gun at her, shot her and killed her. Calling this an "accidental death" like his car skidded on a wet road is ridiculous.
at 05:57 on 31-12-2015, Ichneumon
P.S. I really wish there were a better means of editing one's comments, solely because I hate looking at my own godawful minor grammar mistakes.
at 05:55 on 31-12-2015, Ichneumon
Regarding Solnit's article: On one level, I really do appreciate the underlying message; and as a rejoinder to the article its title references, I found it fairly amusing. While Esquire does have some true excellent reporting and a number of good-to-great columns, some of their articles are, well, exactly what you would expect given some of those excerpts. (That, and both their men's fashion and cheesecake photo spreads are consistently ridiculous for weirdly similar reasons... and their investment columnist is practically a human caricature of a Wall Street carpetbagger, but I digress.)

But on another... if I may be entirely petty and thin-skinned for a moment, the dismissal of William Burroughs pissed me off for a number of reasons. While there are certainly many, many qualms to be had with his work, not the least being his sometimes quite nasty lapses into misogyny, but the way Solnit that frames the accidental death of his spouse in the same terms as Mailer very intentionally stabbing his wife actually offended me. I am also sorely tempted to scream about how bad well-meaning members of the favoured majority can be when dealing with "problematic behaviour" in members of disadvantaged minorities*, but perhaps this is not the time and place.

*This is in no way a defence of Milo Yiannopoulos. Fuck that guy.
at 11:42 on 30-12-2015, Jamie Johnston
Did we all know about Nanogenmo? I didn't.
at 20:00 on 29-12-2015, Robinson L
This seemed like an article which may be of interest to other Ferretneurons (some of you have probably read it already): 80 Books No Woman Should Read; not an actual list, but a somewhat tongue-in-cheek response to a piece in Esquire which apparently still gets circulated every so often, "The 80 Best Books Every Man Should Read." It features a good discussion of contemporary gender politics, examining the effects of patriarchal literature on women and men (with a bit of questioning the whole gender binary thrown in), and a gleeful willingness to talk smack about several of the 20th Century's "Great Man" authors (and Ayn Rand).

There's a follow-up article inspired by the reaction the author got - mostly from men - about her mention of identifying with the eponymous Lolita of Nabokov's novel, but I haven't read that one yet.
at 01:00 on 22-12-2015, Ichneumon
Not surprising, though. Take any intelligent but overconfident and egotistical person and put them in a position where other people will hang on their every word (or appear to do so) and I can guarantee that you will, after a while, be witness to some truly spectacular bullshit. You don't even need a complete control freak like Hubbard. You just need someone who is smart, and knows it, but has a penchant to overestimate how smart they actually are and/or wants to appear more capable than they know that really are in order to convince others of their value.
at 01:22 on 21-12-2015, Melanie
Well, that's creepy.
at 00:53 on 20-12-2015, Arthur B
Hey, guess who else was into affirmations, considered himself an expert on every field he applied idle thought to regardless of a near-total lack of formal training in most of the areas he decided to stick his oar into, thought he could do office management and organisational structure better than anyone in history, and liked to tell his core fans that they were part of an elite inner circle of geniuses? It's that man again!
at 22:56 on 19-12-2015, Shim
*raises gnarled claw* I, too, enthusiastically read Dilbert as a wan and wayward youth - there was a Borders a few miles away, and occasionally walking there and buying a set of comic strips was one of the rare indulgences offered by my hometown. Alas, no longer.

I think part of the attraction was that the comics seemed a mixture of insightful, subversive, and very much in line with my teenaged views on how stupidly the world appeared to work. Lacking any personal perspective on office work, there was no "yes, but" angle getting in the way. Now, of course, my job involves box-ticking, bugging people to do things that aren't a priority for them, and being very prescriptive about finances, with quite good reasons for all of these. Also I regularly hassle the IT team about things they may well think are stupid. And I deal with senior people and realise that the strategic stuff they do is as baffling to me as what I do is to them, but nevertheless is not in fact an arbitrary and self-serving political struggle.

I distinctly remember the affirmations thing; it wrinkled my brow a lot because it wasn't really possible to reconcile with anything else he was writing outside of a huge, elaborate prank and that didn't smell right. After that, somehow, I didn't feel like buying any more (and I seem to remember the prose books were also a bit dull, despite all the attempted amusing metaphors and ranting - it's still talking about corporate policies after all). I'm now quite glad that I charitized my Dilbert collection a few years back.
at 22:55 on 18-12-2015, James D
Honestly though, is it really all THAT surprising? The Dilbert comic trip is primarily based around pointing out everything wrong in his business culture, right? Having worked in a variety of business cultures at a variety levels, and dealt with many pseudo-Dilbert types, I've found that most of them are more interested in pointing out the supposed idiocy they see all around them, rather than giving everyone else they work with the slightest benefit of the doubt and making the slightest effort to truly understand or fix the issues in a way that would actually benefit everyone (and not just their own little corner of the office).

Corporate culture is a gigantic organism that is often pulled in all sorts of different directions at the macro level, which can make things at the micro level seem absurd, especially to people who would rather make themselves feel superior by assuming no one else can see these supposed absurdities, and as a result that things remain the way they are because of that blindness, rather than a complex system of compromises which most likely involve people whose roles and duties the Dilbert type isn't even aware exists.

Not to say there isn't plenty of legitimate fodder for lampooning, but when we're talking about a guy whose entire career is essentially built on saying over and over that everyone he works with is stupid in ways only he notices, is it really that surprising that he'd apply that same arrogant condescension to other groups of people?
at 21:58 on 17-12-2015, Janne Kirjasniemi
He is "a" character, but does not have "character".

Matt Groening drew the Simpsons family deliberately in a way that they could easily be recognized by their caricatures. Hence the spiky hair and all. Adams did that but went further. Too far. Dilbert might not have character, but he has outlines, which are so grotesquely formed that they engrave themselves to the mind of the viewer and never go away.
at 21:42 on 17-12-2015, Arthur B
I think describing Dilbert as a "character" is being rather generous.
at 21:14 on 17-12-2015, Janne Kirjasniemi
Dilbert was the most boring character of his comic, in those early 90s daysandwas the brunt of the joke. But really what I liked was stuff like the dinosaurs and Ratberet. And of course Dogbert was the most annoyingly rational, but it usually led to him taking over the world or whacking people with a scepter whilst wearing a funny hat. And him being a dog made it funny and cute. And the office stuff seemed to have more funny weirdness. What I've seen around since I actively liked it is always some office stuff with some words that together might appear to be a joke like the constellations appear to be what their names are. In other words, it leaves most of the effort to the imagination of the reader/stargazer. But then, it was twenty years ago when I liked it.
at 20:28 on 17-12-2015, Alasdair Czyrnyj
Repetitiveness is a problem for any long-running comic, but I do wonder if the strip is still relevant in any way. I mean, Adams was finally able to leave the office world in the early-mid 1990s, and while he was one of the first cartoonists to embrace online communication with his audience, that's not the same as being in the trenches. I'm wondering if it's like Penny Arcade these days, in that it could be shut down with little fuss and the ancillary projects that grew from it would provide a steady income instead.

I must admit I was into the comic perhaps a little too deep when I was younger, but when I look at it nowadays I can't stop thinking about how Dilbert himself is kind of an asshole. I mean, he was always condescending towards people who weren't "rational," but that was leavened by the fact that he was a technology-obsessed nerdlinger. It may be the sample I was reading, but I don't think the newer strips bother to take the piss out of Dilbert, which makes him that much harder to enjoy.

As for parodies, and as an occasional fan of industrial/electronica, I can't get enough of Harsh Noise Wally.

In conclusion, Bill Watterson was the wisest man of them all, and we shall not see his like again in our lifetimes.
at 18:08 on 17-12-2015, Janne Kirjasniemi
I think the thing with Adams's funniness, though, is that at least when I was reading it, it was pleasantly absurd and the shoddy art sort of supported the weirdness. But it quickly became repetitive and the artwork became a bigger problem. But the art does seem to work as a comic strip in a paper. I wonder how many actual adults who actually work in offices are the sort of true fans that lurk around on his blog?
at 18:00 on 17-12-2015, Janne Kirjasniemi
Gah. That article is just a huge disappointment. In that someone, who I considered funny and sort of insightful in my youth turns out to be all sorts of wrong. The oxymoronic thinking he repeatedly uses is always mystifying to encounter. Like with the Bell curve thing, it is ironic that his claim that he and his followers are less prone to emotional distortion because of their position on an imaginary Bell curve, is nothing but a rhetorical trick to build clan thinking and differentiate the in-crowd from the stupid outsiders, inoculating them at the same time to ward them from dangerous ideas. But this is accomplished by a pathetic argument, appealing to the readers arrogance and need to feel special and better than others. So subscribing to his idea of the Bell curve of rational thinking, he is actually decreasing their capability for rational thought and increasing emotional distortion.

How does the Bell curve work though in this circumstance, though? One would surmise that rational thinking would be a combination of several attributes and perhaps a lack of some (like emotional thinking, but surely that is a non-linear attribute as well; what could someone without emotions even do?) so it would be a combination of normal distributions and not necessarily be itself normal at all. Perhaps chi squared? I'm not so sure and will not get into it here.

Bell curves are a cool thing and nicely visualize a truly interesting phenomenon, but obviously they are to be used in proper circumstances and with appropriate care. I haven't stumbled upon Murray's book before this, but it sounds typical of its genre.