Playpen

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 08:28 on 10-05-2012, Arthur B
I've seen hardcover copies of it in Waterstones so it is out over here too.
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at 02:53 on 10-05-2012, Adrienne
Kyra (et al), Bitterblue (sequel to Graceling) is out! At least over here. And i engulfed the damn thing, and it's really good for the most part. Is it out in the UK yet? If not, I may be able to, erm, help.
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at 01:44 on 10-05-2012, Michal
I was responding (in my usual befuddled way) to this song. I doubt anyone involved, least of all Kelly Clarkson, was thinking of Nietzsche at the time, but I had a major "Bwah?" moment hearing that.
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at 00:49 on 10-05-2012, Andy G
@Michal: I'm assuming Kelly Clarkson hasn't really released a Nietzsche-themed album - but being a bit slow on the uptake, I can't quite follow what that comment was a response to. Can you or anyone else enlighten me? Pop culture Nietzsche references interest me.
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at 00:00 on 10-05-2012, Arthur B
And I'm with Robinson in that I can't figure out what the author's point about Houellebecq is. Instead of "trying to draw us into a new contract: I, the author, promise always to acknowledge my characters’ narcissism, and you, in return, will continue to take an interest in it," he tries to shock us by... not flagging when his character is being a narcissistic misogynistic? Because that is an amazing new technique, and misogyny is unusual and cutting edge? (Where do I get a ticket to that alternate universe?)

I think the point of the article is that the readership have been taken around the track too many times by various flavours of misogynist novelist, but in future they are not going to go down like that. Because the audience ain't no Houellebecq girls.
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at 22:39 on 09-05-2012, Janne Kirjasniemi
Yeah, like philosophy is just maths sans rigor. Right.
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at 22:35 on 09-05-2012, Ibmiller
I actually had more of a problem with the one before that - though xkcd has occasionally shown some self-awareness about its bias against the humanities and for the hard sciences, the "every major's terrible" didn't provide equivalent mockery for every major.

And as a Lit major (twice! Also music!), I feel rather annoyed. Again.

Whereas I'm actually very interested in learning new stuff. Sure, it'd be better if the narrator said something like "and I learn new stuff too," but it's not a deal breaker for me.
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at 22:25 on 09-05-2012, Dan H
Really? I'm not especially sold on XKCD, but in this case both the comic and the alt-text seem to be saying "don't be etc., everyone doesn't know stuff, and introducing people to people new stuff is satisfying" which I tend to agree with. I read the maths as serving the second part so not especially pointless.


I think I just react really badly to people who get off on explaining stuff to other people. I'd also note that there's no indication that *he* ever needs to be introduced to anything. It's just a smug, condescending suggestion that his readers should learn to be more patient with people who aren't as superior as they are.
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at 22:13 on 09-05-2012, Janne Kirjasniemi
I think it fails at the examples. While Mentos with DIet Coke and Supervolcanoes are amusing and interesting, respectively, I think in reality most normal people get frustrated when someone who is over twenty years old has never heard of for example the Soviet Union or the Solar System.
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at 22:12 on 09-05-2012, Shimmin
Really? I'm not especially sold on XKCD, but in this case both the comic and the alt-text seem to be saying "don't be etc., everyone doesn't know stuff, and introducing people to people new stuff is satisfying" which I tend to agree with. I read the maths as serving the second part so not especially pointless.
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at 22:00 on 09-05-2012, Dan H
On a note unrelated to current discussion, but harking back to last week, XKCD is awful again today.

Leaving aside the fact that the maths is spurious and serves no function other than to make the comic look maths-ey, there's also the fact that he's basically saying "don't be this sort of patronizing douchebag, because it's far more satisfying to be a slightly different sort of patronizing douchebag."
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at 22:00 on 09-05-2012, Janne Kirjasniemi
But it wouldn't be a proper literary essay, if the author doesn't get all convoluted about it! I haven't read Palahniuk either, except for some short stories. But he himself has said, if I remember correctly, that he prefers the movie's story to his own. He at least seems more properly anarchic to engage in such shenanigans as described in the piece.
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at 21:48 on 09-05-2012, Sunnyskywalker
If he thinks American authors spell things out too much (probably true in many cases), then surely this applies to more than just the characterization of a very specific type of male character, so I wish he'd just said "American authors drop too many anvils on your head" and then maybe discussed what the difference is between "not hitting your reader over the head with an interpretation" and "not providing any narrative space to conclude that maybe the character is in any way wrong about anything." That's a lot of words just to say that Houllebecq is using a slightly different technique to achieve more or less the same ends, without much analysis of the technique.

I don't think they all are like that, but any time I've tried to read anything tagged "literary" by young American male authors, I've usually been put off after a few paragraphs. Maybe the other ones just don't get as much advertizing and shelf space, or I've just been unlucky, though. Haven't read any Palahniuk, but I thought the movie adaptation of Fight Club was an indictment of the whole macho ideal which posits that adhering to that macho culture essentially turns you into a mindless, identity-less clone, and that the solution for loser guys is not trying to be more like Tyler Durden at all, but reconciling with women. On the other hand, based on people I ran into at school and such, I'm in the minority in this interpretation. And I have no idea how the movie compares to the book - it could be like Starship Troopers and subvert the author's intent for all I know.
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at 20:49 on 09-05-2012, Janne Kirjasniemi
And I'm with Robinson in that I can't figure out what the author's point about Houellebecq is.

What I got from it that the author feels that Houellebecq is better because he is confident enough to write a completely unlikeable protagonist without going out of his way to prove at the same time that he as an author is totally against this and look what a sad little loser the protagonist is in other ways too, thus leaving the act of figuring it out to the reader, even with the risk of alienating some readers.

But are all young male american authors like this? I don't really know and it seems there is no great reason to read the authors referred in the piece. But surely there are some other authors besides the Great Male Narcissists in the older generation too? I guess Auster, Ellis and Eugenides are part of another generation, but while I don't think any of them are perfect, they do not seem to fit the mold. Perhaps it is only a phenomenon of some authors? What of Palahniuk, does he fit?
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at 20:08 on 09-05-2012, Sunnyskywalker
That young white male loser article is baffling me. For instance, this quote:

For an English-language novelist, raised and educated and self-consciously steeped in the tradition of the Anglo-American novel, in which female characters, female writers, and female readers have had a huge part

Maybe he read a different literary canon in school than I did, but I don't remember a plethora of female authors or female characters with huge parts. The influential books and authors he mentions all seem to feature female characters who exist as walking literary symbolism and/or minor satellites to the narrator, too. I'm not sure that constitutes an important character.

And I'm with Robinson in that I can't figure out what the author's point about Houellebecq is. Instead of "trying to draw us into a new contract: I, the author, promise always to acknowledge my characters’ narcissism, and you, in return, will continue to take an interest in it," he tries to shock us by... not flagging when his character is being a narcissistic misogynistic? Because that is an amazing new technique, and misogyny is unusual and cutting edge? (Where do I get a ticket to that alternate universe?)
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at 19:06 on 09-05-2012, Michal
I have to say, I can't wait for Kelly Clarkson's latest album, Zarathustra (Thus Spake), what with songs like "He Who Fights Monsters", "Beyond Good and Evil", "The Abyss Gazes Back" and that totally danceable tune, "God is Dead."

(I'm slow on the uptake in regards to pop music--I only heard the song in question yesterday, but it's still very odd hearing Nietzsche quoted in a pop song.)
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at 16:31 on 09-05-2012, Arthur B
Oh god, Joss Whedon's smugness has gone supercritical. I'm glad that the Avengers is a fun goofy action movie but the next five artsy oooh-do-you-see complicity! projects he cranks out are going to be completely unbearable because of this.
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at 18:17 on 08-05-2012, Andy G
I will be re-reading the first five books in the meantime to refresh my memory!
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at 18:02 on 08-05-2012, Robinson L
Alasdair: Well this is interesting: a brief discussion on the use of the young white male loser archetype in modern American fiction and what it says about the relationship between the contemporary American male writer and the female reader. It also articulates one of the reasons I don't like modern American fiction.

Well, that hit uncomfortably close to home; probably would've hit a lot closer a couple of years ago.

I can't figure out what the author is trying to say about Houellebecq, though. The tone of the piece seems to imply that his approach is superior, but when I parse out the arguments the article author seems to be saying that both he and the writers of the Male Loser archetype are jerks - the difference being that the Loser writers are passive-aggressive jerks whereas Houellebecq is upfront about being a jerk.

Anyway, thanks for sharing, Alasdair.

@Andy: I second Arthur's request for a review, and I don't at all mind waiting until July. I can be patient.
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at 16:48 on 08-05-2012, Arthur B
I don't think anyone else will be able to read the books before then. :)
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at 16:37 on 08-05-2012, Andy G
You may have to wait till July if you want it to be by me!
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at 16:26 on 08-05-2012, Arthur B
I'd be very interested in an article about them then. :)
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at 16:20 on 08-05-2012, Andy G
I would happily have read 50 more. They're self-contained stories so things don't tend to get strung out too much; actually, more happens in the first book than in the entirety of ASOIAF.
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at 16:10 on 08-05-2012, Arthur B
That's the series where Cook wanted to drag it out for 60 books but was forced to settle for a paltry 10, wasn't it?

Funnily enough I've never been tempted to start on them.
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