Archive for August, 2011

Newspapers, advertisers, and book reviews – cont.

Wednesday, August 31st, 2011
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A few days ago, I posted about “The future of book reviewing and one cranky man.”

I wrote about the absurdity of newspapers expecting book review sections to be supported by advertising from the strapped book industry:  “Of course, sports sections aren’t asked to support themselves by the advertisements of sports stores or the manufacturers of catcher’s mitts, so this standard has always been unevenly applied.”

In the comments section, medievalist Jeff Sypeck asked:

Is there a reason newspaper executives have behaved as if the ads in a book-review section could only be for books and publishers and similar literary/cultural products? Is it a lack of demographic info about book buyers for the ad sales people to tout? The unwillingness of, say, tire manufacturers to advertise alongside reviews of novels? A belief that the book section ought to be free of commercialism? Mere tradition or habit?

Good question.

Frank Wilson at Books Inq. explained the simple demographics of newspaper advertising succinctly: “the point is that a book section would attract more readers to a newspaper – even a lot of people who watch baseball read – and the more readers you have, the more advertisers you get.”

Not a reader anyway

Literary people read lots of things besides great literature and book reviews – they’re more likely to read newspapers in general.  As Jeff has pointed out before, that’s a much better bet than trying to get stoners to read.  Said Frank:

Newspapers flap their wings hoping to attract young readers by reviewing pop music, but those (theoretical) young reader don’t care what newspapers think about what they’re listening to. I certainly didn’t care that the local pop music reviewers thought little of Elvis when I was in high school. I also wouldn’t have cared if they’d thought the world of him.

But the experience of listening to music is fundamentally different from the experience of reading. Readers want to know what others have to say about what they have read. It’s an extension of the reading experience. Reading about the music you have heard is not an extension of the listening experience.

Maybe if more newspaper executives did some reading of their own, they would understand.

More comments followed. Jeff again:

Your last point reminds me of how for more than 15 years, the Washington Post has been trying to lure young people with reviews of video games and hip-hop concerts, apparently misunderstanding how many outlets are already devoted to discussing those subjects with greater affection and thoroughness. Time has shown them to be unlikely and unsuccessful ways to lure new readers to old media.

More comments at Books, Inq. here.
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Maxine Hong Kingston: Not scared of poetry

Tuesday, August 30th, 2011
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But does she understand men? (Photo: David Shankbone)

Maxine Hong Kingston decided a few years back that she preferred writing poetry to prose.  “No more big, full dramatic scenes,” she explained to a Middlebrook Salon gathering on Sunday in Palo Alto.

The most recent result is “a book-length book about me” – I Love a Broad Margin to My Life, published in March.  There are downsides to doing poetry, she said.  Publishers don’t like it.

“They’re scared of poetry.  Poetry doesn’t sell.”

“They insisted on calling it a memoir,” she said.  “But I don’t think that’s right.  A memoir remembers the past. I am remembering the future.”  Her book discusses “how we accumulate and lose time.”

The silver-haired author was competing with sunlight.  The conversation and reading took place on Marilyn and Irv Yalom‘s lawn, a lush green setting for the drone of the hummingbirds and the plashing of an unseen fountain on the beautiful August late afternoon.  (I wrote about the dedication of the Diane Middlebrook Memorial Residence here.)

Clearly, times have changed. Maxine recalled the days when finishing a manuscript meant hopping on a plane to New York, and meeting her publisher face-to-face to hand it over.  After some time he would finish reading it.  She would hope on a plane back to New York.  The publisher would have marked the manuscript with scores of post-its.  They would go through the manuscript page by page.

Then there was the terrible day in 1979 when her publisher met her and said, “Well, my dear, I’m afraid this book is a failure.”

“You don’t understand men,” he told her.

By bus, she returned back to the friends’ apartment where she was staying. They had arranged a party to celebrate the new book with champagne.  Instead, she sat down to her IBM Selectric as the others partied.  She wrote a new scene for her revised book.

One of the people at that party – an actor named Earl – was on hand to read the chapter with her that night.

The book, China Men, was published in 1980.

Maxine said the New York Times called it a “virtually perfect book.”

Happy birthday to Martin Luther King’s dream

Sunday, August 28th, 2011
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August 28, 1963 (Photo: Martin Luther King, Jr., Research and Education Institute)

Today should have been the day that the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial was dedicated on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

Then a bad-ass lady named Irene rolled into town.

The celebration has been postponed.  Nonetheless, a quieter memorial has been overlooked in the weather warnings: it’s the 48th anniversary of King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

I reread the speech for the occasion – it’s no surprise that it’s considered one of the top speeches of the century.  It marked the height of the non-violent movement, and the beginning of its fall.

However, this surprised me too:  “I think one of the misconceptions people have about King was that all of his material was spontaneous and did not repeat,” said Stacey Zwald-Costello, assistant editor at the King Papers Project at Stanford University’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute.

“However, the opposite is true – he spent a lot of time preparing his speeches and often recycled material, using it in different places and ways in order to get his point across.”

So I also read the speech that served as a sort of rough draft – his June speech in Cobo Hall, Detroit.  I think I liked this passage the best (and I enjoy the italicized audience interjections!), which wasn’t included in the August 28 speech:

For nonviolence not only calls upon its adherents to avoid external physical violence, but it calls upon them to avoid internal violence of spirit. It calls on them to engage in that something called love. And I know it is difficult sometimes. When I say “love” at this point, I’m not talking about an affectionate emotion. (All right) It’s nonsense to urge people, oppressed people, to love their oppressors in an affectionate sense. I’m talking about something much deeper. I’m talking about a sort of understanding, creative, redemptive goodwill for all men. [applause]

We are coming to see now, the psychiatrists are saying to us, that many of the strange things that happen in the subconscious, many of the inner conflicts, are rooted in hate. And so they are saying, “Love or perish.” But Jesus told us this long time ago. And I can still hear that voice crying through the vista of time, saying, “Love your enemies, (Love them), bless them that curse you, (Yes) pray for them that despitefully use you.” (Yes) There is still a voice saying to every potential Peter, “Put up your sword.” (Yes, Put up your sword) History is replete with the bleached bones of nations; history is cluttered with the wreckage of communities that failed to follow this command. And isn’t it marvelous to have a method of struggle where it is possible to stand up against an unjust system, fight it with all of your might, never accept it, and yet not stoop to violence and hatred in the process? [applause] This is what we have. [applause]

More here.

Voilà! Diane Middlebrook Memorial Writers’ Residence

Saturday, August 27th, 2011
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Voilà!  The Diane Middlebrook Memorial Writers’ Residence has been launched.  I attended the dedication ceremony this afternoon, way up in  forested hills around LaHonda, Skyline, and Woodside.  (I wrote about the venture earlier, here.)  Got mightily lost, too.

"Above all, radiant" (Photo: Amanda Lane)

Renowned chemist, novelist, and playwright Carl Djerassi, Diane Middlebrook‘s husband, assured the 50 or 60 gathered in the brilliant August day about the “green” nature of the four new domiciles built in memory of the gifted and groundbreaking biographer, who died in 2007.  The Djerassi Resident Artists Program currently hosts about 60 artists a year.  The spare new residences, overlooking the hills, will add a few more.

The 87-year-old Djerassi read a poem written by the person who had been the second oldest resident ever – Janet Lewis, the wife (and by then widow) of legendary Yvor Winters.  She was 90 at the time – two years younger than the composer who holds the record in the program. The poem Carl read,  “Landscape near Bear Gulch Road,” had been written during her residency.

Carl recalled his wife worked only on ambitious projects.  When her cancer diagnosis gave her only months to live, she turned to her personal brand of therapy, he said – that is, “to immerse yourself totally in intellectual work.”  Middlebrook tackled a biography of Ovid,  which, “though unfinished, has been published posthumously in portions as ‘A Roman in his Prime’ in the Norton Critical edition of Ovid’s Metamorphoses; and as ‘Ovid Is Born,’ in Feminist Studies,” according to the program’s website. I had wondered what happened to it.

Until today, I wasn’t aware that Dana Gioia, Diane’s student, had published the author’s only collection of poems, Gin Considered as a Demon, in 1983, when he was editing a series of chapbooks for Elysian Press.  He waved the volume at the gathering.  He also waved the battered paperback of Wallace Stevens‘s poems that he had studied with Diane way back in 1971.

He described Diane Middlebrook as “above all, radiant.”  Such people are rare, he said: “in the warmth, enlightenment, and clarity of their presence we discover ourselves.”

Dana read Stevens’s “Final Soliloquy.”  But Diane’s daughter, Leah Middlebrook, read a rapt and haunting poem that Dana had composed at the Djerassi home-in-the-hills, “Becoming a Redwood.”  It concludes:

Something moves nearby. Coyotes hunt
these hills and packs of feral dogs.
But standing here at night accepts all that.

You are your own pale shadow in the quarter moon,
moving more slowly than the crippled stars,
part of the moonlight as the moonlight falls,

Part of the grass that answers the wind,
part of the midnight’s watchfulness that knows
there is no silence but when danger comes.

Bei Dao on literary black holes and cultural vulgarity

Friday, August 26th, 2011
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Reading in Kraków (Photo: Droid)

Protesters once shouted his poems in Tiananmen Square. Now the 62-year-old poet lives quietly in Hong Kong with his wife and six-year-old son.

I wrote about Bei Dao at May’s Czesław Miłosz Festival in Kraków. According to an article in the China Daily, he returned to mainland China this month, for the second time in 20 years. The first time was the occasion of his father’s death in 2001.

The occasion this time was the opening ceremony of the festival in Xining, capital of northwest Qinghai province.  The poet, whose real name is Zhao Zhenkai, wore a brick-red jacket and grey pants as he made a short speech.  Although he was quickly surrounded by fans clamoring for his autograph and hoping to be photographed with him, he seemed to retreat to the inner solitude I observed in Poland.

At Stanford over a decade ago, he described himself as “a man to whom the whole world has become a foreign country.” In Kraków, he said, “Materialism and consumption destroyed Chinese culture.”  His visit to mainland China continued those themes:

In his eyes, compared to the prosperity in the 1970s and 1980s, today’s Chinese literature is uninspired. “It’s true not only in China but also across the world, and it’s related to many factors, like materialism oriented by consumption, the nationwide trend of seeking entertainment, information dissemination brought by new technologies. All these things are making bubbles in language and literature,” he said.

He pointed out that previously a clear-cut division existed between “vulgar” culture and “serious” culture, but today vulgar culture is swallowing serious culture like a black hole, and unfortunately, many writers are forced to lower their writing standards to cater to vulgarity in today’s society.

There are other reasons for the devolution of Chinese poetry, Bei Dao said, such as the absence of a system of construction.

In 1999 at Stanford (Photo: L.A. Cicero)

“Poetry needs good guides, and a good critic is a good guide who can lead or shape a group of well-educated readers through unscrambling and analyzing poets.”

He said that college students and scholars who used to read poetry have lost their enthusiasm for it amid China’s social transformation, and now poetry only evokes nostalgia for them.

Meanwhile, the poet noted, the young generation of readers who grew up in the era of commercialization could not escape the impact of the times on them.

Mary Skinner: A life changed by 9/11

Thursday, August 25th, 2011
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Mary Skinner (right) with Elzbieta Ficowska, one of Sendler's rescued children

Mary Skinner was hunkered down on the West Coast, reconsidering her 20-year career in New York, when she watched her colleagues in Two World Trade Center die on 911.

According to an article in More magazine:

But as the catastrophe unfolded, Skinner’s hesitation disappeared.  “I knew friends were caught on certain floors and didn’t make it,” she says. I felt: I need to be there right now. I’ve got to go back. I had devoted my talent, heart and brain cells to helping somebody make a little more money on currency arbitrage.  In the face of what was going on in the world, I felt like, that’s a sin.”

Two months later, Skinner boarded a plane for New York – without a job or a place to live, and for the first time in her professional life, without a plan.

She found temp office work, reconnected with old friends and took writing classes. She enrolled in a documentary filmmaking class at the New School, wanting to make a film about her Polish-born, Catholic mother, Klotylda, who was orphaned and imprisoned during World War II and cared for by strangers afterwards. Klotylda wouldn’t agree to be her subject. Haunted by her mother’s experiences, Skinner continued with her research, uncovering more stories of children saved by heroic strangers.

I interviewed Mary here and here and here and here. She eventually went to make a movie about Holocaust heroine Irena Sendler, the PBS film In the Name of Their Mothers. The article gets it wrong: Sendler didn’t save hundreds of children; she saved thousands.

Skinner’s story has a happy ending:

The film’s reception was “beyond anything I could have imagined,” Skinner says. “But I didn’t feel elated. I was frayed, out of money and scared to death.” In the US, the film was rejected from film festival competitions (a DVD release in Poland broke conventional festival rules), but won multiple European prizes.  Skinner started showing her film at churches, schools and libraries. The philanthropist Tad Taube, a major PBS donor, happened to attend one of the screenings and was so moved that he arranged for Skinner to meet with the head of programming at the local PBS affiliate. That day, Skinner came with a PowerPoint presentation, prepared to make the most important pitch of her life, but as she sat down with the station chief at a polished table surrounded by staffers, he said, “This is a powerful film.  We want to ask you if you will allow us to take it national.” In the Name of Their Mothers had its U.S. debut on Sunday May 1, 2011, Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Now that’s a story we tell here.

The future of book reviewing and one cranky man…

Tuesday, August 23rd, 2011
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By "Drew" at "Toothpaste for Dinner" blog

More lamentations on the demise of the book review industry – if it was ever an industry – and the elimination of free-lancers and staff at the once-great Los Angeles Times Book Review (I wrote about that here, and I wrote about the demise of the Washington Post Book World here).

Richard Rayner and Susan Salter Reynolds, evacuees from the L.A. Times Book Review debacle, have been absorbed by the Los Angeles Review of Books. “Once you step past the rubble, the smoking ruins,” Reynolds says, “you see that there are still places for book reviews that care more about readers and writers than bottom lines and bean counters, more about the future than fashion, more about the thrill of reading than the so-called death of the book. The Los Angeles Review of Books is such a place and I am delighted to be a part of it.”  One problem:  It doesn’t pay its contributors. Just like other online sites.

Their editor-in-chief Tom Lutz writes:

Book review supplements have been shuttered at the Washington Post, the Boston Globe, the Chicago Tribune, and elsewhere, all for the same reason: the sections were not (and never had been) profit centers. Traditionally, of course, the editorial side of the paper dictated what to cover and the business side figured out how to pay for it. This allowed decisions about what was “fit to print” to operate independently from the courting of advertisers. Zell came to the Times vowing to break down what he called this “artificial wall” between editorial content and advertising sales, a misunderstanding of the most basic precept of ethical journalism. Worse yet, each section of the paper, it was decided, needed to make its own profit or die, like subsidiaries of a company. Since book advertising had never fully supported the Sunday supplements, they were preordained casualties.

Of course, sports sections aren’t asked to support themselves by the advertisements of sports stores or the manufacturers of catcher’s mitts, so this standard has always been unevenly applied.  It’s a shortsighted policy in any case.  As the ever-wise Jeff Sypeck commented on my earlier post about the L.A. Times:

“As I see it, one of the ironies here is that the paper is gutting the section that attracts obsessive readers–not just of book reviews, or books, but potentially the entire rest of the paper. (I’m reminded of your post from earlier this year about how one Washington Post blogger made fun of Donald Hall while the newspaper devoted virtually no coverage to the artists and writers who received the National Arts and Humanities Medals.) I often think that the final obituary for the newspaper business will conclude that, among other causes of death, they chased imaginary audiences of people who otherwise don’t really read instead of catering to the inquisitive, hard-core readers they already had.”

Much is made of how difficult it is to support oneself as a book reviewer.  Heavens,  I’m surprised that they even tried.  During my free-lance days, my book reviewing was my high-profile prestige work, a habit supported by magazine features that paid better.  As Edward Champion puts it so pointedly on the website Reluctant Habits:

"We'll be living in small ghettos..."

The dirty little secret is that freelancers get paid hardly anything. A fortuitous freelancer can count on a sum just under $200 if a review is commissioned by the Dallas Morning News, the San Francisco Chronicle, or the Philly Inquirer. But shouldn’t one expect more from three of the top 50 United States newspapers? If we translate that $200 into labor — let’s say that it takes about fifteen hours to read a book and five hours to write the review — the freelancer basically earns around $10/hour before paying taxes. You could probably make more money working at a touchless car wash. Small wonder that so many, including yours truly, have dropped out of this dubious racket, leaving it to increasingly sour practitioners. Book reviewing has reached a point where those who are left practically have to beg editors to get into a slot. And if book reviewing has become a vocation in which veteran and novice alike must debase themselves for scraps, one must legitimately ask if there’s any real point in such an uncivilized and undercompensated trade carrying on.

A few years ago I asked Adam Zagajewski about the future of poetry poetry-lovers in the world of tweets and sound bites – but his words might apply to book lovers as well:

“We’ll be living in small ghettos, far from where celebrities dwell, and yet in every generation there will be a new delivery of minds that will love long and slow thoughts and books and poetry and music, so that these rather pleasant ghettos will never perish — and one day may even stir more excitement than we’re used to now.”

On a less cerebral note, Harlan Ellison rants on youtube about the about the unpaid labors of writers.  It’s been viewed more than half a million times:

Dana Gioia in WLT: “It’s better to be noticed than ignored”

Sunday, August 21st, 2011
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"Fame gives you the freedom to pursue your interests" (Photo: L.A. Cicero)

The new September issue of World Literature Today is out, including an interview with poet, and former NEA Chairman, Dana Gioia. The Q&A was conducted by WLT‘s managing editor Michelle Johnson (who was also my editor for the July/August article on eminent Polish poet Julia Hartwig).

Not online, alas – but here are a few excerpts:

On fame:

I try to accept the good and the bad with equanimity.  As Oscar Wilde observed, “The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.” I have been lucky to have enjoyed a degree of celebrity across my career, and the experience has taught me a lot about the nature of contemporary fame. Notoriety requires you to be simplified, usually into a neat and tidy headline. First, I was widely discussed as the “businessman-poet.” Then I became notorious as the ringleader of the New Formalists.  Soon thereafter I became famous as the literary maverick who wrote “Can Poetry Matter?” Then I became a public figure as the champion of arts and literacy who ran the National Endowment for the Arts. Each of these reputations contained an element of truth and a simplification. But it’s better to be noticed than ignored, and properly used, fame gives you the freedom to pursue your interests as a writer.

On his legacy as one of the proponents of “New Formalism”:

It’s easy to forget how odd things were back in the 1970s. Form and narrative were almost universally denounced as dead literary modes. They were considered retrograde, repressive, elitist, antidemocratic, phallocentric, and even (I’m not making this up) un-American. It was impossible to publish a formal or narrative poem in most magazines. One journal even stated its editorial policy as, “No rhyme or pornography.” Poems wee supposed to be free-verse lyric utterances in a confessional or imagistic style. I’m happy to say that journals and presses are now open to formal or narrative poetry. This is a direct result of the so-called “Poetry Wars,” the long and loud debates over these issues that lasted from the early 1980s through the 1990s. …

I had no interest in making rhyme and meter the dominant aesthetic. What I fought for – and one really did have to fight back then – was for the poet’s freedom to use whatever style he or she felt was right for the poem. I can’t imagine a poet who wouldn’t want to have all the possibilities of the language available, especially the powerful enchantments of meter, rhyme, and narrative. I never saw the movement as a rejection of modernism. Why throw away the greatest period of American poetry?

What’s next?

America's mystical composer gets National Medal of Arts

I am most eager to work with artists I admire unreservedly. Collaboration depends upon talent – the pairing of two talents that inspire each other. Morten Lauridsen, who seems to me one of the greatest living composers, wants to create a work together. That is very exciting. Helen Sung and I are going to write a jazz song cycle. The composer William Bolcolm has suggested doing a musical setting of my narrative poem “Haunted” for a pianist and an actor. Lori Laitman is writing a song cycle using my translations of Montale’s love poems. Paul Salerni and I have sketched out a dance opera. I also have a third opera subject in mind, but it is still in the early stages. But, of course, the important thing is to keep writing poems.

The article also included a poem from his forthcoming collection Pity the Beautiful (2011, Graywolf), titled “Finding a Box of Family Letters.” I thought it sounded familiar.  Indeed, it was. He read it to me a year ago, over wine at his house in Santa Rosa, at the same time he read “Haunted,” which I very much look forward to hearing with Bolcom’s musical setting.  The poem made a very strong impression on me then, and also when it was published in the Hudson Review some time later.

Some time ago, Dana sent me a DVD of Lauridsen’s Lux Aeterna – please, please go find it, if you haven’t heard it.  He’s largely unheralded in the MSM, but is perhaps the most popular choral composer in the U.S.  Moreover, Lauridsen has been called “”the only American composer in history who can be called a mystic.”

By the by, the magazine also has an essay by Jane Hirshfield, on American poetry.  Haven’t read it yet.

Orwell Watch #17: The 10th anniversary of 9/11 – prepare for an avalanche of buzzwords

Saturday, August 20th, 2011
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In preparation for the tenth anniversary of 9/11, perhaps we should brace ourselves for an avalanche of the usual buzzwords.

Yesterday I posted Marjorie Perloff‘s thoughts about the occasion (I liked her nailing the ubiquitous and largely meaningless rallying cry, “saving the planet”).  But after I posted her words, the letter from “humanusist” caught my attention:

I am surprised, Professor Perloff, that your essay on Language in a Post-9/11 world did not center more on, well, language.

For example, while you point to that wonderful phrase “free world,” it might be worth exploring how it once was understood to mean free of tyrannical governmental control. But today, of course, it implies something very different. It oft can be found in proximity, if not adjacent to other provocative phrases such as “religious zealots.” (In fact, that very phrase is to be found in this very series of the Chronicle’s special 9/11 retrospective essays…)

Another bit of language worth exploring: “National security.” What have we as society constructed, and come to accept, around those two words? What are we making of such language in our post-9/11 nation, and importantly what is it making of us?

“Jimislew” added a thought:

I remember being stunned that a “Homeland” security department was created. “Homeland.” What did that mean? What does it still mean?

From George Orwells 1946 essay, “Politics and the English Language“:

“The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish spurting out ink. In our age there is no such thing as ‘keeping out of politics.’ All issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred, and schizophrenia. When the general atmosphere is bad, language must suffer. I should expect to find — this is a guess which I have not sufficient knowledge to verify — that the German, Russian and Italian languages have all deteriorated in the last ten or fifteen years, as a result of dictatorship.”

So here’s a few words to be thrown around a great deal in the next week:  free world, national security, “homeland” security, religious zealots (well, why don’t we go the whole nine yards and nail “religious fundamentalists”?)

I’m sure there will be a few others.  Let’s log them in here.
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As 9/11 anniversary approaches, litcrit’s Marjorie Perloff speaks out on American insularity

Friday, August 19th, 2011
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No comfort in Whole Foods Market

I’ve had a chance to finally go through Marjorie Perloff‘s “Language,” which has been open on my MacBook Pro forever…well, at least since August 7, when it was published in the Chronicle of Higher Education.  Perloff, one of the preeminent lit critics and a champion of the Language Poets and other avant-garde movements, takes on the changes in the nation since the events of 9/11.

In her essay, she argues that an event that should have made us more attuned to the outside world haa, paradoxically, made us more inward instead:

A new worldview

“The very language of the decade expresses our anxiety about the outside world. Talk of the ‘third world’ and ‘emergent nations,’ expressing as it does a first-world confidence and sense of control, has given way to the ubiquitous ‘our planet,’ as in, ‘saving our planet.’ …”

“When most Americans talk of saving our planet, they have a myopic view: They mean the environment they witness every day, with its SUV-clogged freeways, plastic-bottle glut, and absurd excesses of electricity and water consumption. In this context, a session at Whole Foods Market may feel comforting, but what about those places on the planet where there is not enough electricity to speak of excess or where there are no paper diapers to clog landfills? Better not to think about them, and to focus on such issues as childhood obesity (Michelle Obama‘s cause) or the relative effectiveness of the various sunscreens on the market.”

Time to look outward again

She concludes:

“Perhaps, now that a decade has gone by since 9/11, it is time for us once again to look outward. The increasingly tedious discourse of self-reflection—based on the assumption that we are the leaders of the ‘free world’—must give way to a more accurate sense of who and where we are in relation to the developing nations and cultures in our ‘global’ backyard. Language study—not just of ‘foreign’ languages but also of our own—will help us to deal with the reality that, as Wallace Stevens put it, ‘we are not / At the center of the diamond.’”

I don’t find her final argument terrifically convincing. “We are not the center of the world” has been the mantra of President Obama, but so far I don’t see Brazil or South Korea or even China stepping up to the plate of “world leader,” though their economies may be (comparatively) booming and their populations swelling.  Perhaps the role of “world leader”itself is one of the 21st century’s early retirees, and there are no cops on the beat anymore.

She quotes Stevens, but W.H. Auden makes a more foolproof bet:

"I told you so"

Time will say nothing but I told you so,
Time only knows the price we have to pay;
If I could tell you I would let you know.