LevGrossman

Friday, September 24th, 2010

The Lamentation of the Behemoth

I was going to write a completely different post today, but every time I start writing it it starts turning into something else. My brain keeps running on things like this:

Which is of course a parody of this, which I wrote:

Actually parody is kind of a crude word to describe it. I think it’s probably something much more subtle and interesting.

But anyway this post isn’t really about that. It’s about something infinitely more important: a feeling I am having in my insides.

Which is this: it’s very weird writing for Time magazine.

Believe it or not I actually sometimes forget, during the process of transferring text from my hard drive to its pages, that Time is perceived as — heard as — the voice of a profoundly conservative (culturally at least) mainstream American hivemind. I wouldn’t describe any of the people I know who write for it as belonging to such an entity. They are, to a one, smart and interesting and fully autonomous individuals. Hardly any of them even have brain-slugs.

But when you write for Time your voice gets assimilated into a larger, louder over-voice. Not that it’s all that loud in and of itself. But as far as I know they still print about purchase azithromycin 500mg three million of the things every week. And plus when you say something on the cover it becomes a pseudo-event in itself, and your saying of it becomes itself news, which results in it being written up and retweeted and generally refracted in the million-faceted fly-like eye of the Internet.

Which makes the business of trying to say things in Time a weird one. You try to use it for good, but whenever you’re using an amplifier that big (strained and probably technically inaccurate metaphor here but stay with me) your voice is bound to end up getting distorted and heard in weird ways.

So for example when you say, “this book is good!‚” people can hear you as saying, these other books are shit! Or, I’m saying this book is good for disingenuous reasons! And so on.

I’m not complaining. If I was that freaked out about it I could always, say, not write for Time magazine. It’s just that things like the Stranger cover remind me of how it sounds to other people on the other side of the megaphone. When you’ve felt like an outsider and an underdog most of your life, it’s hard to adjust to people seeing you any other way.


10 comments on “The Lamentation of the Behemoth

  1. Jaimie says:

    Yeah. I was just telling a friend how you’re cooler than because you seem to have a grasp on how you’re not cool. And I really want to say who the other fantasy author is to drive this point home, but saying that is full of himself isn’t really the point of this comment. (And maybe he’s not full of himself, maybe he just acts like he is. I do that sometimes. Often.)

    – a comment on a essay about how it feels to have written sentences on the cover of Time from an article on the inside of Time about a book

  2. Jaimie says:

    OMG, apparently WordPress eats the carrot brackets like code.

    – I was just telling a friend how you’re cooler than *other fantasy author* because…

    – but saying that *other fantasy author* is full of himself…

  3. Leverus says:

    It’s because carrot brackets are so delicious

  4. M says:

    im having ice wine
    i thought you’d like to know that

    funny that you mentioned about… Tao Lin, in your tweet because!
    JUST the other day, I was reading this “novella” by him called “How To Steal from American Apparel”

    it made me want to punch him in the face…

    but he’s an artist of another sort, not necessarily a writer… but yeah the novella, maybe im not getting it but i kind of hate it..

    i’ve been an underdog for so long, i think im ready for a change 🙂

  5. Leverus says:

    ice wine: I like the idea more than I usually like the actual thing

    I was on a panel with Tao Lin once. He seemed nice but he was very quiet. But it was a big panel. There were about 10 people on it.

  6. M Blockley says:

    over-voice breeds Under Toad?

  7. M Blockley says:

    On the “weird ways” of evaluation–this assumption of passive-aggressive criticism of those not praised erupts in things like the “my kid beat up your honor student” bumper sticker. It’s always a zero-sum for some readers.

  8. Rita says:

    That’s a good analogy–those bumper stickers.

    I keep trying to come up with something succinct and supportive, but can’t. It’s a shame that your article and Franzen’s book are being used as the springboard for this. You, who went on television to promote Mockingjay (and The Passage) as well as Freedom. You, who Tweeted about how you were enjoying Faithful Place and you who got giddy when you were talking about Donna Tartt during your reading here. It’s not like what these women are saying shouldn’t be acknowledged and given consideration, it’s just they’re stepping on the wrong people to try to make their point.

  9. It’s true that people shouldn’t ‘step on the wrong people to make their point,’ but it’s true, too, what’s at the heart (as I read it, anyway) of the lament: that once you’ve put your voice through a megaphone like this it’s inextricable from the overall noise that larger sound makes, and it very well might add up to make a sound you don’t feel right being part of. Franzen on the cover of Time can never just be about someone saying it’s a good book, it becomes about power and size and position within the overall landscape. It all makes the seeming equity of the online world seem much more enticing, but there isn’t, I don’t think, any way to avoid the participation in a world of uneven powers. And for what it’s worth, I think that speaking what you truly believe—that this is a wonderful book and a great writer—is the only hope anyone has of coming through it all with their soul intact, if not their message.

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