Gerry Canavan

the smartest kid on earth

Posts Tagged ‘George Saunders

Saunders on Antiheroes

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George Saunders just had a great idea for a TV show:

People from all over the world begin to sense they have superpowers. One guy can fly. Another can walk through walls. A cheerleader is impervious to physical harm. A kid can move back and forth in time. You get the idea: normal people, sick and tired of living under constraint, are busting out, into a world without limits!

But here’s the twist: These people, who believe they have superpowers? They don’t. They never have and never will. There is no such thing as a superpower.

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June 17, 2008 at 12:17 am

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On Poetry

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As we have seen, poetry is not only transcendent, it’s super-easy. George Saunders on poetry, in the Guardian.

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February 4, 2008 at 9:45 pm

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Saunders! Clinton! Mania!

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George Saunders interviews Bill Clinton.

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December 5, 2007 at 2:17 am

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George Saunders on the Colbert Report

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The man himself, George Saunders, on last night’s Colbert Report.

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October 10, 2007 at 12:12 am

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Saundersize Me

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My good friend Patrick “Easy” Egan writes to ask “Does the world need another George Saunders interview?” The answer, of course, is yes.

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September 28, 2007 at 5:30 pm

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George Saunders reads "Manifesto of People Reluctant to Kill For An Abstraction (PRKA)"

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KQED has audio of George Saunders reading his “Manifesto of People Reluctant to Kill For An Abstraction (PRKA)” from The Braindead Megaphone, reviewed by me here last week, via Kottke.

Since the world began, we have gone about our work quietly, resisting the urge to generalize, valuing the individual over the group, the actual over the conceptual, the inherent sweetness of the present moment over the theoretically peaceful future to be obtained via murder. Many of us have trouble sleeping and lie awake at night, worrying about something catastrophic befalling someone we love. We rise in the morning with no plans to convert anyone via beating, humiliation, or invasion. To tell the truth, we are tired. We work. We would just like some peace and quiet. When wrong, we think about it awhile, then apologize. We stand under awnings during urban thunderstorms, moved to thoughtfulness by the troubled, umbrella-tinged faces rushing by. In moments of crisis, we pat one another awkwardly on the back, mumbling shy truisms. Rushing to an appointment, remembering a friend who has passed away, our eyes well with tears and we think: Well, my God, he could be a pain, but still I’m lucky to have known him.

This is PRKA. To those who would oppose us, I would simply say: We are many. We are worldwide. We, in fact, outnumber you. Though you are louder, though you create a momentary ripple on the water of life, we will endure, and prevail.

Join us.

Resistance is futile.

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September 13, 2007 at 4:52 pm

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* Oscar buzz for Darjeeling? And does that suggest it will be good or bad?

* George Lucas on track to ruin another classic movie franchise: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is very nearly the worst possible title for Indy IV, with almost any variant (…and the Crystal Skull, …and the Kingdom of Crystal, … and the Kingdom of the Skull) being superior. I’m quite suspicious about the alien connection, too—it’s got to be a Chariot of the Gods situation, because Close Encounters just isn’t going to work. MetaFilter has a little bit more.

* Only the best need apply. $21k for full time June 25 – Aug 20 employment.

* Analyzing the logos of terrorist organizations.

* Bitter Laughter duckspeak thoughtcrime doubleplusungood 9/11.

Two years ago when I taught 1984, I realized that not a single person in my class knew what Osama bin Laden really wanted–what his grievances were, what his ideology looks like, etc. All they knew was that he was inimical to “us,” and that he was the enemy. “Enmity” is mightily empty category, and a dangerous one at that, if you refuse to allow it to have content.

And that’s exactly what bin Laden is for Americans, an enemy without content. The fact of the matter is that Osama bin Laden is not isomorphic with himself. That is, “Osama bin Laden,” as that name is understood in this country, is a simulacrum of the actual man. We do not need to listen to what he has to say because we know what he is — after all, he is our creation. He represents for us something to fight against, the implement against which we sharpen our knives and define ourselves. His words are not relevant since they communicate a version of himself that does not square with our understanding of him. Why would we both listen or give credence to his video musings?

* Michael Tomasky on Citizen Gore.

* George Saunders on the teevee.

Written by gerrycanavan

September 11, 2007 at 12:51 pm

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I spent most of last night and this morning shunning the Things I Ought to Be Doing and instead read The Braindead Megaphone, George’s Saunders’s excellent new collection of essays. It occurs to me that often when I read Saunders I’m never quite sure afterwards if I liked what I read—but I’ve lately decided that this is a good thing. Saunders’s writing gets under your skin, even (especially?) when the words he writes aren’t necessarily the words you might have wished that he would write.

I mean this “not necessarily” in at least two senses: sometimes I find Saunders a bit naive, his prose too easy, and other times I think he’s tried too hard to make a simple issue complicated and multi-perspectival. And sometimes, of course, he manages to peel back my skin, twist open my skull, and expose my very own grey matter to the world at large, saying it (whatever it is) exactly how it is.

But no matter which Saunders I wind up with, I’m never, ever sorry to have read him.

Most of the essays in The Braindead Megaphone, like the title essay discussed a few days ago, revolve around the uses and misuses of language, roughly half concerned with media criticism and the vacuity of political discourse in contemporary America and the other with short readings of what Sauders sees as seminal literary texts in his development as a writer and thinker: Johnny Tremain, Slaughterhouse-Five, Donald Barthelme’s “The School,” and Huck Finn, with that essay being perhaps my favorite in the book.

Huck and Tom represent two viable models of the American Character. They exist side by side in every American and every American action. America is, and always has been, undecided about whether it will be the United States of Tom or the United States of Huck. The United States of Tom looks at misery and says: Hey, I didn’t do it. It looks at inequity and says: All my life I have busted my butt to get where I am, so don’t come crying to me. Tom likes kings, codified nobility, unquestioned privelege. Huck likes people, fair play, spreading the truck around. Whereas Tom knows, Huck wonders. Whereas Huck hopes, Tom presumes. Whereas Huck cares, Tom denies. These two parts of the American Psyche have been at war since the beginning of the nation, and come to think of it, these two parts of the World Psyche have been at war since the beginning of the world, and the hope of the nation and of the world is to embrace the Huck part and send the Tom part back up the river, where it belongs.

The few deviations from this strong organizing principle make the book on the whole slightly worse, in my opinion, even though several of these are quite good and one (his article about immigration and the Minuteman from GQ) is another strong contender for my favorite essay in the book:

If this isn’t the essential American story, I don’t know what is: Guy hews a life out of nothing, by working every waking moment, with no education, no government help, no external advantages whatsoever, and no ulterior motive. What did he want? A place where his kids could grow up, with less fear and more material comforts.

Did he get it?

Yes, he did, God bless him.

Likewise, the pieces on the six-month-fasting Buddha Boy, Dubai, and “Ask the Optimist!” are certainly interesting pieces in their own rights (the former two considerably moreso than the last) but don’t seem to fit quite right in this book. I much prefer the pieces on language itself and the assumptions (political and otherwise) it directs us to make, as in, for instance, “Thought Experiment,” a rumination on essentialism and the genetic lottery and the way we think and talk about each other, or “A Brief Study of the British,” which despite being still another travelogue has a lot to say about English as well as the English.

This fixation on collection-unity may, in all fairness, be entirely my hangup, but as you may recall from my thoughts about Consider the Lobster I’ve gotten to a point where I need my collections to have something to say beyond “This is a new book by ______!” The Braindead Megaphone, in the main, definitely has something to say, and that something is important, and I sincerely hope the book finds market penetration into areas outside the already vibrant Saunders Nation. (Oprah, are you listening?) This is precisely the sort of conversation the country needs to be having right now: about language, about politics, about recognition and ethics and empathy and what it means, really, to be good. I hope we’re finally ready.

Written by gerrycanavan

September 3, 2007 at 4:14 pm

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Somehow I missed blucarbnpinwheel’s excellent post from earlier in the week with a boatload of George Saunders columns from The Guardian. Using my illicit underworld connections, I’ve managed to get my copy of The Braindead Microphone an astounding two days early, so I should have something to say about it tomorrow. In the meantime, here’s G.S. on the power of language:

Still, this sentence doesn’t sound so great: “We are ignoring the genocide in Darfur because the victims are poor and far away.”

Enter the “power of revision”. Are “we” ignoring the genocide? I’m not. I’m writing about it. Let’s be precise: “They are ignoring…” And are “they” really “ignoring” it? Aren’t they “deferring action with regard to” the genocide in Darfur?

Also: “genocide” is such a charged word. OK, yes, armed members of one racial group are trying to eliminate all the members of another group, but let’s not jump to conclusions. Let’s wait until all the evidence is in – like, 50 years or so. Once the killers have been given a chance to do what they are trying to do, we will be better equipped to see what it was they were attempting.

Also, let’s change “genocide” to “tragic recent events shrouded in the inevitable mist of unverifiable information”, which makes our sentence: “They are deferring action with regards to the tragic recent events shrouded in the mist of unverifiable information in Darfur because the victims are poor and far away.”

But would we ignore someone because they were “poor and far away”? I wouldn’t. I might “make the strategic, albeit heart-rending, decision to refrain from violent military intervention in the recognition that war is not to be entered into lightly”.

Now we’re getting somewhere. Especially if we go into passive voice: “Action with regards to the tragic recent events shrouded in the mist of unverifiable information in Darfur has been deferred in a strategic, albeit heart-rending, decision to refrain from violent military intervention in the recognition that war is not to be entered into lightly.”

Good. Almost meaningless. Yet sounds almost uplifting. Kind of like: “Never again.”

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September 2, 2007 at 10:24 pm

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My status as Private First Class in the George Saunders Army brings to my attention his new essay collection, The Braindead Megaphone, coming out next week. Here’s Saunders blogging at Amazon, and here’s a GYWO special Saunders edition. I’ll pick this up next week and let you know how it is.

(6) The central premise of the title essay in my new book, The Braindead Megaphone, is this: Our cultural discourse is being dumbed-down by mass-media prose that is written too quickly, and therefore fails to due justice to the complexity of the world. On the other hand, prose that is revised and that the writer lives with awhile can go deeper and deeper and become more nuanced and truthful. This doesn’t happen for me in one or two or even five drafts. At the one-level draft, I don’t feel I really have much to offer. I am just: Guy, Typing.

(7) In addition, we’re being dumbed-down by people who, though claiming to be objective and curious and truth-seeking, are actually pushing a (political/corporate/financial) agenda.

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August 31, 2007 at 1:39 pm

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Depressing weekend politics triple threat:

* World authors on climate change, including George Saunders. Via blucarbnpinwheel.

But then again, who can resist the allure of springtime? Last spring a “mini-hurricane” lifted our house off its foundation, and what a wild, lovely ride we had, flying over the city, observing the beauty of the new-blooming roses and orchids and the dear friends being slung willy-nilly into the sides of downtown buildings, and the river overflowing its banks and flooding entire sections of town.

So let the global-warning nuts complain all they want. I love nature, just as it is, however it is.

*Poems from Guantánamo, via MeFi.

DEATH POEM
Jumah Al Dossari

Take my blood.
Take my death shroud and
The remnants of my body.
Take photographs of my corpse at the grave, lonely.
Send them to the world,
To the judges and
To the people of conscience,
Send them to the principled men and the fair-minded.
And let them bear the guilty burden, before the world,
Of this innocent soul.
Let them bear the burden, before their children and before history,
Of this wasted, sinless soul,
Of this soul which has suffered at the hands of the “protectors of peace.”

* The Nation’s Alex Cockburn explains how the Democrats blew it in just eight months. Via I cite. He makes a lot of good points, most notably this harsh rebuke to those (like me) who waste their time fantasizing about impeachment:

The left is as easily distracted, currently by the phantasm of impeachment. Why all this clamor to launch a proceeding surely destined to fail, aimed at a duo who will be out of the White House in sixteen months? Pursue them for war crimes after they’ve stepped down. Mount an international campaign of the sort that has Henry Kissinger worrying at airports that there might be a lawyer with a writ standing next to the man with the limo sign. Right now the impeachment campaign is a distraction from the war and the paramount importance of ending it.

Written by gerrycanavan

August 11, 2007 at 10:20 pm

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George Saunders has a story in this week’s New Yorker. I must confess I find it a bit hard to process; Saunders’s characteristic irony is even more dangerously unstable than usual here, and I can’t tell where it’s pointing. But I think I like that about it.

Well, wow, what a super field trip for the kids, Marie thought, ha ha (the filth, the mildew smell, the dry aquarium holding the single encyclopedia volume, the pasta pot on the bookshelf with an inflatable candy cane inexplicably sticking out of it), and although some might have been disgusted (by the spare tire on the dining-room table, by the way the glum mother dog, the presumed in-house pooper, was dragging its rear over the pile of clothing in the corner, in a sitting position, splay-legged, a moronic look of pleasure on her face), Marie realized (resisting the urge to rush to the sink and wash her hands, in part because the sink had a basketball in it) that what this really was was deeply sad.

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May 23, 2007 at 1:12 am

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