- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Political fiction?

“[Norman] Mailer was one postwar writer who maintained a fascination with politics and power. This comes through in the five novels from ‘The Naked and the Dead’ (1948) to ‘Why Are We in Vietnam?’ (1967), embracing subjects like violence, revolutionary conspiracy, the blacklist, the Kennedy era, and the Vietnam trauma.

“But Mailer´s political antennae were keener in his first-person journalism and idiosyncratic essays. Never very securely established in American fiction, politics was migrating steadily into journalism. This shift, like the alternating strands of U.S.A., illustrates the gap between private and public reality for American writers. Even a thoroughly political mind like Mailer´s could lose its way when it tried bringing politics into a fictional framework.”

-Morris Dickstein, writing on “Fiction and Political Fact” in the June-August issue of Bookforum

You decide

“We arrived at the topic of Nicholson Baker not because we were talking about the war, but because we were talking about the contemporary cult of the non-expert, or rather the anti-expert: the bloggers who assume that the ‘mainstream media’ is always wrong, the Wikipedia readers who think that a compilation of random anecdotes is always preferable to a learned study, and of course the college students who nowadays prefer to get their news in emails from friends because it is too bothersome to read a newspaper. …

“To understand ‘Human Smoke’ properly, one needs to read Gawker, Wikipedia, and above all ‘The Da Vinci Code.’ The latter comparison might sound odd, but the resemblance is actually quite striking. Like [Nicholson] Baker, the author of ‘The Da Vinci Code’ is not a historian. And also like Baker, Dan Brown is a man apparently obsessed by his belief in the existence of a widespread historical conspiracy. …

“And the reader, both of ‘The Da Vinci Code’ and ‘Human Smoke,’ is duly flattered. Read Brown’s book and you, all by yourself, can decide whether Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene! Read Baker’s book and you, all by yourself, can decide whether World War II was worth fighting!”

-Anne Applebaum, writing on “The Blog of War” on May 28 at the New Republic Web site.

Pollack, RIP

“Perhaps it will not be complete redundancy or overkill to devote today’s post to Sydney Pollack, the director and actor who died [May 26] at the age of 73 … .

“No doubt the movie for which he is best loved is ‘Tootsie,’ a certified canonical masterpiece in the pantheon of filmed comedy. It’s often a surprise to casual movie watchers that this gimmicky picture from the early [1980s] is hailed by serious cinephiles as one of the best American films of all time.

“But few comedies from any period can beat its self-referential wit (Dustin Hoffman, a Method actor whose obsessive preparation made him notoriously difficult to work with, plays a Method actor who can’t get a job because he’s so difficult to work with), its fleet dialogue and perfect comic timing, and its spot-on casting (Bill Murray as Hoffman’s deadpan roommate gives a particularly priceless performance).”

-Donna Bowman, writing on “I Was a Standup Tomato” on May 27 at the blog Union Trueheart and Courtesy (http://uniontrueheart.blogspot.com)

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