- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Cosmopolitan others?

“We should also probably talk about the Nobel. It’s our annual dose of international literature, the one time of year there’s a rush on a writer from Romania or France or Hungary. Ever since the head of the Nobel literature committee, Horace Engdahl, said that American culture is too ‘insular,’ Americans have had issues with the Nobel. Who am I kidding — we have had issues way before then.

“[It’s] a true statement, but not a profound one. It presupposes that other cultures are not insular. Are the Nigerians really that interested in the literature coming out of Denmark? The Latvians in Filipino poetry? No. Each culture is primarily interested in its own subject, plus whatever is coming out of America. With that arithmetic, we are even with everyone else. We just don’t have a market larger than our own to aspire to. We’ll occasionally look to Britain, mostly as something to simultaneously aspire to and rebel against, sort of like our father — but for the most part, we honestly believe we are making the great contributions to culture.

“Before the announcement of every Nobel Prize, some guy on some blog will make a statement identical to the one I read this year: ‘Until Philip Roth wins that prize, it’s a sham.’ You would think Philip Roth is this obscure genius, his mastery of the written word unheralded. Man, do people ever want Philip Roth to win the Nobel. (John Updike’s death put a sudden end to similar whining on his behalf.) Does Roth speak across all cultures, get at the heart of what it is to be human, and not just white, upper-middle-class, East Coast, Jewish, and male? Either the Nobel Committee has already decided no, or they think he does and they just enjoy watching Americans jump up and down every year.”

Jessa Crispin, writing on “The Foreign Service,” Jan. 20 at the Smart Set

Clinton changer

“The inevitable grumbling and grunting about the use of unattributed quotations in ‘Game Change,’ the engrossing new campaign book by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin, has been accompanied by a more or less grudging general admission that nobody cited in these pages has so far complained of being misrepresented.

“To this suggestive point I would add, from comparatively limited experience, that where the authors discuss anything that I know about, they have it right. In fact, what they say is often less sensational than what they might have said. Surely this is particularly true of the most notorious rapid-response operation in modern political history: the infamous Clinton team and its eager outriders and propagandists. I am astonished at how relatively little attention this has received.”

Christopher Hitchens, writing on “Loose Lips or Dirty Tricks?” on Jan. 25 at Slate

Feminist rock

“You don’t actually need me to tell you the story [of ‘The Runaways’]. Kids from busted homes start a rock band, meet a sleazy-genius manager, become too famous too fast, do a bunch of drugs and make some bad decisions, see the whole thing come crashing down. (Repeat as desired.)

“Yes, of course there was one crucial difference between the Runaways and just about every other mid-‘70s band, and that difference changed rock history, 20 years or so before the riot-grrrl meme. I think [director Floria] Sigismondi gets that aspect of the story just about right. Creating an all-girl band that actually rocked, and whose members would strut the stage like the Stones or Aerosmith, was the joint inspiration of Jett and producer-manager Kim Fowley (played with delicious, scenery-chewing abandon by Michael Shannon).

“They needed no grasp of feminist theory to understand that things were changing in mid-1970s America, and that an all-female band that actually rocked hard, and wasn’t a transparent cheesecake gimmick, could hit the big time virtually overnight.”

Andrew O’Hehir, writing on “Sundance: Girl power, circa 1975” at Salon

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