Dirda on classics and genre literature

Michael Dirda of the Washington Post delivers a great lecture at The Center for the Book in D.C., in which he discusses his new book which looks at 100 classic books of literature that aren’t your grandpa’s “classics”, which means books that a while back would have been ignored by elitists and classicists who categorically dismiss books of popular literature and genre literature of various sorts rather than actually reading them to discover that good writing is good writing, regardless of genre.

Mr. Dirda has some great stuff to say about this.  I’d suggest moving the video bar to minute 14 o4 15 to skip the pleasantries and get to the meat of his lecture if you don’t have time to sit through the whole thing.  But you should take a look.  It’s good stuff from a smart guy.

Video ganked from Paul Di Filippo.

The Oasis Video

Okay, so this video is now officially making the rounds in the blogosphere.  It’s a song by Amanda Palmer, of the Dresden Dolls, whom I love, and before I say anything else, I’ll say I love this song and the video.  But I have a sort of critique of it, too.  So far I’ve read a lot of posts online that are defending this video because over in Britain, where Amanda is launching her tour for her new album, Who Killed Amanda Palmer?, the BBC was possibly going to censor this song/video, spoiling Amanda’s marketing team’s ambitions to have it be a radio/music channel release, which would totally have been depressing, I agree.  But in fact, if you ask me, Amanda has nothing to complain about.  If someone was going to censor one of my books, I would be totally down for it.  Everyone knows that censored material actually gains more audience than art that does not spark a nerve with the culture.

Which brings me to my other aspect of this semi-critique.  As much as I love this video, I don’t think it’s being contextualized correctly.  Even Amanda has sort of talked about it as a sarcastic, ironic and sad critique of the sort of girl she’s portraying in this video, but really I think it’s less a critique of that sort of girl so much as it is the culture that’s produced her.  And in my mind, she’s sort of a hero, adamantly denying not just the Fundamentalist Christians who tell her Jesus hates her, but all of the other ridiculous elements of American society that inspire a sort of blithe disregard for anything but self and now and fun in her.  She seems more angry to me than stupid, acting like a caricatured version of the most normative roles we outline for kids to grow into at this juncture.  Whatever.  It doesn’t really matter in the end how it’s interpreted.  In the end, it’s sad and funny, the sort of thing I like in any kind of art, whether it be story, song, painting, film or persona, which is an art form in and of itself.  You can take Amanda Palmer as an example of that last form, really.  She’s sort of interstitial that way, the music and the persona itself both being integral to what she’s doing, and what she’s doing is an angry, funny, sad, beautiful thing.

Straight from the Underground, by Nitro Microphone Underground

I think I was only in Japan for a few weeks before I found myself venturing out to media stores alone, trying to figure out what was all around me. So much of what we in America know of Japan isn’t contemporary Japan. Most books present Japan at various stages of its history, and seem to always have a geisha featured in them. Same with movies, except for Lost in Translation, which I watched last night when I wanted to ‘visit’ Tokyo again for a couple of hours. This trend is also one that we follow with Japanese music. Before I went to Japan, I thought it was all bamboo flutes and three-stringed bone harps (or some other fantastically old instruments). What I found when I got there, though, was a music scene (and many other kinds of scenes) that felt much more global and diverse than what we have here (or at least what we have making itself to a wide audience). I was absolutely floored to hear, for example, this group, The Nitro Microphone Underground, rapping in Japanese.

Totally excellent

I came across this video via the blog “I Will Shout Youngstown” this afternoon, and thought it was really representative of the spirit that’s been taking over Youngstown in the past couple of years, and that community spirit seems to be growing more and more over time now. To be completely honest, it feels strange to feel this good about my community. I grew up when it was spiraling ever downward in its history, so there was a constant feeling of entropy surrounding the place, that the world was closing down around me, that things got worse, not better. Somehow I turned out to be a creative person in the midst of a sort of ambient atmosphere of disintegration, or maybe I turned out to be a creative person *because* of that atmosphere, as a sort of rebellion against it. But anyway, all of these good things happening here now, even though I feel like I’m a part of those things in my own small way, it still does, sometimes, feel strange to feel that Youngstown has begun to turn in a different direction, and maybe decay and disintegration won’t be the predominant trend in these parts forever. It makes me wonder, too, how that will affect the way I write about this place in the future, because I’m largely inspired by place in my writing. Not just this place, but any place where I’ve spent a significant amount of time. That will probably be more evident when my second novel comes out. So it makes me wonder if at some point all the ghost stories and stories of entropy and madness and melancholy that I seem to gravitate to in regards to this place will begin to disappear. It makes me wonder what sort of stories will come in their stead. I look forward to finding that out, but for now, check out this video put out by the American Planning Association, which awarded Youngstown with the 2007 National Planning Excellence Award for Public Outreach. Maybe it’s a bore for people living elsewhere, I don’t know, but the new progressive spirit of this place that’s been happening here lately has been engaging for me, and interesting, as I notice my own relationship to the place begin to shift into a new shape.