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Certainly if I think of the economic problems we're now facing in the world, I worry we're caught in a set of stale conflicts among a series of hackneyed viewpoints: the rote tensions between the accepted global market forces and the accepted forms of resistance to those forces. Traditional notions of capitalism or socialism seem increasingly inadequate for dealing with the sheer weirdness of what's going on all around us. We need some new ways of looking at things, ways we're not really getting at the moment. Our best hope might be the hope Dickens offers: the likelihood that our imaginations will remain independent enough and strange enough to turn us away from our current cul-de-sac.
His contemporary Thomas Mann considered Zweig's writing "mediocre," and many key German literary figures, including Zweig's close friend Joseph Roth, agreed. In recent years, the poet Michael Hofmann has led the charge against him, declaring in the London Review of Books, "Stefan Zweig just tastes fake." Then, as now, Zweig's detractors have pointed to his penchant for falling back on eager-to-please melodrama. As Hofmann sees it, much of Zweig's writing reads as "a sort of sentimental and half-deluded, half-diplomatic twaddle." Even Zweig himself realized he often over-wrote, admitting, "I know that in Amok, especially, the writing is somewhat overheated." But the problem goes deeper than one of mere style.
American writers alive today are expected to work as if Gertrude Stein never existed. Gertrude Stein, in her time, had that same problem. Maybe 2012 will be different, a moment when no one confuses breakthroughs with games or doors with words. Anyway, I was all desperate for a door to fly open, and now here are these books. In the box there’s Ida, a novel, and I just recently reread Lucy Church Amiably, and I don’t know if I can read another Gertrude Stein novel too soon. It always puts me in a strange place.
The essay has been the central focus of my career, paying attention to the essay, what the essay has been, and who its central writers have been, and how some of the wonderful authors in the genre perhaps have not received adequate attention (for example, some women writers of the form). Nonetheless, the essay is terribly difficult to contain. It's a wonderfully plastic form, and has included all kinds of disparate elements, some of which are being written now as though for the first time. I don't think we want to say that everything is an essay. Because then nothing is an essay. To be really radical, you have to be willing to learn a little, and dedicate yourself. Then, let it rip.
The collective picture is of Burroughs-as-famous-writer, without the attendant wealth. Perhaps because there was never enough money to allow Burroughs to "sell out," he continued to take chances that would make the word hoard of Naked Lunch read like realist prose. Burroughs was a scientist, an empirical language explorer, and these letters wonderfully detail key aspects of his procedural operations.
A certain kind of joke -- a good joke is funnier the more you try to figure out why it's funny in the first place. It should take twenty minutes to explain why a joke is good and you should be shaking your head in awe the whole time. What's the first joke everyone learns? Chicken crossing the road. And what's so great about that joke is that the punch line turns out to not be a joke. The joke is on the listener. It's an anti-joke. To get to the other side -- and that's everyone's starter joke, a really complex, nuanced joke that turns the idea that you're even listening to a joke on its head. Meta-humor is in our bloodstream.