October 2011

Kevin Frazier

Star-Crossed

Sylvia Plath, Frank Herbert, Wallace Stevens

Each issue the Star-Crossed column chooses one or more writers who were born during a particular month and talks about their work.

October Birthdays:

Wallace Stevens -- born October 2, 1879, Reading, Pennsylvania

Frank Herbert -- born October 8, 1920, Tacoma, Washington

Sylvia Plath -- born October 27, 1932, Boston, Massachusetts

 This month's column, with Stevens in mind, imagines three ways of looking at reviewers.

 1 -- Sylvia Plath: The Nightmare of the Golden Arches

On the latest Norwegian translation of Ariel:

"Here in Norway, the time for Sylvia Plath has passed. She is essentially an American writer, with American concerns, and this accounts for the puerile nature of her fascination with suicide and death. It is this callowness, we fear, that makes her poetry addictive for adolescents and tedious for adults. Her verse is noisy and self-aggrandizing, like the speeches declaimed by Hollywood actors straining for an Oscar. Spectacle is all, insight is nothing, or is so miniscule and egomaniacal that it repels us upon fuller acquaintance. One could no more survive upon a long-term diet of Plath's bloody marzipan than one could survive upon a long-term diet of McDonald's Happy Meals. In fact, we see the results of such a diet in the United States itself, a nation of individuals fattened into grotesquerie by Big Macs and Freedom Fries. During recent years, Norwegians have drawn back from the junk food that Plath and her ilk have attempted to continue serving us. In this light, it is interesting to contemplate Norwegian suicide rates, and to ask the highly relevant question of whether the cumulative influences of Plath and the rest of America's high-calorie culture are not largely responsible for those rates. For too long, the American Dream, which is actually the American Nightmare, has haunted our sleep. We can now say goodbye to those Plathian razor blades and nooses and open oven doors, and welcome the chance to walk in the free fresh air, with the words of more humane poets echoing in our ears."

 

2 -- Frank Herbert: Sand-Blasted       

On an upcoming illustrated edition of Dune

"Time for another sighting of the Emperor's New Clothes: Dune, the so-called classic science fiction novel by Frank Herbert, is long overdue for an honest debunking. Let's cut the bullshit. Dune is a teenage boy's fantasy of being all-knowing and all-powerful; Paul Atreides becomes the ruler of the universe after boring us senseless with repeated acts of fascist terrorism. Herbert's book is no more sophisticated than the daydreams you see at sites like the Erotic Mind-Control Story Archive. Why are so many readers so indulgent of Herbert for doing what the EMCA writers do just as badly but at least without so much tiresome pretentiousness? If I've got to watch some dickhead jerking off (which admittedly is sometimes funny to see), I don't want it to involve hundreds of pages of pompous pseudoscience and tacky mysticism, all coagulating around a singularly unappetizing Osama bin Laden fantasy. Herbert has written a childish hate letter to his homeland, and it's high time someone called him on this. Yes, I know that as an American with an interest in literature I'm supposed to bow to all attacks on our Evil Empire. I also know that I'm supposed to feel we got what was coming to us on September 11, and that I'm supposed to think Herbert is a prophet for writing a novel glamorizing local resistance to our greedy imperialism-on-behalf-of-the-oil-interests. But while I'm definitely not some flag-waving Republican (my political viewpoint is far to the left of anything the Democrats offer), I don't see why we should forget that the victims of Osama Atreides are real people, with real bones being torn apart and real lungs and kidneys being shredded by shrapnel. Dune is a dishonest book, playing a dishonest game with all of us, and somebody needs to have the courage to come out and say it."           

 

3 – Wallace Stevens:  In Parentheses 

From an essay on modern architecture in a New Zealand literary journal: 

"(Does anyone read Wallace Stevens anymore? I ask out of genuine curiosity, since I hope the answer is yes.)"