Saturday, 23 June 2007

Thought-in-Process: Wharton's "The Descent of Man," Part III (Previous installments: Part I, Part II) Further rationalizations follow: his colleagues "would see the tongue in his cheek" (318); since the book was already in print, he was "caught ... in the toils of that mysterious engine," such that "if he had had time to think the matter over, his scruples might have dragged him back; but his conscience was eased by the futility of resistance" (318). His personal disavowals matter less, however, in light of the fact that he has promised not to reveal his insincerity to the public. He "descends" from the ranks of the professional scientist into those of the professional fraud, since he willingly peddles in pseudo-scientific nonsense for profit. It is not of the earth-shattering variety Darwin described, but a moral descent to which the title refers. But it resonates socially, too, via the crass advertising campaign Harviss orchestrates: Weeks in advance the great commander had begun to form his lines of attack. Allusions to the remarkable significance of the coming work had appeared first in the scientific and literary reviews, spreading thence to the supplements of the daily journals. Not a moment passed without a quickening touch to the public consciousness: seventy millions of people were forced to remember at least once a day that Professor Linyard's book was on the verge of appearing. Slips emblazoned with the question: Have you read "The Vital Thing"? fell from the pages of popular novels and whitened the floors of crowded street-cars. The query, in large lettering, assaulted the traveler at the railway bookstall, confronted him on the walls of "elevated" stations, and seemed, in its ascending scale, about to supplant the interrogations as to soap and stove-polish which animate our rural scenery. Given the title, the language of ascent here is telling: the newly elevated stations as one sign of debased modernity; the billboards destroying the same scenic views which initially inspired Linyard (in the indirectly roundabout way Nature does in American literature) another. To the writer of The Decoration of Houses (1897) and Italian Villas and Their Gardens (1904), these intrusions of crass modern and marketing culture into city and country alike suggest that "ascent" carries as much ironic heft as its obverse here. Linyard's descent is enabled by the ascent of an unaesthetic modernity, one more concerned with money than the taste with which is it spent, with moving from one place to another than the landscape traveled over. The cumulative effect of this unthinking is vitiating. Under the handling of the first reviewer, The Vital Thing's "emancipated fallacies ... [were] made up admirably as truths, and their author began to understand Harviss's regret that they should be used for any less profitable purpose" (319). The first reviewer "set the pace," the others followed, "finding it easier to let their critical man-of-all-work play a variation on the first reviewer's theme than to secure an expert to 'do' the book afresh" (319). In a culture in which thinking what everyone else thinks matters more than...
My Critique Company My name and email address somehow made it onto one of those lists of gullible publishers desperate writers buy from despicable opportunists. Many of the emails I receive are tragically misguided, like the men unsuccessfully shopping his book on how to get published. Others are plain tragic, like the women who write "I have been writing this novel of my autobiographical experiences with ovarian, breast, brain and left-leg cancer, and I have two daughters who will need its proceeds when I die, &c." I only mock because the two times I've Googled the names and/or email addresses of these folk I found them happy and hale in many a online forum. Today I received a pitch from someone who took the trouble to prescreen his manuscript through a "Critique Company." I appreciate the effort, as it saves me the trouble of having to submit his manuscript to my own Critique Company before I publish this sure-fire best-seller. How could I distrust this incisive, erudite critique: This is an amazing manuscript! Many, many readers will benefit from this material! Thank you for writing this manuscript! This will be a huge success! I do wish you luck with this endeavor! However, you will not need luck! You have an awesome manuscript, and a special gift with words! What with seriousness of thought being directly proportional to the ratio of exclamation points per sentence, only a fool would balk at the opportunity to publish an awesome manuscript written by someone with a special gift with words! They learned to appreciate this ratio sometime since 16 May! (Not that is seems to have helped matters much!) I have contacted the sender of this email and asked him for information about his Critique Company! Mine always scowls! (And without exclamation points! How stupendously unserious!)

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