Wednesday, 08 August 2012

The world's most difficult books? The Guardian responds to the Million's list of the most difficult books, and to be frank, the results are underwhelming. Here is what the Millions managed: Nightwood, Djuna Barnes A Tale of a Tub, Jonathan Swift The Phenomenology of the Spirit, Hegel To The Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf Clarissa, Samuel Richardson Finnegans Wake, James Joyce Being and Time, Martin Heidegger The Fairie Queene, Edmund Spenser The Making of Americans, Gertrude Stein Women and Men, Joseph McElroy Granted, like all lists, this one is shit. Its flaws include, but aren't limited to the fact that it has a size fetish, the fictional works are entirely in English, and the philosophical works are philosophical works and so why should they count? I'd scratch Being and Time and The Phenomenology of the Spirit off on that account, and add The Guardian's suggested amendments: Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow and David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest. But the amended list is still problematic, because I'm not sure anyone finds To The Lighthouse a difficult read, and Women and Men is only difficult inasmuch as it's been out-of-print for so long a paperback copy will cost you $180. McElroy's Plus is a far more difficult novel, because it's narrated from the perspective of an ornery satellite. (And it'll only run you $187.90.) Maybe it's because of my unusual graduate school career path, but of the novels listed only The Making of Americans, Nightwood, Finnegans Wake and Gravity's Rainbow seem to me to be genuinely difficult novels. Except they're not really that difficult for the people who read them, because the people who read densely poetic world-building novels do so because enjoy doing so. I know that Gravity's Rainbow isn't for everyone, but there's a subset of the reading population for whom it's very much for. I'd have no qualms, for example, recommending it to someone who's obsessed over Infinite Jest. A better list of the world's most difficult books would expand its purview to "the world," and it would be comprised of books that people who love difficult books find difficult, instead of ones that people who don't do. I'd suggest adding: Appleseed, John Clute Dhalgren, Samuel Delany JR, William Gaddis The Tunnel, William Gass Anything in German or Chinese, Because SEK Can't Read German or Chinese My list isn't exhaustive, either, but at least it suggests that The Glass Bead Game might be tremendously complex or The Man Without Qualities can match Clarissa page-for-page. Since my list is a list and, as stated above, all lists are shit, I invite you to give me the what-for in the comments.
Forest? What forest? All I see is trees. The vehemence with which a conservative denies the veracity of this particular advertisement is directly proportional to their awareness that it speaks to the truth that occupies their nightmares: that so many millions of people will genuinely benefit from the Affordable Care Act that it’ll become increasingly difficult to elect Republicans. The brown people who once populated their nightmares have been replaced by roaming hordes of healthy Americans who appreciate the legislation that saved their lives. These people will pull the lever for Democratic candidates because they feel indebted to the party. But they’re even more frightened by another group of people: those who have lost loved ones due to dropped coverage or lifetime limits. Why? Because it’s impossible to defend a system in which corporations invest in the deaths of their clients to the relatives of the deceased. Rationing works according to a terrible but understandable rationale: “You must die so that others may live.” But the current system works according to a singularly grim calculation: “You must die so that others might profit.” That’s not a winning argument and those responding to this advertisement know it. They need to transform its message into something palatable. For example: Knowing what we know now about the timeline of all this, what’s left of the accusation in the original smear ad? What is it, precisely, that Bain is being faulted for doing or not doing? They shouldn’t have closed down the plant because it was unfair to expect the workers who were laid off to ever find new jobs with insurance? It was negligent not to predict that some workers’ wives might get laid off too and wouldn’t find a new job for years before they became ill? There appears to be no actual policy or business critique here. There only “appears to be no policy or business critique” because someone’s afraid that confronting it will remind people of the substantial policy and business critiques that are always at play: that relying on an insurance system that’s only affordable when partially subsidized by an employer leads to a situation in which chronic unemployment is tantamount to a death sentence. They can’t even bring up that fact to refute it without ending up defending an untenable argument. So they deflect: Romney left Bain’s day-to-day operations two years before the evil plant closing. The plant was in financial trouble before Bain ever got involved. Because if they focus on the specific facts presented in this particular argument they might not be compelled to defend the current system on principle. They might be able to avoid the unpleasant truth that the emotional appeal of the advertisement comes from the manner in which it militates the facts of a life against the callousness of a corporate culture. Remove Bain from the equation and the appeal is no less effective. Conservatives know and fear this: they know that they’ll be running against stories like this and they know that the only humane response to them is...

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