Thursday, January 11, 2007

New Harper's

There's lots of interesting stuff in the February Harper's -- not the least of which is a story by Alice Munro. Whoa! I've been watching her stuff like a hawk since about 1989, and I don't think she's ever been in Harper's before. Does that mean the story was rejected by the New Yorker? They don't take everything of hers, nutty and depressing as that may seem (if they reject her, the rest of us might as well close up our lemonade stands and go home). I think I saw AM in the Atlantic, before they quit publishing fiction, and I read a marvelous something of hers in the Guardian magazine this summer.

But I'm saving that for later. Jonathan Lethem has an intriguing, if excessively clever, essay on plagiarism (it's plagiarized!) and Ian Jack, soon-to-be-ex-editor of Granta, asks why so many young novelists feel the need to thank page after page of people in the back of their books. (His idea is that writing has become a collaborative effort these days; I would argue instead that's it's all about a growing sense that publishing is a fancy cocktail party you should be grateful you got invited too -- and if you don't write your thank you notes, you can forget about another invitation.)

I also really enjoyed reading the Notebook (which used to be where Lewis Lapham posted his crazy/brilliant screeds) which is by Barbara Ehrenreich this month. Listening to her promote her new book on NPR, I thought she'd gone all soft (it's about "collective joy," which I don't doubt exists, but which I certainly can't vouch for) but no: she's as acerbic and smart as ever. The most recent NYT Magazine has an article on a new academic discipline: "Positive Psychology," which instead of focusing on problems and pathology, teaches students ways to be happy, like taking yoga and volunteering. Though I certainly don't want to knock volunteering (or yoga) I found the whole thing disturbing for reasons I couldn't quite put a finger on, but to my relief Ehrenreich does it for me.
But what is truly sinister about the positivity cult is that it seems to reduce our tolerance of other people's suffering...If no one will listen to my problems, I won't listen to theirs: "no whining," as the popular bumper stickers and wall plaques warn. Thus the cult acquires a viral-like reproductive energy, creating an empathy deficit that pushes ever more people into a harsh insistence on positivity in others.

The older I get, the more I admire bad-ass middle-aged ladies.

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