Wednesday, May 2, 2007

And We Thought We Were Snarky

The latest New Yorker has an informative and entertaining article by Dana Goodyear about the Brazilian writer Paulo Coelho, a writer I haven't read but about whom I've wondered: how do you say that last name? (co-EL-yoo) When customers at the bookstore looked for copies of The Alchemist I could only say, Oh, yes, the book by... that guy. I did look it up, several times, but it didn't take.

Anyway, he seems to be an inspirational/allegorical writer who writes things like "When you want something, the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it" (ahem -- still no letterpress). Goodyear quotes a Brazilian critic and history professor named Mário Maestri about Coelho, and it's a quote so good I'm going to repeat it here:
In spite of belonging to different genres, Coelho's narratives and self-help books have the same fundamental effect: of anesthetizing the alienated consciousness through the consoling reaffirmation of conventions and prevailing prejudices. Fascinated by his discoveries, the Coelhist reader explores the familiar, breaks down doors already open, and gets mired in sentimental, tranquilizing, self-centered, conformist, and spellbinding visions of the world that imprisons him. When he finishes a book, he wants another that will be different but absolutely the same.
The most intriguing word here is "conformist," a word we in the US generally don't use in conjunction with words like "sentimental, self-centered" and "spellbinding" -- adjectives that we might apply to New-Agey writing -- because we still think of New-Agey stuff as being nonconformist. It isn't. Like any fashion, it adheres to its own cliches.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

In the past I've found it hard to fobb off the recommendations to read those books. They look awful to me and I hate anything self-helpy (although there is one called S.U.M.O which stands for Suck it Up and Move On which I think is a great title) but the people that recommend The Alchemist et al are like Born Agains in their devotion, so it's difficult to tell them to get lost. However, now I think I'll just give them that excerpt and be done with it...