Tuesday November 08, 2011
Fifty Years Later, The Hamster Wheel Answers Philip Roth
“The American writer in the middle of the 20th century has his hands full in trying to understand, describe, and then make credible much of American reality. It stupefies, it sickens, it infuriates, and finally it is an embarrassment to one's own meager imagination. The actuality is constantly outdoing our talents, and the culture tosses up figures almost daily that are the envy of any novelist.”
Philip Roth wrote that in his essay “Writing American Fiction” back in the early 1960s, and only the most blinkered among us would think that things haven't gotten worse. Our current national talents haven't outdone the writers of that period (Roth, Mailer, Baldwin, Capote), while the figures our culture tosses up have only gotten more ridiculous. Roth's examples include Charles Van Doren, Roy Cohn, David Schine and Dwight David Eisenhower, while our current culture tosses up (but not out, never out) Sarah Palin, Donald Trump, Kim Kardashian, Michael Jackson, Michele Bachmann, “The Situation,” Herman Cain, Rick Perry or just, fuck, really anyone running for the 2012 presidential nomination on the GOP ticket. Dwight David Eisenhower is a mountain of sanity in comparison. Put it this way: What Roth rejected as ridiculous? That's what we yearn for.
No one I know has figured out how to properly deal with this gap between reality and the unimaginably idiotic and surreal characters who dominate our culture.
A brilliant solution. Roth suggested such a solution back in the early 1960s but we were too blind to see it:
“Whatever else the television debates produced in me, I should point out, as a literary curiosity, they also produced professional envy. All the machinations over make-up and rebuttal time, all the business over whether Mr. Nixon should look at Mr. Kennedy when he replied, or should look away—all of it was so beside the point, so fantastic, so weird and astonishing, that I found myself beginning to wish I had invented it. But then, of course, one need not have been a fiction writer to wish that someone had invented it, and that it was not real and with us.”
Question: What current American figure do you wish was merely a brilliant satiric character from Sasha Baron Cohen?
Question II: When our current crazies talk their crazy talk, shouldn't we treat them as “The Hamster Wheel,” an Australian comedy show dealing with the media, treated Lord Monckton? As a proper joke? As a Sasha Baron Cohen character?
Again: brilliant, brilliant, brilliant.