Neal Stephenson

15 February 2005 at 21:11 Leave a comment

I belatedly discovered this interview with Neal Stepenson at slashdot and loved it. Especially his bit about Beowulf writers and Dante writers. I have my own bifurcated system: writers and authors. Never having read Stephenson I don’t know where he falls, but in my system an author is someone who loves writing more than being published – someone who feels they have something to say and is compelled to say it in writing. A writer is all about getting published – they’ll write whatever sells.

In any case, this article is a good read. And I need to read one of his books! This bit is brilliant:

The relationship between that critical apparatus and Beowulf writers is famously awkward and leads to all sorts of peculiar misunderstandings. Occasionally I’ll take a hit from a critic for being somehow arrogant or egomaniacal, which is difficult to understand from my point of view sitting here and just trying to write about whatever I find interesting. To begin with, it’s not clear why they think I’m any more arrogant than anyone else who writes a book and actually expects that someone’s going to read it. Secondly, I don’t understand why they think that this is relevant enough to rate mention in a review. After all, if I’m going to eat at a restaurant, I don’t care about the chef’s personality flaws—I just want to eat good food. I was slagged for entitling my latest book “The System of the World” by one critic who found that title arrogant. That criticism is simply wrong; the critic has completely misunderstood why I chose that title. Why on earth would anyone think it was arrogant? Well, on the Dante side of the bifurcation it’s implicit that authority comes from the top down, and you need to get in the habit of deferring to people who are older and grander than you. In that world, apparently one must never select a grand-sounding title for one’s book until one has reached Nobel Prize status. But on my side, if I’m trying to write a book about a bunch of historical figures who were consciously trying to understand and invent the System of the World, then this is an obvious choice for the title of the book. The same argument, I believe, explains why the accusation of having a big ego is considered relevant for inclusion in a book review. Considering the economic function of these reviews (explained above) it is worth pointing out which writers are and are not suited for participating in the somewhat hierarchical and political community of Dante writers. Egomaniacs would only create trouble.

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Entry filed under: of interest, writing.

Fat Pancake This is the funniest thing that

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What I’ve been reading:

  • James Boswell, The Life of Samuel Johnson, L.L.D. (London, 14 King William Street, Strand: William P. Nimmo, 1876). 4 years ago
  • Marsilio Ficino, Letters of Marsilio Ficino, v. 3, trans. Language Dept. School of Economic Science, London (New York: Gingko Press, 1985). 4 years ago
  • Italo Calvino, Six Memos for the Next Millennium (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1988). 4 years ago
  • Stephanie Kallos, Broken for You (New York: Grove Press, 2004). 5 years ago
  • Marsilio Ficino, Letters of Marsilio Ficino, v. 2, trans. Language Dept. School of Economic Science, London (New York: Gingko Press, 1985) 5 years ago

T. Anderson Painter

I am a misanthrope. No one ever believes me, but this seems to prove my point.

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