Twitter Fiction

Interesting article  on Salon.com by Barry Yourgrau about the literay rage in Japan, keitai shosetsu or the cellphone novel– and its cultural analog in the States, Twitter fiction.  The article is titled, Call Me Ishmael.  The End.  Clever.

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Dan Neil: Pulitzer Prize-winning… Auto Critic?

Click to read articles by Dan Neil

One of the best things about living in LA has been my discovery of Dan Neil.  I doubt I would’ve ever read the LA Times if I hadn’t lived here and I would’ve probably never heard of him, if not for the fact that he won the Pulitzer Prize in 2004 for his weekly column, “Rumble Seat.”

Dan Neil’s articles are less about the cars he reviews than they are about his exuberant writing (for me, at least).  It’s witty; it’s fun, and refreshingly unselfconscious.   Don’t get me wrong.  His mastery and knowledge of cars is impeccable.  All of the vital information is there:  horsepower, handling, styling, specs, etc.  Yet each article has it’s own personality.    Dan Neil’s talent lies in his ability to translate the essence (or soul, if you will) of each automobile to his readers.

For example, here’s an excerpt from a recent review of the 2009 Cadillac CTS-V:

“For starters, there is a 6.2-liter Corvette-ish engine under the hood, supercharged to within a hairy inch of its life. This engine does not produce a mellow flutter, a deep sonorous rumble, a seismic stirring like that of some distant underground fault. No. This engine screams like it’s got its hand on the stove. It howls. It whines like the Season 1 DVD collection of “The View.” Good Lord, somebody stop throwing those crows in the wood-chipper.”

Do you get an idea of what this car is all about?  I thought so.

A Pulitzer Prize-winning auto critic in Los Angeles: it just makes sense doesn’t it?

Andrew Sullivan: Why I Blog

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Andrew Sullivan has written an inspiring piece in The Atlantic about the rising stature of the blogosphere and why blogging has ushered in a “golden age” of journalism.  One key concept that leads him to this conclusion:  immediate accountability.

“To blog is therefore to let go of your writing in a way, to hold it at arm’s length, open it to scrutiny, allow it to float in the ether for a while, and to let others, as Montaigne did, pivot you toward relative truth. A blogger will notice this almost immediately upon starting. Some e-mailers, unsurprisingly, know more about a subject than the blogger does. They will send links, stories, and facts, challenging the blogger’s view of the world, sometimes outright refuting it, but more frequently adding context and nuance and complexity to an idea. The role of a blogger is not to defend against this but to embrace it. He is similar in this way to the host of a dinner party. He can provoke discussion or take a position, even passionately, but he also must create an atmosphere in which others want to participate.”

The most visceral aspect of blogging is the fact that the distance between author and reader is virtually nil.  Scary, but at the same time, exhilarating.

Malcolm Gladwell: Prodigies and Late Bloomers

Paul Cezanne - Self Portrait

Malcolm Gladwell’s new article in The New Yorker, “Late Bloomers: Why do we equate genius with precocity?,” tackles the misconceptions of the late bloomer and how one differs from a prodigy. Using Cézanne and Picasso as examples of each, respectively, Gladwell explores the marked difference between them:

“On the road to great achievement, the late bloomer will resemble a failure: while the late bloomer is revising and despairing and changing course and slashing canvases to ribbons after months or years, what he or she produces will look like the kind of thing produced by the artist who will never bloom at all. Prodigies are easy. They advertise their genius from the get-go. Late bloomers are hard. They require forbearance and blind faith.”

In the article, Gladwell also studies the “overnight” literary successes of authors Ben Fountain and Jonathan Safran Foer. This article seems to tie-in with Gladwell’s new book, “Outliers: The Story of Success.” The Gladwell pastiche is well established: take a complex phenomenon and make it accessible by illustrating it with a series of bite-sized human-interest profiles. It’s a straightforward approach that works because of Gladwell’s fluid engaging style.

Feature on Internet Trolls in NYT Magazine

Mattathias Schwartz has written a fascinating article for the New York Times Magazine about Internet trolls, titled “The Trolls Among Us.” Internet trolls have been a part of the Internet since the days of Usenet groups.  Some would argue that Trolls are a malevolent scourge in cyberspace that prey on the innocent, the unsuspecting, and the naïve, like a roving band of scalp hunters, morally bankrupt and cruel.  Some trolls argue (as one does in this article) that they a merely carrying on the traditions of classic gadflies, such as Socrates and Jesus, and trickster gods, like Loki or Kali.

While it’s easy to dismiss trolls as capriciously juvenile, Schwartz does a good job exploring the greater sociological questions as they relate to the troll phenomenon:

“Does free speech tend to move toward the truth or away from it? When does it evolve into a better collective understanding? When does it collapse into the Babel of trolling, the pointless and eristic game of talking the other guy into crying “uncle”? Is the effort to control what’s said always a form of censorship, or might certain rules be compatible with our notions of free speech?

One promising answer comes from the computer scientist Jon Postel, now known as “god of the Internet” for the influence he exercised over the emerging network. In 1981, he formulated what’s known as Postel’s Law: “Be conservative in what you do; be liberal in what you accept from others…  Trolls embody the opposite principle. They are liberal in what they do and conservative in what they construe as acceptable behavior from others. You, the troll says, are not worthy of my understanding; I, therefore, will do everything I can to confound you.”

It’s interesting food for thought.  Is troll behavior more than simply being mean-for-meanness sake?  Are they challenging the limits of acceptable social mores?  Or are they the unfettered amplification of the innate misanthropy that resides in all of us?  Like all good reporting, this piece generates many more questions than it answers.

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Blogcritics Magazine

My book-pairing review of Thomas L. Friedman’s, From Beirut to Jerusalem and Gary Shteyngart’s Absurdistan has been published on BlogCritics.org.

Blogcritics is described as “a sinister cabal of superior writers.” They feature an exhaustive amount of reviews on pretty much anything you can get your hands on: Books, Movies, TV Shows, Video Games, etc. I will be writing more reviews for Blogcritics from time to time.

Please check Blogcritics out by clicking the link below.

Junot Díaz on Grand Theft Auto IV

I haven’t purchased this game yet because, as the new more responsible version of myself, I haven’t wanted to pony up for a XBOX 360 or PS3 and, more truthfully, there isn’t enough room in my life for my marriage, fatherhood, my job, this blog, and GTA IV. Vice City and San Andreas took up significantly large enough chunks out of my life to know what I’d be getting into with GTA IV. With age comes the knowledge to know when to quit while you’re ahead.

However, I do fear that I’m missing a relevant cultural phenomenon. This article by Junot Díaz in the Wall Street Journal explores the cultural impact GTA IV and finds it wanting. GTA IV, he argues, is not the video game generation’s “The Godfather.” It’s not even its “Scarface.”

“GTA IV for all its awesomeness doesn’t have the sordid bipolar humanity of “The Sopranos,” and it certainly lacks the epic flawed protagonists that define “The Godfather” and its bloodier lesser brother “Scarface.” Successful art tears away the veil and allows you to see the world with lapidary clarity; successful art pulls you apart and puts you back together again, often against your will, and in the process reminds you in a visceral way of your limitations, your vulnerabilities, makes you in effect more human. Does GTA IV do that? Not for me it doesn’t, and heck, I love this damn game.”

Despite GTA IV’s cultural and narrative shortcomings, Díaz recognizes this platforms potential and relishes in the belief that the next truly transformative video game is on its way. Díaz quotes “The Six Million Dollar Man,” by saying, “we have the technology.” I’m wont to agree. It’s a no-brainer. With GTA IV’s box office success, $500 million worldwide in its first week, top narrative talent (like Díaz, perhaps) will inevitably find its way into the video game industry. Maybe it’s time for a console upgrade.

Photo illustration by Sergio Capursi/WSJ; Rockstar Games (stills); iStockphoto (frame, nail)

(Thanks for the link, jdlrm.)

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