The Joys of Dissent

Shit, it’s been a while.  Since I last posted, Elena Ferrante’s been unmasked, Kim Kardashian’s been robbed, and Brangelina has been pronounced dead on arrival (little airplane joke there).  When I came to look at the date of my last post just now, I felt so guilty that I decided I simply must put something up now.  But the problem is I don’t have a ton to say.  Well, here’s one thing: everyone knows I’m something of a contrarian, right?  Maybe this was a personality trait that excited me in the past, but in recent years, it’s proven more annoying than anything else.  If only I could get on board the zeitgeist train, I could write anodyne personal essays about ending the stigma (surrounding anything) and not worry that I’m harsh!

I don’t know if that’s going to happen anytime soon, though.  In the meantime, I’ll just have to find a little joy in reading negative reviews of books everyone else in the world adored.  Case in point: a review of When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanathi in the London Review of Books.  WBBA was gushed over by basically every literary critic and human in the United States, but writer Thomas Laqueur was meh on the whole thing.

“It’s time to confess the obvious: I wasn’t deeply moved by this book.  But it isn’t easy to explain why.  the first thing that comes to mind is that I find the author pompous, and, whether a true or a faux naif, egomaniacally self-conscious in his search for meaning… A larger problem is that Kalanathi isn’t very good at writing.  Having done so little of it, why should he be?  As Julian Barnes wrote in his introduction to Daudet’s memoir, dying doesn’t make someone a better writer, or a worse one for that matter.”

This made a lot of sense to me because of my longstanding aversion to our immediate embrace of suffering narrators (because pain doesn’t make you smarter, necessarily, but it does mean people feel less justified in critiquing you, even when that criticism is deserved, which results in a lot of thoughtless applause).  But it also reminded me of the extended period of time I spent in my mid-twenties working with someone terminally ill (who is now deceased), I was always half-anticipating a big life epiphany, courtesy of the Sick Person, every day, but most of the time it was just the usual drudgery and the Sick Person remained their flawed, human self, right up to the very end.

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