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« Elsewhere | Main | Political Will and Nuclear Waste Storage »

November 23, 2004

More Elsewheres

Fenster Moop writes:

Dear Blowhards,

* Boston Review is running a very astute appreciation of Fenster's dad, Pogo creator Walt Kelly. The article is a review by John Crowley of a multi-volume compendium of Pogo strips published by Fantagraphics Books. These are indeed excellent books for Pogo fans, and would serve as a worthwhile intro for people not familiar with Kelly's work. And Crowley is an astute reader of the goings-on in the swamp.

* There are now too many internet citations for "intellectual diversity" to link to. It was not that long ago--a year ot two, max--that grousing about the lack of ID on college campuses was a niche story. In the recent past, it has busted out pretty well. Here's Google's over 20,000 entries for "intellectual diversity" and "university". Currently, there are about 80,000 Google links to "racial diversity" and "university", and I think a 1:4 ratio is pretty robust for ID to RD, all things considered. I'll be checking the ratio going forward, and I suspect ID will be making more headway. Here's a recent example.

* Slate finds the new JFK assassination video gamecreepy.


No problem there. On the other hand, I couldn't quite believe David Edelstein's near-praise in the magazine for the Sponge Bob movie. I had to go--my kids made me do it. But despite all the hype about Bob's sweet message and his appeal to grown-up sensibilities, this seemed to me a pretty straightforward case of a near-complete lack of talent, imagination and creativity. Other than that, it was fine, meaning my kids loved it.

* It's that time again. No, not Christmas, New Tom Wolfe novel time. Emanations about The Future of the Novel forthcoming. I think someone ought to be taking a scientific look at the politics of Tom Wolfe book reviews. My non-scientific sense is that the Right is giving his sex-crazed book relatively high marks, and vice versa. And here's one view of the college press on the subject--Erica, the female collegiate reviewer, gives Wolfe relatively high marks for verisimilitude. Lock up your daughters!

* Bring back aged sheep to the table! Across the puddle, Prince Charles is calling for a Mutton Renaissance.


To tell the truth, I like mutton myself, though, as Charles suggests, it is kind of hard to find. Despite Charles' echt-British romanticism, I was successful only after I scouted out markets oriented to an Arabic clientele. And if you do the same, a hint: you're better off currying, not boiling in the English style.



posted by Fenster at November 23, 2004


Am I possibly the only one who sees the resemblance between His Majesty and the sheep?

Posted by: Neha on November 23, 2004 7:38 PM

Hmmm, no. The sheep is far more intelligent looing.

Baaaaaad Pattie

Fenster, where have I been? I didn't realize your father was Walt Kelly. I suppose I assumed you were just a big fan of Pogo, too. Pogo and Peanuts are my alltime most favorite comic strips, in that order. What a unique childhood you must have had!

Posted by: Cowtown Pattie on November 23, 2004 11:19 PM

and Pattie rates right up there with Cousin Charlie with the keyboard deletion of a simple "k". Or, perhaps it was a Freudian?

Posted by: Cowtown Pattie on November 23, 2004 11:20 PM

Currently, there are about 80,000 Google links to "racial diversity" and "university", and I think a 1:4 ratio is pretty robust for ID to RD, all things considered.

Usually the diversity mongers don't preface "diversity" with "racial diversity" as it would acknowledge that there are other kinds of diversity.

googling for "diversity" and "university admissions" gives a much more realistic number of 7.13 million hits.

7.13 million/20000 = ratio of about 315:1

that sounds more like it...

Posted by: ljklkj on November 24, 2004 12:06 AM


Ooops, sorry about the confusion. Kelly is only dad in a manner of speaking as Fenster (the little green frog in the swamp) was a Pogo character and Kelly is his (my?) dad in that sense only.


Ah yes . . . a much steeper hill. A long hard slog it'll be then.

Posted by: fenster on November 24, 2004 11:10 AM

I found two of the reviews of Tom Wolfe’s I Am Charlotte Simmons especially interesting; both reviewers, one from the right, and one from, well, from the Washington Post, liked the writing but seemed ambivalent about it as a novel.

Joseph Bottum, in a review of Tom Wolfe's latest in the Weekly Standard ( ), says, in part, this:

"TOM WOLFE is America's greatest living novelist. Kind of. Lord knows, he's got the tools."

"With I Am Charlotte Simmons, Wolfe has produced a solid, well-reported page-turner."

"You wouldn't know it from the early reviews."

"THERE'S AN ENVY to Tom Wolfe's usual run of detractors, of course, but something more than envy--a resentment, an ache, a fury: If I could write like that, a small cat snarls inside each of their heads, I'd . . . I'd change things in this rabid, racist, right-wing world. I'd zola the rich bastards until they burbled for mercy. I'd dickens the corporate polluters until they drowned themselves in their own sick sludge. I'd thackeray, I'd balzac, I'd dostoyevsky everyone who doesn't get it--it, IT, the ineffable IT of political conscience, the mystical rightness that lets a Princeton professor be a revolutionary and, well, a Princeton professor at the same time. God--or Charles Darwin, maybe, or some freak of perverse genetics--put a sword in Tom Wolfe's hands, and the oblivious creep won't use it to smite the ungodly. The man doesn't deserve his sentences. Prose belongs to us, by divine right and right of conquest. And here comes this white-suited fake dandy, this reporter, to set up camp right in the middle of it, like John Ashcroft--or Gary Bauer or, I don't know, Elmer Gantry--buying the prettiest summer house on Martha's Vineyard.

"Besides, he doesn't know what a novel is. Here we get down, if not to the reason for the complaint, then at least to a bone with some meat on it, for Tom Wolfe doesn't, in fact, know what a novel is. That's ridiculous to say, of course. He's written three of them now, each one an automatic bestseller and each one guaranteed to start a national conversation. What more do you need from a book? But there's something else a novel wants to do, some place a novel itself wants to go--some feature a novelist like Saul Bellow can't help incorporating even in a bad book like Ravelstein, and Tom Wolfe can't quite find even in a good book like Bonfire of the Vanities."

". . . necessary to make a novel [is]--a kind of presence that haunts the text and draws it together at a level deeper than plot."

". . . Tom Wolfe can't help but sprawl, and sprawl and sprawl . . . ."

"All of Wolfe's details, the sharp observations snapped out in lightning prose: They want to do something that Charles Dickens could let them do and Tom Wolfe cannot. They want to cohere, they want to inform one another, they want to hook up.

"We could do some deep think here about the cultural and linguistic advantages Dickens had in a Victorian world in which you didn't actually have to deflower your heroines on stage; we've clearly lost some shared social intelligence that once helped the novel along, and the level of naiveté--the level of virginity, for that matter--that I Am Charlotte Simmons needs in its heroine to build an undergraduate bildungsroman probably doesn't exist anymore. But perhaps the point can be made well enough simply by observing that Tom Wolfe is America's greatest living novelist. Kind of."

And Michael Dirda, in a review in the Washington Post ( ), concludes thusly:

"So: sermon, melodrama, dystopian vision -- I Am Charlotte Simmons partakes of all these, and does so stunningly. But it's still as much polemic as novel. One closes the book feeling soiled by its cloacal vision and emotionally manipulated by its author. Rhetoric -- the art of persuasion -- lies at the heart of all writing, but we dislike feeling too overtly manipulated, and works that blatantly force our emotions along precise paths we dub inartistic, mere propaganda or programmatic writing with a social or political agenda. I Am Charlotte Simmons is such a work. I couldn't stop reading it -- who could? This is Tom Wolfe, after all -- but that didn't prevent me from regarding the author's premise, characters and views as hardly more than an ill-tempered, Mrs. Grundy-like rant against reckless youth and this immoral modern age. Tom Wolfe can make words dance and sing and perform circus tricks, he can make the reader sigh with pleasure before his arias of coloratura description, he can do just about anything in these pages with words, including exaggerate, distort and rant."

Posted by: Dave Lull on November 24, 2004 12:55 PM

So, Dave, that's curious: Bottum laments lack of coherent overall idea - i.e., propaganda package (apart from greedy desire to appropriate Wolfe for his own political agenda), and Dirda - the prevalence of it.
Here's another, informal, review of the book - and subsiquent discussion (on the site you'd have to scroll up, not down - I love their design)
Now I'm interested enough to try it myself.

Posted by: Tatyana on November 24, 2004 2:27 PM

Fenster, I'm not sure where you're heading with the part on intellectual diversity -- which reveals that I'm probably not keeping up with the blog as regularly as I should -- but as a liberal, registered Democrat college professor, I have to say that I'm a little irked at the point made in the WSJ link you posted, and I'm wondering what your point is. Where is the evidence that universities hire on the basis of political beliefs? Who says that just because you ARE a liberal, you will be indoctrinating students into a liberal way of thinking?

I teach at a campus with one of the longest histories of liberal/radical attitudes in the country, and I am intensely aware that students who have conservative beliefs, fundamentalist religious beliefs, and so on are greatly outnumbered on my campus, and I work very hard to make sure that those students have a voice in my classroom, feel safe in my classroom, and are not harrassed in any way by those who come from the liberal perspective. I teach a course on young adult literature, in which we spend time at two different points of the course on censorship -- first, from the right, and later, from the left. I am aware that students with fundamentalist beliefs could easily be embarrassed and upset if I let the discussion of conservative censorship get out of hand, and I make a point of espousing their views and pointing out the ways in which they are very reasonable (wanting to protect their children, for example), even though I believe that much of what comes out of the Christian right is *not* reasonable, and censorship goes completely against my beliefs. I have had fundamentalist students express appreciation after class for the ways that I made it okay for them to be in my classroom during that discussion, and the way that I honored their beliefs and positions while we discussed the issue. And when we get to liberal censorship, I am probably harder on that point of view, because to a certain extent I understand it better, than I am on the conservative perspective presented earlier.

Please don't think I'm patting myself on the back here -- the vast majority of my colleagues on this extremely liberal campus do exactly the same thing. Yes, we do have some particularly rabid folks that we hear complaints about from time to time because they are going overboard with their views in the classroom, but that's not a university problem but rather a problem of the individual, and I would argue that you will find those obnoxiously opinionated people in any walk of life, on any side of the fence.

All that said, I find it significant in the article that "many of the Republicans were full professors close to retirement." The university is changing, and that's not a bad thing. From time to time I hear complaints from students about professors who have a "feminist bias," and white male students who just don't hear their perspective in class any more. I will continue to represent their perspective in my classroom, but a part of me says in response, "too bad." For how many centuries was the white male, probably conservative perspective the only game in town? And for the past 20 years or so all of a sudden we're hearing from and about women and minority groups? What a shame, that you have to go to college right now instead of 40 years ago! Or 25 years ago when I was an undergraduate, and a (really quite wonderful) male professor said in a course on the Modern American Novel that he would love to teach a woman's novel in the course, but which novel by a male writer could he possibly leave out?? He honestly couldn't conceive of it.

The tide turns, folks. The pendulum swings, and it swings over to the side of liberalism before it goes back to the middle. That's the way the world works, and in my mind, it's not a terrible problem. Professors who go overboard in espousing a particular point of view and thereby silence their students are taken to task in my university, and they should be. I don't see what the problem is.


Posted by: missgrundy on November 24, 2004 7:22 PM

Miss Grundy:

Sorry about the delay in responding and you may not even find your way back here. It was a long Thanksgiving weekend and I am just now recovering and catching up. You're right to wonder exactly where I was going with my post on intellectual diversity . . . in part, I chose consciously not to use the post to take a strong position and in part because I am a little conflicted myself.

As you seem to be as well! As you start out, you maintain the prevalence of Dems and liberals is of no real educational import, but by the end, you seem happy to run up the flag, and to acknowledge that since the world is turning in your direction, there's no shame to pushing it along a little in class.

I agree more with your latter thinking than your former--i.e., I find it hard to conclude that the lack of ID (or, more correctly, PD, or political diversity) is educationally meaningless. But, as I say, I remain conflicted in other ways, and I just may write a longer post in the near future. Then you'll be free again to knock another chip off my shoulder, and I'll thank you for it.



Posted by: fenster on December 1, 2004 6:05 PM

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