crazy like a human

A couple of links that struck me (one was supposed to be in the last post, but it slipped my mind).

1. "English teacher: I was wrong about Hunger Games"

The headline is deceptive (intentionally, I'm sure), since Hunger Games is not re-evaluated, but another (much more "literary") novel called The Art of Fielding is. The piece is not, unfortunately, any re-evaluation of the whole paradigm of "literary" and "non-literary" genres, but at least it acknowledges that quality doesn't reside just on one side of the imaginary border. Plus there's a really hilarious "literary" description of a blow job.

2. I can't comment on the new Batman movie, because I haven't seen it and probably won't until it's on DVD, but this article was interesting: "Anne Hathaway Is the Best Catwoman Yet." I particularly noticed this part:

The movie is an illustration of both the virtue of making a tough female character something other than the casualty of the sorts of violence and misery particular to women, and of abandoning origin stories altogether in superhero movies.

This is such a cliche, and it's always annoyed me. Lisbeth Salander is a great character, but she's not great because we learn how she was abused and so on. She's a great character in the first book, before we learn any of that, and learning it later on doesn't make her any better.

This is why I've never specified any reason for the fact that starling is crazy and violent, and I've always made it as clear as I could that she was not abused in any way, and she has no particular grudge against men. She's crazy in some sort of human way, not in any way that's related to the fact that she's a woman.

And Stevie One may not have had a perfect upbringing, but it was pretty good, and she does what she does because of a genuine desire to be useful, to live up to her idea of herself as a person (to paraphrase Nero Wolfe), not because of anything bad that happened to her in the past.

3) There's a pretty good article about Prometheus in the current New York Review of Books. I can't link to it because it's not online, at least not yet. If they post it later, I'll come back and link to it. I did like the comment, "...the female archeologist (Noomi Rapace) wears a cross around her neck in order to bring the 'question' of religion into the picture without actually having to discuss it..." which is pretty much how the picture deals wiith all of the "big questions" it raises and then runs away from.

4) When I was checking if the Prometheus review was posted I did find this: "Does Money Make Us Write Better?" by Tim Parks, whose blog posts I've linked to before. I will comment on his post if I can manage to figure out how the commeting system works over there, particularly this:

Today, of course, aspiring writers go to creative writing schools and so already have feedback from professionals. Many of them will self-publish short stories on line and receive comments from unknown readers through the web. Yet I notice on the few occasions when I have taught creative writing courses that this encouragement, professional or otherwise, is never enough.

My experience, over these last 40+ years, has been very different.


Later: I finally figured out their commenting system, and here is the comment I left:

I don't think it makes much sense to generalize about 21st century writers based on one unnamed Renaissance artist.

Nor is it valid to generalize (as in the fifth paragraph) about all writers based on the people who take creative writing courses. Many writers write quite happily without a publishing contract (and sometimes without creative writing courses). I've been doing it for a few decades now.

This is a very interesting and complex question, and answering it would take a lot of research, not just anecdotal evidence. For example, a connection is drawn in the Christina Stead example, but it's not proved. There is correlation, but was there causation? That would be interesting to know, but we don't seem to know it now, other than what Randall Jarrell feels.

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4 Responses to crazy like a human

  1. The first one is indeed misleading, and it’s pretty low-brow, IMO. The author has clearly not re-evaluated Hunger Games (and in fact, gives the title no further thought, which leads one to conclude that the author’s opinion of it is still quite low), but instead is a re-evaluation of a critically-acclaimed “literary” novel (i.e. The Art of Fielding), with the final analysis being that said literary novel is sub-par, and effectively on the same level as Hunger Games. It’s not building HG up, it’s tearing someone else down.

    And it’s a pretty myopic analysis, in the end. Where it identifies weaknesses in the “liteary” title, it never goes back to analyze whether those weaknesses are met with strengths in the previously-derided title. For instance, it dismisses the plot-centric model of HG as “What does Katniss want and how does she go about getting it?” But when the author found that Fielding had inscrutable characters who behave in ways that aren’t congruous with the way real people behave, he never re-evaluates HG to say: well, at least these characters behave in a way that makes sense given their circumstances. He pines for a literary novel with interesting character explorations with “complex relationships”. But how is “what does protagonist want, and how does he/she get it?” not an exploration of character?

    All in all… a forgettably poor execution of literary comparison, IMO. (It’s not my purpose to build up Hunger Games, here. But this author’s errant dismissal should’ve had more substance to it. That it so clearly lacks such substance is, to me, telling.)

    I found the article on whether money affects writing to be intriguing, but I was disappointed in it. It missed some pretty important research that has been done in the past several decades on the influence of money as a motivator for improving the quality of work.

    This is something I’ve studied some in my MBA. Obviously, a lot of that research has been done in the terms of “how do you get employees to perform well?” But it’s instructive outside of that context as well. The key take-away from that research is that money is what’s called a “De-motivator”. This doesn’t mean that giving someone money de-motivates them, but rather that an insufficient remuneration will tend to de-motivate. Once you’ve crossed a certain threshold of sufficiently equitable pay, increasing pay does not lead to improved motivation or results. Below that threshold, however, you will see motivation and results impaired.

    Money, in fact, is only part of the equation. There are some powerful motivators that will lead people to greater performance, and these are mostly related to self-esteem, self-worth, and opportunities to advance one’s career.

    All of which is subjective.

    Which suggests that evidence of writers who produce high-quality work in the absence of financial incentive does not invalidate the idea that a financial incentive can be an important part of the equation. Rather, such authors are motivated more strongly by some of the other positive motivators to a degree that it overrides the demotivating factor of the absence of financial incentive. Once you add that financial incentive, however, you change the balance of the equation and the psychology of the writer: what once you might’ve done for free you now might only do for a certain minimum level of perceived “fair” pay.

    This ties back to the article in the sense that as pay for professional writers has taken a hit, we may have seen a correlative decrease in the quality of work produced by those professionals. But it doesn’t then follow that paying them more will necessarily lead to an improvement of quality, because there are other factors at work.

  2. Interesting to bring the “corporate” model into play here (the effect of different levels of pay on job peformance). That hadn’t occurred to me, but it’s a very interesting analogy, and, as you point out, it’s based on actual research, unlike the NYRB blog post.

    “what once you might’ve done for free you now might only do for a certain minimum level of perceived ‘fair’ pay.” Very true. I have a friend who’s a professional writers, and he never writes unless there’s money in the equation. He’s spent the last couple of years working on a novel and I know he’s aiming toward getting it published by a major. If that doesn’t work, I don’t imagine he’ll self-publish unless he has a pretty good idea he’ll make significant money that way.

  3. Yeah, there’s a lot of overlap between business/HR type research and sociological and psychological research, because the latter sciences will (or should, that is, because too often they don’t) influence and inform how businesses make decisions like this.

  4. Pingback: reporting on the world, writing on the screen » Anthony Lee Collins

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