Sunday, December 05, 2004

The final episode of Booknotes!

The guest is Mark Edmundson, the author of "Why Read?" He is a professor of English at the University of Virginia.

Nice, now they are showing a clip from a tour of Shelby Foote's house. He was the guy with the southern accent from the Civil War show on PBS. Foote is saying that when he has a stretch of free time he rereads Proust. I think he must be talking about "The Remembrance of Things Past" but I'm not sure. He showed the back cover of the book, where he signs the date every time he finishes reading it. Damn, he has read it 9 times. It's 3000 pages.

Edmundson on Thoreau, "There is no writer who knows more about the perils of consumerism."

He just gave a good defense of allowing students to say racist and homophobic things in class. He said that he thinks a lot of right-wing Rush Limbaugh type conservatism comes from the fact that students don't feel comfortable saying those type of things in class, especially because teachers and professors tend to be liberal. So what happens is that those ideas just fester because they never get a chance to see the light of day. I think that's a good point. In a lot of ways it is probably better to encourage people put to their offensive opinions in the field of discussion sooner rather than later.

Interesting, this guy says he usually reads lying down. Also, he is wearing a leather blazer.

He just said his son is the best blues guitar improvisor that he knows, because his son just "lets it fly," and that this inspires him to be more improvisational when he writes. So that's a neat idea, that a father could admit to being inspired by his son.

Brian Lamb is so straightforward and sans bullshit its amazing. Ha, which is funny, because he just asked a question about why authors throw in phrases from other languages that a lot of readers won't know. He was basically implying that authors just do that to show how smart they are. But I just threw that in because there was a kid in my high school who used to say "sans" ("without" in French) and it would always crack me up. "Dude, I'm sans paper, can you lend me a piece."

Now Edmundson is saying that the vast majority of students feel like politics is a big sham and that every politician is the same as the next. Which is interesting, because that's exactly what my younger brother, a junior in college, says. And it is just too skeptical a view for my taste. I know that there is a lot of bullshit in politics, but there is no denying that a lot of important things get accomplished through politics. To dismiss the whole thing as a sham is to consciously reject one of the most effective avenues for positive social change.

When you think about it, the people who think politics is a sham usually think that is because they think that politicians are drunk on power and corporate money. But both of those things prove exactly how crucial politics is. Those "corrupt" men and women wouldn't want those positions if they didn't actually provide genuine power; and corporations wouldn't give all that money if it didn't actually influence things in the direction they wanted. So it is extremely counterproductive for young people who are skeptical of politics to refuse to interest themselves in it, because by doing so they cede all that influence to the very people they are complaining are corrupt.

So I guess the upshot is, it's okay to think politics is a sham, but that should make you more interested in following it, not less. Its not good policy to turn your attention away from the parts of life that are riddled with immorality simply because those parts of life are ugly to look at.

Great clip of Cornell West: "If you are really going to live life intensely then something in you aught to die every day, some bad habit, some pretension..."

Another great clip of Milton Friedman, talking about how "well meaning people who want the best for the world often make choices that have the opposite effect," an idea which he is taking from a book by F.A. Hayek called "The Road to Serfdom." That book sounds sweet.

Wow, so that is the end of Booknotes. I can't believe it just ended like that. 800 episodes, and no sappy montage, no "I hope you had the time of your life" by Green Day. Not even a final statement by Brian Lamb. It's pretty awesome when you think about it. There couldn't have been less drama.

One thing I love about Booknotes is the way Brain Lamb asks questions like "What town were you born in?" and "Where did you go to high school?" Questions like these make you realize that in most interviews people are treated purely in terms of what they are famous for. Writers are asked deep questions about language and art and style; an athlete is asked about what it's like to have thousands of people cheering for her, or to sit on the bench during a big game. But when Brian Lamb asks someone something like "Where were you born?" he is putting the spotlight on their common humanity. They cease to be a star or a pundit on a plane apart from everyday people. And that is something you almost never see in the media, because it is exactly the extraordinary qualities of people that makes viewers tune in. Media outlets have a vested interest in creating superstars, and conversely, don't really stand to benefit from treating people like typical human beings. So good people are made to look better than they are, and bad people are made to look worse. So god bless C-SPAN and Brian Lamb for having the guts to dwell on the ordinary, and for making an effort to show that famous people are human beings too.

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