Anathem

ANATHEM
By Neal Stephenson

Anathem is a science-fiction fantasy set in a cosmos parallel to our own where they manage things just a bit differently. For starters, the intellectual classes have hived themselves away from the “saecular” world and live together in “concents” or co-ed monasteries where the chemically neutered “avouts” contemplate all fashion of physics and metaphysics. The slight variation in the language reflects the fact that Arbre isn’t a world apart from ours as much as it is the same place, kind of, occupying a different causal domain or “Hemn space” (what those on Earth who follow such matters know as “configuration space”). These spaces are not hermetically distinct. Indeed the novel’s central premise or “upsight,” as expressed by one of the avout, is that “the Hylaean Flow brings about convergent development of consciousness-bearing systems across worldtracks!”

Still here? Good.

Fresh of the exhausting triumph of his massive Baroque Trilogy, bestselling author Neal Stephenson delves even deeper into religion, physics, philosophy and theories of the mind with Anathem. But at heart it is still a conventional space opera based on that hoariest of SF plots, “first contact.” Are the aliens aboard that orbiting mothership friend or foe? Or both? Or neither? This time only the philosophers know for sure.

In other words, all you Stephenson fans out there still waiting for the next Snow Crash, this is not an action novel. There is an erupting volcano, a planet-destoying death ray called the “World Burner,” and even an elite team of space ninjas fighting in zero gravity, but most of the book is spent in “dialog,” a Socratic back-and-forth among the monks. It is a testament to Stephenson’s prodigious talent as a storyteller that this is not as dull as it sounds, though at least one reader will admit to some confusion as to what it all means. Apparently something like Plato’s world of pure forms (here called the Hylaean Theoric World or HTW) is acting as a kind of directing intelligence over the slipstreaming narratives of the multiverse, which we navigate among not through wormholes but by way of arcane mental disciplines. And so: Enter the Geometers.

Still here? You are a persistent fid, aren’t you?

Anathem will test that persistence. Even given the expansiveness of the genre this is not a light read in any sense of the word. When you add in the appendixes of lecture-style “calcas” and an invaluable glossary for those less obvious Orthicisms like “hypotrochian transquaestiation,” you’re talking over 900 pages of world-building. And while the young narrator Fraa Erasmas and his friends give it all a bit of an air of Hogwarts, most of it is pretty dry theorizing in what not only seems like but is another language.

Nobody but Stephenson could make it work. But even genius has its limitations.

Notes:
Review first published online June 29, 2009.

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The Amazing Absorbing Boy

THE AMAZING ABSORBING BOY
By Rabindranath Maharaj

To those long-established metaphors of immigrant identity the patchwork quilt and the melting pot, we have now to add the comic book. It is no coincidence that two recent explorations of immigrant life – The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Dominican-born Junot Diaz (winner of the 2008 Pulitzer Prize) and now The Amazing Absorbing Boy by Trinidad-born Rabindranath Maharaj – begin with epigraphs drawn from comics. Comic books, with their superheroes passing as mild-mannered citizens dwelling among us, gifted orphans never fully adopting, or adopted into, the cultural mainstream, place questions of difference and identity front and centre. And the fact that comics are such an important part of the fantasy lives of today’s adolescent males – as anyone who has gaped at a gang of twenty-somethings cavorting about a workplace pretending to spin webs like Spidey or sprout Wolverine’s claws has been forced to recognize – helps make their mythologies particularly effective paradigms for an early twenty-first century bildungsroman.

When seventeen-year-old Samuel’s mother dies he leaves his home in Trinidad to live with his “nowhereian” father in Toronto’s Regent Park (a glossary of Trinidadian vocabulary at the back of the book defines a nowhereian as “a wanderer”). What Samuel finds in Canada is very much a comic book world, in large part because, as an erstwhile fanboy, that is the way he is primed to understand it. Seeing Toronto’s proles as subterranean mole men is one way of coming to grips with his new reality, as is his imagining the vast Canadian geography as a series of comic-book scenes, miles and miles of ice and snow, trappers and lumberjacks, stretching “panel by panel” into infinity. But those panels are not all in Samuel’s head. Life, to give Wilde’s dictum its essential corollary, likes to imitate cheap and popular forms of art. There is, in fact, something more than a little cartoonish about the characters Samuel meets – people like Dr. Bat, Dr. Tulip, and Dr. Fang, Billy Bilkim Barbarossa, Cherry Xalvat, Toktok Magboo, and Latanya Lemptinski (trying his best to fit in, Samuel comes up with his own nom de Marvel, Roti Ramirez). And the appearance of these eccentrics is every bit as bizarre as their names, with Barbarossa looking “as if he might have been drawn by Jack Kirby,” and the Amazing Absorbing Boy himself being victim of a skin disease that makes him seem like a lizard-man or the ever-lovin’ Thing.

The author of such an adventure seems less like Joyce’s God of the creation than Jack Kirby’s babyfaced Watcher (first appearance: Fantastic Four #13, April 1963), spinning out bizarre alternate-universe narratives while remaining within or behind or beyond or above his handiwork.

With his ambiguous hair and skin colour, Samuel is a figure able to “pass” as nearly anything – like the shape-shifting Metamorpho he can be “so many people. Nearly anyone I chose.” His is a fluid identity that absorbs something from his environment and is in turn absorbed by it. The communities he remains on the fringe of are both patchwork enclaves and melting pots, in a constant state of flux symbolized by the tearing down of his Regent Park housing unit and the eventual fate of the Absorbing Boy. Samuel is also an outsider (or Outsider, to borrow the name of Metamorpho’s gang), with an outsider’s special insight into the Canadian identity, finally coming to see the “typical Canadian” as a similarly unsettled figure, “someone who fussed all the time.”

A novel as sharply observed and entertaining as this is obviously a lot more fun than the latest entry in CanLit’s Giller-bait sweepstakes. Maharaj tells the story of Samuel’s inaugural year in Canada at a brisk pace, with a lean, episodic structure that only carries over a handful of essential characters between chapters. The language has a charming, natural ease, casually dropping articles and prepositions in a colloquial rhythm and delivering comic punchlines with dry, understated effect. But it is also a novel with deeper layers. At heart it is a rich exploration of the immigrant psychodrama of attraction and repulsion, welcome and paranoia, perception and misunderstanding. Like the nameless, forgotten hero of the epigraph, we marvel at Samuel’s dramatic change, and wonder what such a transformation says about who we are and what we may become.

Notes:
Review first published in the Toronto Star January 24, 2010.

8 x 10

8 x 10
By Michael Turner

The title of Michael Turner’s new novel has a double meaning. In the first place it refers to the size of a standard studio photo portrait: 8 x 10 inches. In narrative terms the connection lies in the way the story takes the form of a series of brief snapshots. But the title also refers to structure, with the book, according to the author, having eight main characters and ten “events” that the chapter headings illustrate as shaded squares moving regularly down the files of an 8 x 10 grid (though one square in the early going is skipped).

One has to appeal to Turner’s own explanation of the structure because the eight characters and ten events are not readily apparent even on repeated readings. This is mainly because none of the characters are given names, forcing the reader to recognize in the various he’s and she’s suggestions of the Old Man, the Tailor, the Poet, the Veteran, or the Girl With a Chipped Tooth. Such identification is not always easy. Nor is it clear where or when the events described are occurring, or if they are taking place in any chronological order. There are certain recurrent themes (injury, immigration) and images (especially a view of “seven tree-lined ridges”), but how the separate pieces fit together, and they are all supposed to be interrelated, is left up to the reader to figure out. Puzzle-solving is the order of the day.

Obviously this is experimental fiction, and its method is typical of the genre: Making the reader do the work of discerning patterns and connections in material that at first seems only randomly organized – randomness and organization not being contradictory states, since the principle of organization itself may be as inherently meaningless as the numbers 8 and 10. In this regard Turner’s turn at a concept book resembles such recent Canadian works as Paul Glennon’s Oulipan exercise The Dodecahedron and Struan Sinclair’s Automatic World, only with the pattern being evoked even more arbitrary and vague. Or, to put a more positive spin on it, open to interpretation.

It doesn’t really work. The individual episodes are too brief and vaguely rendered to be very compelling on their own, and the search for connections is frustrating to the point of making solving that puzzle the novel’s entire purpose. Turner seems to have had in mind a literary analogy to abstract painting, but with the visual arts abstraction and condensation can be pushed further because it’s easier for the eye to freelance and impose its own sense of form and meaning on merely suggestive stuff. We do it all the time with clouds and stains, consciously or not. But language is too loaded a medium to be turned into the equivalent of shapes and blobs of colour. And with a novel the given constraints are even greater. 8 x 10 simply jettisons too much, and despite tantalizing hints of cloudy forms, finally comes to seem more of an empty vessel than an open text.

Notes:
Review first published November 28, 2009.

Written in the Flesh

WRITTEN IN THE FLESH: A HISTORY OF DESIRE
By Edward Shorter

Written in the Flesh is a book that develops a single bold, provocative, and yet simple thesis. This thesis takes the form of a history of sexual desire. What Shorter argues is that after the “free-and-easy sexuality” of the Classical period, sexual practices and fantasies in the West were restrained for fifteen hundred years by religious stricture, community standards, disease, and poor hygiene, only to begin to break free around the end of the nineteenth century, and then explode after the 1960s. This explosion was driven by hardwired biological urges. The brain – not the mind, reason, or spirit – has at all times been the engine and author of our sexualized, hedonistic culture. What it has been moving toward is something Shorter calls “total body sex”: “the body as a whole as an instrument or a receptacle of desire, not just the face and genitals.”

That’s the thesis. In order to make such an argument Shorter begins by setting out a sexual “baseline”, the “minimal level of erotic pleasure required for human reproduction.” This is the sexual behaviour we were stuck with through the long (sexual) dark ages of Christian Europe. For heterosexual men and women it meant the missionary position. For gay men it meant buggery. For lesbians a bit of friction. There was kissing, but no one was getting any tongue. Nor was there any oral sex, nipple play, anal sex (for heterosexuals), or fetish. These were the vanilla years.

The “great breakout from the thousand-year carapace of limited sexual expression” into total body sex was the result of the removal of external limits and restraints on the human capacity for desire. With the growth of a culture rich and permissive enough to allow its development, hedonism came into its own.

As with any book arguing a single Big Idea, it’s natural to be a bit skeptical. Shorter confesses to making bold generalizations. From the fall of the Roman Empire (whenever that was) until 1900 is treated as a single unit, with “sexual experience . . . relatively unchanging from century to century.” And then there is the problem of evidence. We don’t have a lot of scientific data for what people were doing before Shorter’s “breakout” (which, luckily for the researcher, took place just around the time of the Kinsey Report). Shorter’s main sources for sex before sex was invented are porn and private diaries. These do have weight – as Samuel Johnson once remarked, no man is a liar in his vices – but it’s hard to tell how representative they are.

But taken for the general outline that it is, Shorter’s thesis on the history and progress of desire seems credible. In fact it is hardly surprising, especially given the authority of current genetic and biological approaches to understanding human behaviour. For Shorter biology is in the driver’s seat: superior to rationality and will, driving the body endlessly forward, actively forming consciousness and culture, and “creating a society oriented towards personal gratification in a way that previous generations could never have imagined.”

This leads to some interesting considerations. If everything about us is biologically determined, might there be other biological drivers even more powerful than the pleasure principle? And where are all these ineluctable “hedonic changes” taking us anyway?

Away from each other.

Since desire is all about personal gratification, sex is necessarily “antisocial.” Shorter concludes by pointing to how “people are asserting sexual pleasure over community, rather than over reason.” Of course reason, as he has already argued, isn’t up to the task of controlling desire anyway. But sex is also a privatizing force, taking us out of contact with the community to places where we can indulge ourselves to the fullest. This shift in social behaviour, which Shorter relates to the anti-civic society “bowling alone” phenomenon, has consequences for all of us.

Could we take such a thesis even further? Doesn’t the massive cultural force of Internet pornography – which some estimates place at 75% of the World Wide Web and a third of all Internet use across the board – indicate an even further withdrawal? After all, if the pursuit of pleasure is nothing but self-gratification, why bother with a partner? Might the next step after “total body sex” be a form of computer-assisted “post-body” virtual sex?

Shorter tells us that people today “act on the basis of a desire in a way that would have been inconceivable even a hundred years ago.”

And a hundred years hence? What is the future of desire?

Notes:
Review first published February 11, 2006.

With Every Mistake

WITH EVERY MISTAKE
By Gwynne Dyer

Journalism has been described as the first draft of history. Which is a nice way of saying journalists don’t always get it right. Reporting on the news as it happens gives us only part of the picture, a picture that inevitably needs to be expanded, modified, examined, and, where necessary, corrected.

As a columnist, someone who stands back and interprets the big picture, Gwynne Dyer knows he is held to a higher standard. And so it really bugs him that in the aftermath of 9/11 he “got things so badly wrong.” Of course he’s quick to point out that a lot of other people got things wrong too, but he doesn’t have to answer for them. What he does feel he has to answer for are his own mistakes. And so what we have here is a collection of his newspaper columns written between 2001 and 2005, with a brief running commentary pointing out where he went wrong and why.

Columns on international affairs from South America to Africa to Asia to Outer Space are included, but it’s clear from the outset that Dyer’s main focus is on Iraq (a subject he has already covered in two other books: Ignorant Armies and Future: Tense).

In a nutshell, Dyer is opposed to the American invasion and occupation of Iraq because it undermines the system of international law, implemented mainly through the UN, to prevent global chaos and a Third World War. In a column that he alerts the reader to pay special attention to, “The UN is Not a Morality Play,” he explains why moral justification is simply not enough. Punishing the wicked should be left to God. To the basic rule that you cannot legally attack another country Dyer will allow no exceptions. Even humanitarian military interventions to stop massacres in Bosnia and Kosovo “opened doors that should have remained shut.” “Countries should be left to deal with their own dictators . . . Foreign invasions are not the solution.”

And so the invasion of Iraq was wrong from the start, not just a botched job. In this Dyer can at least claim to be consistent. In a column published November 14, 2001 he congratulates the US on their quick Afghanistan operation but warns against overconfidence. “Above all,” he cautions, “don’t let anybody talk you into attacking Iraq.”

Here Dyer admits to blindness. In fact, the Bush administration did not need anyone to talk it into attacking Iraq. That was always part of their plan and there was literally nothing that was going to stop them.

Dyer has an interesting excuse for being wrong about American motives. As he points out, to understand America’s Imperial Strategy even this early in the game all that was necessary was a visit to the website for the neoconservative “Project for a New American Century.” Or he might have read any of the plethora of neocon columnists at the time. Were people like Thomas Friedman, Charles Krauthammer, Bill Kristol, and all the others of that ilk, among the journalists who “got it wrong”? Hardly.

To this day, as every justification for the invasion of Iraq has been exploded (and Dyer reminds us that none of them were very convincing at the time), there is no clear message coming from the White House on what the actual mission was that was supposed to be accomplished, or what goals were to be achieved. And in this vacuum any analysis in the mainstream media that goes beyond the official platitudes about spreading liberty and freedom has come from the same Right-wing commentators, who have never been afraid to say what this is all about. It is only well-meaning critics on the Left who have had difficulty stating the obvious.

Why?

In his Introduction to The Great Unraveling, New York Times columnist Paul Krugman draws on the doctoral dissertation of Henry Kissinger to explain exactly the failure that Dyer has such trouble with: How the American media establishment responded to the radicalism of the Bush administration. Kissinger is describing the failure of the Great Powers of Europe to confront the revolutionary force of Napoleonic France (and, implicitly, their similar failure to confront Nazi Germany). This is what Kissinger has to say:

Lulled by a period of stability which had seemed permanent, they find it nearly impossible to take at face value the assertion of the revolutionary power that it means to smash existing framework. The defenders of the status quo therefore tend to begin by treating the revolutionary power as if its protestations were merely tactical; as if it really accepted the existing legitimacy but overstated its case for bargaining purposes; as if it were motivated by specific grievances to be assuaged by limited concessions. Those who warn against the danger in time are considered alarmists; those who counsel adaptation to circumstance are considered balanced and sane. . . . But it is the essence of a revolutionary power that it possesses the courage of its convictions, that it is willing, indeed eager, to push its principles to their ultimate conclusion.

Dyer is just such a defender of the old status quo. In the early going he admits to not being able to credit the idea that this was all about forcing a military Pax Americana upon the world. Now he views current American foreign policy as basically an “attempt to head off impending relative decline by the US back in the global driving seat.” He doesn’t think it will work, but even here he seems to avoid giving the neocons credit for the courage of their convictions. For example, he concludes that “there is no way of stopping China and India from catching up with the current Lone Superpower short of nuking their entire economies. And no: I don’t think the neocons would do that.”

Why not? Eisenhower threatened to use nuclear weapons against Korea, and by the end of the Vietnam War Nixon was in favour of dropping them on that unfortunate country (a decision that a majority of Americans probably would have supported). In the lead-up to the second Gulf War the US made it clear they were willing to use them against Iraq, a country it already knew to be defenseless. So why wouldn’t America choose to destroy a real threat like China or India, or for that matter a good chunk of the rest of the world, rather than experience a decline in their “non-negotiable” standard of living? Given the smashing of the existing framework of international law, what’s to stop them? The rising economic power of other parts of the world is not a military deterrent.

Will the current strategy for global dominance work? “Don’t be silly,” Dyer tells us. “It never works.” Maybe not in the past, but things are different today. Previous military empires have never had such apocalyptic military power. After the American Empire, there is no other.

Notes:
Review first published December 24, 2005.

Who Owns History?

WHO OWNS HISTORY?: RETHINKING THE PAST IN A CHANGING WORLD
By Eric Foner

The study of history is all about keeping things in perspective. In the United States, which has a tendency to turn the past into a religion that includes a founding myth of radical newness, this isn’t always easy. In an age of sound bites and manufactured dissent it can even approach the ridiculous. Introducing this collection of essays, Eric Foner tells of how he was approached by an “eager young reporter” during the history standards debate (a skirmish in the now institutional “culture wars”) to explain when historians stopped relating facts and started “all this revising of interpretations of the past.”

“Around the time of Thucydides,” he replied.

Of course there is nothing about the “new” historicism that is threatening or, for that matter, even very new. We know that certain things happened in the past, but what happened isn’t what we mean by history. “History” is what gets written down, and historians can’t avoid being subjective about their work. Every culture selects what it thinks is important to remember about the past, leaving other parts to be forgotten. Interest groups use history as a tool for propaganda and ideology, while changes in our understanding of the world – from new facts to new intellectual paradigms – force us to reinterpret the interpretations of others.

Foner begins by quoting James Baldwin’s remark that history is always within us, “literally present in all that we do.” This is true, but one thing the “culture wars” brought to our attention is the corollary. We are unconsciously controlled by history, but we also control it. We might even be said to “own” it. But who are “we”?

In his first two essays Foner provides a biographical response by looking at his own career as a historian and that of Richard Hofstadter. In the second group of essays he looks at how our understanding of history changes in a changing world. In the best of these – “American Freedom in a Global Age” – he shows how even the language has shifted under foot. As Lewis Lapham once observed, if you ask Americans what they mean by “freedom” today, nine out of ten will say money. The “free market” – an end-of-history ideology that may have little connection to freedom even in the economic sphere – dominates the way we think about such concepts. What Martin Luther King Jr. meant by letting freedom ring would probably now require some kind of a gloss to be made intelligible to today’s students of history. In the final section, Foner concludes with a series of essays using the Reconstruction era (his own area of specialization) as a case study in the way history edits, reinterprets and sometimes simply neglects the past.

Of the three approaches to history that Nietzsche spoke of, the monumental, antiquarian and critical, Foner is clearly in the critical camp. Politically on the left, he is no ideologue. His writing is commendably (remarkably, for an academic) forthright and lucid, allowing for little of the ambiguity that has lead to so much mental decay. In Who Owns History? we get to watch a first-rate mind operating on history, revealing the vital circulation that exists between past and present.

Notes:
Review first published online June 5, 2002.

When Words Deny the World

WHEN WORDS DENY THE WORLD: THE RESHAPING OF CANADIAN WRITING
By Stephen Henighan

Several months ago there was a story that ran in the New York Times complaining about Canada’s “provincial” literature. In my response (see here) I noted how the Times was rejecting a rich literary tradition of regionalism that had been adopted with some success by Canadian (not to mention American) authors, including such prominent names as Alice Munro and David Adams Richards. But regionalism, the idea that the local and individual can represent the universal, was obviously considered by the arbiters of taste in New York and Toronto to be passé. In its place they advocated a more “cosmopolitan” and generic urban literature.

In defiance of this free-trade bred conformity, novelist and critic Stephen Henighan’s commitment to the regionalist creed is absolute. “Without a commitment to local detail,” he declares, “there can be no artistic innovation.” It is only novels that are “sufficiently committed to local detail” that may “achieve universal resonance.”

The essence of Henighan’s argument in the essays collected here is that Canadian literature has abandoned the contemporary local scene in favour of a new, “globalized” fiction. And since, as the neo-Philistine American commentator Thomas Friedman has it, “globalization is us,” this means an even greater cultural dependence on the empire to our south. Such dependence accentuates “tendencies already ingrained in Canadian culture: a propensity for self-abasement, an insufficiently creative and critical approach to foreign models, a craving for the approval of powerful friends, a latent desire to dispense with the awkwardness of being Canadian and meld into some larger, simpler entity.” In pursuit of assimilation our writing denies local detail (the “world”) in order to write no-name NAFTA novels that won’t offend American readers by being “too Canadian.” Meanwhile, lording it over our spineless publishing world is the capital of the Canadian culture industry: a “booming publishing centre devoid of literary energy or artistic innovation, a place that dominates the country not by virtue of its dynamism but because of its passive insertion into a transnational assembly line.”

Of course, Henighan is talking about Toronto.

There is something to this. A blandness unseen since the Age of Gentility does dominate our literary high ground. But anxiety over American cultural hegemony and the commercialization of the arts today is not confined to Canada. One has only to think of the recent controversy over the announcement that the Booker Prize will be opening to American authors. How, wondered one Booker judge, will provincial Commonwealth authors be able to compete with the broader American canvas? America is now the antithesis of the regional microcosm. As the critic James Wood pointed out, it is because America is an imperium that what goes on within it has universal significance: “It is a world in itself, and turns smaller worlds into mere moons.” In other words, the rest of the world has been turned into a cultural colony. Which brings us to the NAFTA-novel phenomenon.

There are few things I appreciate more than a good rant. But while Henighan certainly has a case to make, he sometimes seems to be more preoccupied with the surface than the substance of today’s literature. The success (even when that word has to be carefully defined, given the machinations Henighan describes going on “Behind the Best-Seller List”) of bad fiction, or of high advances and/or media attention given to unworthy authors, is just a sideshow. And when you get down to it, Henighan’s complaints about authors who worship Mammon are also a little broad. That what is “commercially correct is often at odds with what is artistically desirable” is hardly a radical conclusion, nor one specific to our home and native land. And to say that this disjunction is “the key impediment to the growth of a significant novelistic tradition in Canada today” is bosh. Again, the arts are everywhere in the same boat. To borrow from Freud, most writers, like most other artists, simply want to be rich, famous, and enjoy beautiful lovers. But this has never stopped them from creating sincere and meaningful art.

There is no point getting upset about the lottery that is the market. The John Grishams and Tom Clancys of this world will always be with us. What is disturbing, and what Henighan effectively relates, is the fact that so many of Canada’s supposedly “literary” authors have turned away from the task of describing the world in order to cultivate a high-brow Never-never land of historical romance and sentimental tales of Holocaust survivors.

When Words Deny the World is obviously a polemical tract, and should be enjoyed as such. I got a kick out of many of Henighan’s observations, and his close readings of works such as The English Patient, Fugitive Pieces, and The Stone Diaries. Even the deliberately goading hyperbole is challenging and provocative. “No one can remember the Canada of the 1990s” – because no one has expressed the reality of Canada in the 1990s in fiction – is a great line. But the fact is everything tells us something about how we live now, even our science fiction and fantasy novels. How could it not? Our escapist literary products are themselves testimony to the current degradation of intellect and taste, if nothing else.

Though a little given to patting himself on the back, Henighan is always an engaging writer. His slaughtering of CanLit sacred cows (a specialty of his publisher, the Porcupine’s Quill) proceeds with gusto. To be blunt, his crusade is fuelled by envy. “I cannot pretend to detachment in this matter,” he says at one point, in what may be taken as an understatement. Envy and resentment drip from the page as he describes “Larry,” an American writer of pure tripe who lives a jet-set lifestyle financed by his whopping advances, and the “Book Boys,” four “young, male, white, media-friendly Toronto writers” profiled by the Globe and Mail.

Well, who wouldn’t be envious of the Book Boys?

Anyone who cares deeply about literature should be disgusted by the vulgar circus of excess, vanity, corporate conformity and manufactured consent that BookWorld has become. But literature has been relegated to the margins of today’s popular culture. Unfortunately, there are few people left who are very concerned about the issues Henighan is talking about. In some of the notes appended to his previously published essays he complains about the lack of a response to the gauntlets he has been throwing down for the last several years. Where was the public debate following his salvoes on the “appropriation of voice” debate, or his revelation that the Giller Prize charges an entry fee? Where was the outrage?

Whether you agree with his conclusions or not, Henighan is an eloquent and passionate spokesman for why we should care about these things.

Notes:
Review first published online June 17, 2002. I have no idea who any of the “Book Boys” were.