Author Topic: In the New Yorker...  (Read 910869 times)

Offline serious crayons

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Re: In the New Yorker...
« Reply #2340 on: February 23, 2020, 12:26:16 pm »
This article 1999 article in Discover -- so, before Harari -- is by Jared Diamond, another writer of controversial ideas about pre-history. He describes what seems pretty solid archaeological research showing hunter-gatherers were healthier than early farmers based on the condition of their teeth and bones.

Because wild animals and berries offer more varied and nutritional foods, compared to the starchy grains on which ag has always emphasized, average human heights shrunk when they adopted agriculture. In some places that height loss has never been regained. Agriculture also created classist societies -- elites had far better bones and teeth than peasants. Of course, that's still the case today, the elite are not only better off in terms of wealth and power -- they also have far better teeth!

Of course, by our standards prehistoric hunter-gatherers had much shorter lives -- average was only 26 years. But get this, the average lifespan in early agricultural societies was 19.

https://www.swnewsmedia.com/lakeshore_weekly/news/local/plymouth-planning-commission-hears-testimony-on-proposed-hollydale-golf-course/article_1e56138a-15a5-5a4d-97ea-6d67d5e85f95.html

Regarding your mention of his Jewishness, Lee, one other interesting argument Harari makes is that Christianity and Judaism and Islam were all small obscure groups that happened to catch on with masses for one reason or another and have now become the dominant religions of the world. But the same could have happened just as easily with many other religions, he says.

Of course, that's easy for him to say, as he's agnostic. And it's easy for me to accept, because so am I.






Offline Jeff Wrangler

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Re: In the New Yorker...
« Reply #2341 on: February 28, 2020, 09:58:18 pm »
I don't think I've ever disliked an article by David Sedaris, but I don't like the one in the March 2 issue.
"It is required of every man that the spirit within him should walk abroad among his fellow-men, and travel far and wide."--Charles Dickens.

Offline serious crayons

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Re: In the New Yorker...
« Reply #2342 on: February 29, 2020, 09:34:07 am »
I think my subscription must have run out, because I don't have that one yet. The Sedaris piece is online, though. What didn't you like about it?

Offline Jeff Wrangler

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Re: In the New Yorker...
« Reply #2343 on: February 29, 2020, 01:35:06 pm »
I think my subscription must have run out, because I don't have that one yet. The Sedaris piece is online, though. What didn't you like about it?

I presume his father is dead by now. I won't criticize Sedaris for his feelings about his father, because they are what they are, or for writing the article, but to publish those feelings in a widely circulated general interest magazine strikes me as airing the family dirty linen in public. To me that's distasteful, even kind of embarrassing, that's all. (Clearly Sedaris isn't embarrassed.) I've never before found anything he's written distasteful, so that saddens me.

I am nosy enough to wonder if his siblings knew about this ahead of publication, and what they think of it.
"It is required of every man that the spirit within him should walk abroad among his fellow-men, and travel far and wide."--Charles Dickens.

Offline Front-Ranger

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Re: In the New Yorker...
« Reply #2344 on: February 29, 2020, 02:47:49 pm »
...airing the family dirty linen in public.

Isn't that one of the things he's most known for?
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Offline serious crayons

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Re: In the New Yorker...
« Reply #2345 on: February 29, 2020, 03:22:03 pm »
Isn't that one of the things he's most known for?

That was my thought, too. I've only read about half of this piece, so maybe it gets much worse and I should wait until I've seen it. But he's written about his mother's alcoholism, unpleasant relationships among his siblings and other things. Apparently the one subject he hasn't written much about is his sister's suicide, and what happened in their relationship -- they hadn't spoken in four years when she died and he had a security guard keep her from entering one of his readings. (At least, that was the status a couple of years ago, according to a book review, so maybe he has since then.)

The other thing is, confessional and deeply personal essays and memoirs are so common by now -- by people who've experienced sexual assaults, incest, domestic abuse, homelessness, addiction, etc. -- this one (so far) hardly stands out. Of course most of the writers aren't as talented as Sedaris.

 

Offline Jeff Wrangler

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Re: In the New Yorker...
« Reply #2346 on: February 29, 2020, 04:44:40 pm »
Sedaris's pieces that are most memorable to me are one's where he airs his own linen, writing about things that happen to him. Of course humorists do that all the time. To me this reads like an attack piece, almost a character assassination, even though I have no doubt it's all true. I mean, writing that he told his dying father to his face, "You're more like a vegetable," and, "You're vain. ...Always were. I was at the house this morning and couldn't believe all the clothes you own. Now you're this person, trapped in a chair. ..." It appalls me that anyone would say anything like that to a dying person, no matter how true it might be, no matter much he might want to say it. It's hurtful, even if the dying person acknowledges that it's correct. Then he publishes to the whole world that he actually said it.

The beginning of the article, where he writes about his urologist and his prostate exam, that struck me as vintage Sedaris, the sort of thing I expect to read when I read him. After this, I think I will be skipping his articles, at least for awhile. This one is a real turn-off to me.
"It is required of every man that the spirit within him should walk abroad among his fellow-men, and travel far and wide."--Charles Dickens.

Offline Jeff Wrangler

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Re: In the New Yorker...
« Reply #2347 on: February 29, 2020, 04:46:34 pm »
Backing up a bit, I enjoyed the article about Underground Railroad reenactments (Feb. 17 & 24). I read that over lunch today.
"It is required of every man that the spirit within him should walk abroad among his fellow-men, and travel far and wide."--Charles Dickens.

Offline Front-Ranger

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Re: In the New Yorker...
« Reply #2348 on: March 02, 2020, 07:53:43 pm »
... writing that he told his dying father to his face, "You're more like a vegetable," and, "You're vain. ...Always were. I was at the house this morning and couldn't believe all the clothes you own. Now you're this person, trapped in a chair. ..."

Yes, that is a character assassination, but of himself. As you said, his most successful pieces are "where he airs his own linen, writing about things that happen to him." I was taken aback when he wrote about what he said to his father, but my curiosity was piqued as to why he would feel the need. He sprinkles clues throughout.

Did you notice that Hugh was always doing something to defuse the situation? Hugh notes that the icky thickener in the water is just cornstarch. When David's dad cried out for water, Hugh filled a cup and mixed in the cornstarch himself. He even got rid of a pet turd on the dad's carpet, using his bare hands, and saying "You people, my God." David and his sisters, in contrast, mainly bungled around and called the nurses for help. They were obviously freaked out by their one-time capable dad being reduced to a horrible wraith. Suddenly David and his dad's lifelong struggles come to a head, and Dad tells him "you won." David realizes that this suffering creature has replaced his father, and so he's lost his chance to finally get approval from him.

Throughout the story you can hear the dad's and Amy's soft voices, Hugh's voice of reason, and David's wry, slightly cynical and self-deprecating voice. I would like to say more about the article, but I'll wait until everyone who wants to has read it.

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Offline serious crayons

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Re: In the New Yorker...
« Reply #2349 on: March 03, 2020, 10:33:27 am »
I finally finished it.

It definitely was not my favorite DS piece ever. It wasn't very funny -- not surprising, given the subject matter, but even his more serious essays are usually intermittently amusing. And I found it ambiguous. My reactions were kind of a mix of both of yours.

To be clear, I don't have any objection to people "airing their dirty laundry." I have read so many essays and memoirs that could be accused of doing that, the idea doesn't really register with me anymore.

I got the impression David felt very conflicted himself. Obviously the dad had done some pretty terrible things, as he mentions briefly. And the condition of his house suggested some serious cognitive problems. David feels a lot of anger and contempt toward his dad. It's unclear to me whether he wants approval, revenge, closure or what.

Since the visit to the dad is paired with David's own medical test for what could have been a terminal illness, the piece seems a meditation on mortality without any specific conclusions. Maybe the point is that there are no specific conclusions. He's written of his dad fairly positively in the past -- or at least not this angrily -- so maybe he was really ambivalent. Or maybe he just did not like his father and didn't know how to deal with those feelings on his deathbed.

I should probably try to skim through it again.

Did you notice that Hugh was always doing something to defuse the situation? Hugh notes that the icky thickener in the water is just cornstarch. When David's dad cried out for water, Hugh filled a cup and mixed in the cornstarch himself. He even got rid of a pet turd on the dad's carpet, using his bare hands, and saying "You people, my God."

I actually got the impression they suspected it wasn't a pet's.

The other thing that's interesting about Hugh's role is that he's always being practical and helpful and kind -- even though the dad must have some objection to him, having first cut David out of the will then saying he'd put him back in as long as Hugh never got to touch any of the money.

So did the dad disapprove of David being gay? He never says so directly, and I've never seen any mention of that in the past, but that's the implication.



After this, I think I will be skipping his articles, at least for awhile. This one is a real turn-off to me.

That's too bad, if you've liked his work until now.




Meanwhile, I'm still trudging through the Harari profile. I still dislike it.