Wednesday, August 19, 2009



I’ve been doing some promoting lately. Whenever I meet people, I try to get a feel for their social leanings. If I think they might like my blog, I tell them about it. I’m even thinking about advertising in some newspapers. But I know everyone won’t like it. In fact, I like that idea.

When I talk to people who have spent some time reading my catalogue, I hear familiar refrains: “Do you plan on writing anything for mass consumption? Do you plan to write a novel? A play? A book?” In truth, I have never wanted to be popular. I don’t want to be John Grisham. I don’t want to compromise my ideas in order to write something that is “conventionally pleasing.” I don’t want anyone to transform my writing into Hollywood adaptations, and I don’t care if Oprah Winfrey finds my essays compelling. She’s welcome to enjoy my essays; I just don’t thirst for her recognition. That’s all I mean. She’s welcome to like my writing. But nothing will make me write a lighthearted romantic comedy, like the New York Fire Department Captain who wrote a feel-good novel in his spare time. I just can’t do it. It’s hard for me to be frivolous. It makes me sick, actually.

Still, I have larger designs. For one, I want to compile all my satires into a “pamphlet.” I think my satires all dwell on consistent themes. They all mock powerful people and their pretentious, condescending arguments. I plan on editing my satires and organizing them in such a way that they could be read as a “book.” My essays travel over more varied ground, but I think they, too, could be organized into a relatively consistent format. In this sense, I think my blog already qualifies as a “book.” I just need to hash the ideas together and bind it up.

Second, I want to write a longer piece. I really like novels. But I don’t like English and American novels (with some exceptions, of course). I like German and Russian novels. There is an immense difference. German and Russian novels generally have loose, skeletal plots that merely provide a framework for dark, philosophical expositions. English and American novels generally go heavy on plot and light on philosophy. I’ve written before that I don’t like plot. If I want plot, I’ll read a newspaper or police report. When it comes to literature, I want something more, something challenging and daring. Sappy love stories don’t interest me, nor do swashbuckling commercial success stories. These are conventional stories. When I talk about love and commercial success, I’m usually mocking them. Dostoevsky and Kafka did, too.

So what kind of novel will I write? For two years, I’ve been mulling a novel about a new American revolution. What better way to make mordant observations about society than through a fictional revolution? I’ve said before that revolutions excite me because they represent times during which old orders collapse and the law fails. They spark radical changes in values. They make powerful people scurry and run. They force people to rethink their lives. That’s exciting. By the same token, I’ve written that revolution will not happen in America because too many people are “relatively pleased” with their lives; they don’t want to think differently. After all, enough people have homes, cars and televisions to risk everything for a shot at “something better.” So they let existing power structures persist, no matter how subtly pernicious.

But this broaches a question: What would push Americans over the edge? What would make Americans risk everything to reshape their society? What kinds of pressures and injustices would spur significant numbers to risk armed revolt against the old order? And how would the old order respond to those revolts? I always thought health care would be a good metaphor here. I envisioned an America—maybe forty years from now—in which wealth and power disparities grew to intolerable levels. In this unequal society, some people have access to miraculous medical treatments, while others die on the streets. I thought injustices involving health care would provide a good literary vehicle for a “fictional revolution.” Eerily, I thought these things long before the current “health care crisis” and the irrational debate it has unleashed in recent months.

My novel will pursue familiar, satirical themes. I often write about health care on my blog because it is a proxy for numerous subsidiary themes, including inequality, fairness, justice, death, money, commerce, profit, American life, hypocrisy and compassion. It touches upon life, yet it intertwines with money and profit. It touches upon our deepest humanity, yet it is also a commodity. No matter how you slice the health care issue, some people live and die because they can’t pay. That provides plentiful opportunities for commentary. Emotions run high in the health care debate because people worry about getting sick and dying. They become irrational when they think government might impede their access to a doctor, or because government tolerates a system in which they cannot afford to ever see one. I can envision emotions running so high over this issue, in fact, that revolution could ensue. We just need the right internal and external circumstances to make enough people angry and desperate. My novel will describe those circumstances.

I don’t think my novel will be gloomy. I often worry that readers find my writing too bitter and too scathing. Yet every time I try to make it less biting, I find I do not fully address the issue. I write satire because I see hypocrisy and injustice everywhere. You can’t take down injustice and hypocrisy with kid gloves. My writing might appear bleak because it reflects a bleak world. I don’t intend to depress when I write; I follow the old Russian tradition in this regard: I laugh through tears. I find so many injustices perversely funny. Maybe I’m unusual for thinking that. I don’t know. But I know I don’t intend to be gloomy. I can control my intentions, and every time I write a satire, I intend to provoke laughter about something that is really quite abominable about our society. When I write my novel about “the American revolution of 2048” it will aim to provoke laughter as much as it provokes a good, hard look at our society.

Anyway, these are my long-term plans. In the meantime, I plan to continue posting on the blog as I always do. This blog is my laboratory. Here new ideas spring forth and bubble up to the surface. Sometimes they are rough and undeveloped. Other times they pick up where an earlier one left off. No matter what, they are insights into my mind. I am proud that I have created this testament. I have reduced so many thoughts to writing over the past year. If I hadn’t, who knows how many thoughts would simply have vanished into time? Thoughts tend to do that. If you don’t seize them and develop them, they escape you. My blog helps me rein them in and keep them. After all, life is one immense distraction. It can blow you off course before you even know what’s happening to you.

Thanks to everyone who tunes in to read my latest stuff.

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