Thanksgiving Is Ruined

The Personal is Political. The Political is Personal.

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March 26, 2009
in defense of obsession

                                                                (An update of sorts to this post.)

From a newly published, 1946 letter by Norman Mailer:

The slim volume, I'd like to remind you, does not contain the apotheosis of the novel; nearly all the great ones are quite long, and to quote an author I do not particularly admire, Thomas Mann did say, "Only the exhaustive is truly interesting."

Those final six words, above, are not always the form into which Mann's statement, from the foreword to The Magic Mountain, is put.

Here's how John E. Woods translated the full passage:
Unafraid of the odium of appearing too meticulous, we are much more inclined to the view that only thoroughness can be truly entertaining.

[Mann's Vorsatz in the original (reproduced entirely within this page) put it like this:
Ohne Furcht vor dem Odium der Peinlichkeit, neigen wir vielmehr der Ansicht zu, daß nur das Gründliche wahrhaft unterhaltend sei.]

The variations are intriguing. What are the differences among the "exhaustive," the "meticulous" and the "thorough"? What's the relationship between the "interesting" and the "entertaining"?

Moreover, TiR idly (playfully?) wonders whether Mann and Mailer, in the remark, championed a type of obsessiveness -- if that's a fair word to use -- characteristic of novelists, or novelistic thinking. If such a type of novel writers' (or novel fans') obsessiveness existed in the past, is it dying, along with the ever    -  dying novel?

Does habitual use of the internet or web cultivate its own type of obsessiveness? If so, how different from the older, novelistic type? How mutually comprehensible?

What's the difference between the ideé fixe involved in composition or consumption of a 700+ page novel, and that involved in checking one's e-mail every five minutes, regularly Googling oneself, or "Twitter culture"? We wonder: Is the difference that the former studies the human subject from the inside out, as a psychoanalyst might, while the latter studies from the outside in, as might a data-mining marketing analyst, connoisseur of social networking site profiles, or government surveillor?

[or . . . a shift in attitude or approach towards "plot"?



Bah! At the same time, TiR suspects that the first round of speculation that follows from its curiosity about this is, as usual, too binary and too dogmatic, and as almost always, probably too smug, glib, lazy and self-serving
[esp. in some fatal way that TiR inevitably will be too blinkered to see, until a moment after someone else points it out to us & it all becomes forehead-slappingly obvious]      .
Bah again!