Twofer: Football and the Fall of Jack Kerouac; Should Literature Be Political?
I know I’ve linked to Ron Silliman’s blog before, but I’ll do it again, because for writers and readers, it’s a great resource.
Two links caught my eye. The first: Football and the Fall of Jack Kerouac. It’s a really interesting article that is of course just speculation, but it makes sense. Here’s an excerpt:
If it were possible to examine Kerouac’s brain, the question could, perhaps, be answered definitively. We could learn, for instance, if he suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy, the progressive neurodegenerative disease that has been found, so far, in the brains of more than fifty former football players. Because C.T.E.’s symptoms overlap with those of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, it can be diagnosed only by autopsy, and Kerouac didn’t leave his brain to science.
Still, he did leave his writing, which, along with the recollections of his friends and acquaintances, provides a certain amount of insight into his medical history. I assembled what I found about Kerouac’s head injuries and decline into a dossier and sent it to a handful of experts on the subject.
“Kerouac had all of the symptoms of C.T.E.,” Robert Cantu, a neurosurgeon and co-director of Boston University’s Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy, told me. “I don’t think it’s possible, especially since you cannot be certain about the presence of C.T.E. without examining somebody’s brain, to other than speculate about whether he may have had some of his issues as a result of brain trauma. My gut feeling is he did.”
The other link is to a keynote address given by Amanda Lohrey at The Melbourne Writer’s Festival, titled Should Literature Be Political?.
Here is one chunk:
The first half of the twentieth century was characterised by fierce debates about the relationship between politics and art, largely inspired by militant Left movements throughout Europe. One thinks of Bolshevik agitprop on the role of art to enlighten and inspire the masses by unmasking false consciousness and modelling possible utopias. My generation of Left artists was influenced by debates between European Marxists on the politics of representation and the most politically effective genres of realism. Among the most robust of these was the argument between German playwright and poet Bertolt Brecht and the distinguished Hungarian theorist George Lukacs and the strategic nature of all literary forms was encapsulated in a checklist of questions posed by Brecht: Who is this sentence of use to? Who does it claim to be of use to? What does it call for? What practical action corresponds to it? What sort of sentence results from it? What sort of sentences support it? In what situation is it spoken? By whom? (Brecht on Theatre: The Development of an Aesthetic, trans John Willett 1977).
And here is another:
Fredric Jameson has written of the power of systems to co-opt and defuse even the most potentially dangerous forms of political art by transforming them into cultural commodities, especially in the case of case of modernist art but also in the domain of fiction. In his scarifying critique of the postmodern novel, The Postmodern Aura (1985) Charles Newman writes of ‘the redundancy of the adversary style’ in an era in which avant-gardism becomes fashionable and a consumer passion for novelty creates ‘an entire culture of short-term traders’. What is new and temporarily shocking soon passes into the banality of the over-exposed and in first world countries the ‘problem’ of art becomes not its repression but public indifference to it.
Food for thought.