Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Writers

A month ago I went to the Festival of Books at UCLA.

Discovery one: taking the bus from Santa Monica on an idyllic Saturday morning is delightful.

Discovery two: UCLA's campus is pretty- prettier than USC's. The brick-obsessed architecture is more ornate, for one, and for two, there are grassy hills to sit on with shade trees. Maybe it's because I grew up on a hillside so hilly my middle school was named Hillside, but a place never seems properly landscaped without a few steep inclines. The entire area we were walking around was filled with glorious sunshine and the smell of hamburgers.

I'm always curious to see writers, partly out of what Margaret Atwood labels perversity. I want to know what these people look like who make a living out of getting their thoughts down on paper in such a way that people want to read them. Really, there are very few people who manage to do that.

The panels were mostly kind of weird, because the writers themselves are kind of weird, and not weird in the same way. Also because they are up against a roomful of people, some of whom are hoping to catch certain writers after the panel and have a 45 minute conversation with them. So really there were only particular moments of panel discussion in which the writers really got down to it on certain issues and some interesting ideas got thrown around. Not as much of a torrent of interesting ideas that I was hoping for, but a handful nonetheless.

There seemed also to be a number of writers who were pretty interested in their cultural errand or some kind of responsibility to talk from a place of being disenfranchised or poor or (in a particularly LA turn) non-drivers. Every panel I went to brought up Hollywood movies and talked about them with mostly disdain. There were a couple of writers who were good enough to have more expansive thoughts on the politics of demographics and that was pretty enjoyable. Maybe it's because a lot of them got English degrees like I did, but most of them seemed pretty intent on fixing something about the world, or at least embodying a voice that, quote, needs to be heard, unquote. It's not so much that I think those voices don't need to be heard, it's more that people self-identifying as fringe has started to feel like such a popular thing to do that it's become necessary to a certain kind of authorial identity. "I'm worth listening to not because I speak from inside the center, but because of my socially underprivileged but artistically privileged viewpoint outside of it". I'd argue (and Shakespeare would back me up) that the center doesn't actually exist anyway, except in our minds when we think about how we are outside of it. I wish people would just shut up and tell whatever story they have it in them to tell without mapping their own cultural value. If it's a "story that needs to be heard" then it will have its own value. All this positioning feels like listening to someone talk who is at the same time pointing at themselves with both hands.

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