Literary Density

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I am currently locked on Lee Child’s violent Reacher thrillers.  I’m on #11.  No use recounting the story.  They’re all the same.  Neanderthal Hero, Pure Evil, and Mayhem.  Last time he used a backhoe to bury the bad guys in their SUV.  Drove it down.  I like that kinda comeuppance.  Chernow’s big book on Hamilton continues.  He was probably the key figure of the Revolution and early republic.  Washington depended upon him greatly in the war and in his presidency.  Jefferson hated him.  There’s an Irishman named Toibin, “The Empty Family,” who is witty and observant in his short stories.  Like Banville minus Nabokov.  A woman named Emily Fox Gordon with a big reputation was recommended for her “Book of Days.”  Her short stories are in the voice of that disgraced historian of Presidents chatty and perpetually smiling, Doris Kearns Goodwin.  Her memories/essays are supposed to be extraordinary but they come across contrived.  One can guess the story of a sixties’ psychiatric residential facility would have David and Lisa images and it does.  She even names the film and her desire to emulate that romanticism or why else, I question, would she write about this.  A book on cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee called majestically “The Emperor of all Maladies,” is instructive.  I’m half-way through coming to Faber’s chemotherapy clues late Forties and impressive fundraising efforts Fifties.  The one thought that pervades is I could be next and it’s fucking painful.  That gun I think about may make sense.  Finally, I’m also pursuing a Theological Tome, “Human Sexuality, toward a Catholic Anthropology…” (Salzman and another lay Theologian), which so far, has been an interminable preface ranging from Old Testament, Paul, the Church Fathers, Augustine, The Council of Trent, Old Penitentials, (the most entertaining section so-far: ‘whoever emits semen into the mouth shall do penance for seven years’), Aquinas and a cast of many familiar names like Hildebrand, Suenens, a list of Popes, Casti Connubi, Gaudium et Spes, and contract vs. covenant.  The authors will make a point eventually but first we need a history of the argument.  That’s where I am.  Just the beginning after 200 pages!  But I’ll plow on.  I take it as a liberal view.  But it is so serious.  Even anthropological! 

There’s always been a scholarly vein across good literature and the other disciplines that are reduced to words.  Take Chomsky.  I enjoy him immensely for his obsessive detailing and the references.  They go on for many pages at the end.  But he is pedantic.  Similarly political magazines and periodicals can become dense verbiage for its own sake.  Similarly for so many authors.  But it is refreshing to read simpler accounts or, at least those that do not require a 180 IQ.   Ironically Einstein wrote plainly for a wide audience.  Hemingway was famous for the short sentence.  Nabakov was cultivated or a classist but wrote entertainingly.  Solzeniszin was like a Russian Michener but his content is frankly lengthy but spellbinding.  I’m not putting complex expression or wordiness down.  I like Celine’s wit and Wolfe’s accounts of the big city.  Faulkner is beyond me.  There are many other examples.  But density for the sake of density is a conscious effort to create a sense of authority and phony wisdom in my opinion:  Habermus, Foster Wallace, so many academics with their fucking paradigms, even the Economist is too sophisticated.  Ditto the theological book cited above.  What do you think?  Are the so called Dense Writers so smart that I wear the Dunce Cap among them or I am in fact smart enough to see it all so fucking plainly?


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