Sunday, December 11, 2016
A timely New Yorker story that I hope is being satirical in its Dylan put-down
Joseph O'Neill is the author of the excellent and deservedly successful NY novel Netherland, and he's been trying to find a footing since that novel took us by storm - following up on an initial success is a problem for so many writers and of course a problem many other writers would with to have - so it was good to see his appearance in current NYer with the oddly titled story Pardon Edward Snowden. There are some impressive things in this piece, not the least of which is its timeliness. I can't really think of any other recent NYer story that so seamlessly incorporated not just the present zeitgeist but current events: he writes about Dylan's receiving the Nobel Prize, which means this story went from concept to publication in just a few weeks. Sweet. As to the story, it's one of professional jealousy among contemporary poets: The protagonist receives an invite from a fellow poet to sign a "poetition" seeking pardon for Snowden; the petition written in the form of a poem - we don't see it whole, but it seems to be drivel, and it certainly raises the wrath of the recipient, who makes a date to meet with a fellow poet to discuss whether he should sign - she has not received the invite, which leads to various speculations about whether the omission was an oversight or a diss (she'd "showed up" to poetitioner at a recent reading). We get the idea: the politics among pro poets are petty - because their world is so small, the stakes are so low, and the difference between fame and obscurity is ineffable (and sometimes political). The highlight of the piece are some snippets of verse - O'Neill is a great satirist; the lowlight is how little sympathy we feel for the main character. Really? You have a career that entails writing a poem or two a year and scribbling down your "ponsees" and you're biggest worry is whether you should endorse a cause in order to see your name appear (in an ad) in the NY Times? I also have to say that I hope O'Neill is being satirical in presenting the protagonist's jealous diatribe against Dylan's receiving the Nobel; crass behavior aside, isn't it obvious that this was the best thing the Nobel committee has done in decades, recognizing the world's greatest living artist and putting an end to the false dichotomy between written, spoken, or sung lyrics - it's all one, it's all literature, and to suggest that Dylan's lyrics don't read well on the page misses the whole point of the unified field of literature.