Congratulations to dear friend and gentle soul Richard Powers for winning the National Book Award for 2006! His latest novel, The Echo Maker, is currently # 63 at Amazon. Let’s send it to # 1, shall we? Don’t make me call my friend Hugo to do the job!
Of course, everyone knows or else should know that Rick should have won the thing in 1993 when he was a finalist for The Gold Bug Variations*. And I’m also very partial to Prisoner’s Dilemma, having taught it in three or four seminars. (Remember, What’s Liberal fans, it’s the novel that sent “John” over the edge!) And Rick was so kind as to steal my wife and children as models for three characters in Galatea 2.2, which I’ll be teaching next spring. Teaching it for revenge, I assure you.
In other (far less important) news, I got myself quoted in a news item of some kind. Something to do with an “Academic” Bill of “Rights” and a “Committee” or something in “Pennsylvania.” I note that my old friend David Horowitz wrote last week that the committee’s hearings were “an unqualified victory for the academic-freedom campaign,” and claimed here that “we will be posting the Committee Report as soon as it is released and readers will see that it is a massive indictment of higher education in Pennsylvania, the lack of intellectual diversity, the lack of professionalism, and the failure of the system to protect its students.” But apparently David is now very, very upset at the way the report is being, ah, reported in the reality-based community, partly because, as Inside Higher Ed has the gall to point out, “the report goes on to note that there is no evidence of any but ‘rare’ cases in which students are punished for their views, and that no legislation is needed.” So, in response to the Associated Press story on the report, which also has the gall to suggest that the committee found only “rare” cases of bias (as Pittsburgh’s very own Scaife-based community paper, the Tribune-Review, admits in its title for the story, “Political Bias Rare at State Colleges”), David writes, “it is in fact a report of the Democrats’ talking points on these proceedings which itself are based on a willful disregard for the facts.”
Whew! I hope that’s clear. Though I miss the old days of Republican message discipline. And good grammar.
Thanks to Free Exchange on Campus for keeping track of it all.
UPDATE: Score one for the self-correcting blogosphere, and one against my failing memory. As alert reader m.ho points out (comment 1, right off the bat), Rick was in fact the 1993 finalist for Operating Wandering Soul, and not for Gold Bug Variations, which was published in 1991. I was so sure of this one that I didn’t even bother to check on the special National Book Award intertube. But I should have known better, all the same: I first met Rick in the summer of 1991, just before Jamie was born and just before Gold Bug came out. He did a wonderful reading which included the passage about the various forms of life that populate the planet, right down to those ubiquitous bacteria, and when I spoke to him afterwards I asked him, “was that your response to the complaint that you postmodern novelists don’t write about life as we know it?” And then we talked a lot about genetics. Right, well. Two months later Jamie was born. Rick, back in the Netherlands by that time, sent me a long and quite beautiful letter apologizing for not understanding that all the time he thought we were talking about his book, I was really talking about Jamie and Down syndrome—and sending along his best wishes and much moral support. I wrote back insouciantly, “hey, gold bug dude” (I still have the letter on my hard drive), “I myself had no idea, when we were talking genetics at Zohreh’s house, that I was doing anything but reliving my undergraduate days when I would spend hours at a time wondering that DNA does indeed manage to build little homes for itself. And I’d hate to have you think I was talking about Jamie’s Down syndrome in so oblique and self-indulgent a fashion.” I spent the rest of the letter filling him in on Jamie and trisomy-21. I read Gold Bug two years later (hence my failing memory) and loved it, even the brief scene with the young mother with the child with Down syndrome, which Rick thought might cause me some pain.
Anyway, Rick moved back to Champaign-Urbana (as readers of Galatea 2.2 will know) and we continued the exchange in person. I borrowed a paragraph from Gold Bug when I wrote Life As We Know It, and I got the idea for the title of my book about Jamie from that first conversation in the summer of 1991; he borrowed Jamie himself for the character of Peter. Nick is “William,” though a few other kids went into that portrait as well. Janet is “Diana,” though “gap-toothed, hand-signing serenity” is not, in fact, among Janet’s attributes. And let the permanent blog record show that I did not leave my family (see comment 9).
I believe the Gold Bug Variations came out a couple of years before 1993--1991?--and the National Book Award Finalist business involved Operation Wandering Soul. I’m not just picking nits; I’m jumping at the chance to mention Operation Wandering Soul, a book I love and admire.Posted by on 11/16 at 03:01 PM
Yeah, does Horowitz single-handedly disprove theories of innate linguistic ability in human beings?
Captcha: dead, as in, “Soon we will all be dead courtesy of The Giant Nuclear Fireball.”Posted by Heraclitus on 11/16 at 03:04 PM
really, “Diana”, and the kids?Posted by mark on 11/16 at 03:17 PM
From the Inside Higher Ed story: “Free Exchange on Campus tracked how members of the Pennsylvania committee fared in their re-election bids. The Democrats — who generally were skeptical of Horowitz’s claims — are all coming back. Four Republicans — including Armstrong — were defeated. (In a twist, Armstrong said Wednesday that among the options he is considering when he leaves office at the end of the year is a job at a college in Pennsylvania. He declined to name it.)”
Since I’m not an academic, I’m going to go ahead and write that a bit of actual discrimination against one particular conservative in academia would be quite appropriate in this case.Posted by on 11/16 at 03:40 PM
“If Democrats were to hold hearings on higher education, you know what they’d focus on — mounting student debt, and the GOP’s ties to the student-loan industry. Which issues, do you think, matter more to the vast majority of students in American colleges (and their parents)?”
Sounds pretty reasonable to me. So when do the hearings begin?Posted by on 11/16 at 04:08 PM
Is that the same David Horowitz who admitted that he had no facts to back up some of his anecdotes? Didn’t he mumble something about the facts not really mattering in that case?Posted by on 11/16 at 04:47 PM
Horowitz isn’t going away without a roar of a bellow of a wail. He has a “secret plan” which he will not reveal because then it would no longer be a “secret.” Worse, according to Inside Higher Ed, Horowitz would have done much more but for his small staff.
No jokes please.Posted by on 11/16 at 05:23 PM
I was unable to finish Galatea 2.2 for whatever reason, but I did manage to finish Gain. Can’t remember just what I thought of it. I suspect that I was less than thrilled but thought he’d done a decent job on a very difficult problem, portraying the life of a corporation as opposed to the lives of cantankorous, rapacious, and libinous folks who run them for fun and profit.Posted by Bill Benzon on 11/16 at 05:41 PM
really, “Diana”, and the kids?
Yep. Make of it what you will. When Rick read from Galatea 2.2 at the Champaign Public Library in 1995, and mentioned the bit about the guy who leaves Diana because he can’t take the difference between his gifted child and his child with Down syndrome, one of my colleagues—a sweet man—said, “why, I don’t think that’s quite fair to Michael.” When the roman à clef with all your friends comes out, you don’t want to be the creep who leaves his wife and kids. But then when you’re the author of the roman à clef and you give a reading in front of all your characters, you’re fair game. Rick claimed “poetic” “license” or some shit.
m.ho, I can’t believe it—that is, I can’t believe my faulty memory—but you’re right. And in fact I should have known better, as I will make clear in an update.Posted by Michael on 11/16 at 05:46 PM
Horowitz isn’t going away without a roar of a bellow of a wail. He has a “secret plan” which he will not reveal because then it would no longer be a “secret.”
My sources tell me it involves a “laser.”Posted by on 11/16 at 06:15 PM
Don’t worry, Michael. 3Tops and Gojira will secure your release should He Who Must Not Be Named manage to transfix you with his laser.
captcha: “ground” as in “beef” and GrundrissePosted by Bill Benzon on 11/16 at 06:24 PM
I really liked Gain, in part because I thought Powers did such a fine job giving life to the biography of a corporation.Posted by on 11/16 at 06:34 PM
Michael and I may differ on DeLillo*, but Powers is one canonical postmodern author I can get behind. That said, his portrayal of Michael in the book now bothers me. A lot. So much, actually, I can’t even say I like him anymore. In fact, he’s a ripe royal bastard. I have no choice but to vehemently denounce Powers and all who like him, especially this Bérubé shill…
*Upon previewing, I decided to link to Michael’s exact comment on that thread and couldn’t find it. “I know he and I had that conversation,” I thought to myself. Then I remembered: Michael emailed me his criticism, which fact lends even more ironic goodness to this recent post.Posted by Scott Eric Kaufman on 11/16 at 07:53 PM
Let’s give another point to the good guys: Nate Mackey won the 2006 National Book Award for poetry. I can’t stomach the poetics wars (’tho Ron Silliman’s blog is otherwise brilliant), and Mackey is a brilliant experimental poet who poets from a lot of backgrounds can get behind. That said, the best place to start with Mackey’s work is probably his epistolary jazz novel, *Bedouin Hornbook* (Sun & Moon P) and his flawless collection of critical essays, *Discrepant Engagement*. I hope that visibility for Mackey is also a blow against boring poetry (experimental and mainstream alike).Posted by on 11/16 at 08:38 PM
What a delightfully small planet this is. I love “Gold Bug Variations” and just about anything else Richard Powers writes.Posted by Susie from Philly on 11/16 at 09:48 PM
This “laser” is indeed “most vexing.” Indeed. But I don’t see the need to appropriate Dr. Doom-style rhetoric, unless it’s a subtle effort to make You Know Who out to be a kind of parodic Mr. Fantastic (stretching the truth, etc.) and mock the idea of the academy as taken over by the forces of evil.
More on topic, I like Galatea 2.2 a good deal, but as a devoted SF otaku, I must point out it should be read alongside the contemporaneous William Gibson/Dan Simmons tussle over artificial intelligence in the Sprawl trilogy and the Hyperion trilogy. And probably Marge Piercy’s, Pat Cadigan’s, Neal Stephenson’s, and Octavia Butler’s responses to cyberpunk more generally. Maybe giving students an option to do a presentation or research paper relating Powers to one of these writers would be a useful step toward re-examining our own high-middle-low distinctions such things as National Book Awards perpetuate....Posted by The Constructivist on 11/16 at 10:23 PM
We toasted Richard Powers when the news broke. He’s the bridge between Gardner and DeLillo. If you’re looking for a concentrated dose of Powers’ brilliance (and it is blinding), then dig out his conversation with Bruno Latour under the title, “Two Writers Face One Turing Test: A Dialogue in Honor of HAL.” It was published in a journal that was too good to last, Common Knowledge. That he is a close friend of the Berube/Lyon clan comes as no surprise.Posted by on 11/17 at 09:56 AM
Posted by on 11/17 at 10:36 AM
I told her Taylor’s favorite joke about the priest, the scientist, and the literary critic each receiving the death sentence.—Galatea 2.2 (NY: Picador 1995) 249.
What I want is to hear this joke. Can anyone tell it to me?Posted by on 11/17 at 11:28 AM
Love Galatea 2.2 & have taught it a couple of times, the main problem being that the book is better than my teaching of it.
Also, I’ll happily sign on to Luther Blissett’s call for more poets like Mackey & the banishment of both dull & mainstream poetry, I mean, as long as the Nuclear Fireball Party has ascended to power, can’t we just legislate that there will be no more boring poems?
And as long as I’m in a concurring mood, let me say that, while I’ve only read about half of The Constructivist’s book list, I agree whole-heartedly about Butler & half-heartedly (or a bit more) about Neal Stephenson.Posted by Joseph Duemer on 11/17 at 01:06 PM
Well, blow me down.
So was young Nick responsible for the suspiciously clever children’s dialog in Galatea 2.2 (not to mention Operation Wandering Soul, which earned Powers a spot in my file labeled “Authors who put adult speech in the mouths of babes")?
That element hasn’t kept me from admiring Powers’s novels, but it has sometimes kept me from enjoying them. Maybe now I can just blame Nick and move on.Posted by on 11/17 at 02:46 PM
I love all this inside baseball about the Powers<>Berubé nexus, but I do want to shill about the new Powers that won the big prize. Although I am not wild about the title (Lucid Interval as an alternative?), the innards of this one are worthy of its shelf-colleagues: Galatea 2.2, Gain, and Goldbug. On spec, I was having trouble stifling a yawn about Nebraska (What’s YOUR problem?), cranes, and head trauma. However as a son of someone who suffered from closed-cranium brain trauma, he manages to convey the strange old world of brain injury and the stresses inherent on all involved. Even the sections of brain injurese I was most dreading were handled with care and precision.
Did i mention it subtly elides red state - blue state commentary, portrays a neuroscientist worthy of Bill Murray, and then there is the usual Powers’ delight in the procession of life that began 4 billion years ago and shows no sign of abating. (cue the Giant Nucleur Fireball now). well it does all that too.
Huzzah for Richard Powers. everyone deserves such a book for the holidays. Anyone else have favorite lines or sections?Posted by jordan on 11/20 at 11:44 AM
I am guessing this is not a good thing, when there are entirely missing threads of posts on the site. Perchance this is being looked into by the Minister of Justice, but the WAAGNFNP Ministry of Defense and Offense has launched a full investigation into the missing data. We must never allow our CCST to be overshadowed by militant CC supporters at this crucial moment.Posted by on 11/20 at 01:57 PM
spyder, the blog has indeed gone haywire, eating both this morning’s post and Friday’s as well. My secret police are looking into it. For now we’re directing all our attention to rogue CC supporters in the ISM-WWP-ROTC.Posted by Michael on 11/20 at 02:03 PM
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