Tuesday, March 28, 2006

nerve pills and Ted Chiang

Before I apologize for the Midgleython: I did read some stories of Ted Chiang's, and enjoyed them, but I don't think they're literary. The prose is lively, he's got some good natural swing, he's clever and has some interesting ideas, but I don't feel the power of the English language in his writing. It's neither poetry nor fine rhetoric. Which is no tragedy, but I don't think his writing should be held up as an example of literary science fiction. And it's possible that he's got more literary work than what I've read, but I don't think literary writers generally turn it on and off like that; I think you're a poet or you ain't. Which, again, is fine. I'm reading one of Asimov's autobios, and he's got this to say about literary writing:

The trouble with writing poetically is that if you hit the target, the result is beautiful; if you miss, it is rotten. Poetic writers are usually uneven. A prosaic writer like me, who consistently misses the heights, also avoids the depths.

I think that's true. On request, though, just because I'm a pedant, I'll do a side-by-side comparison of literary and Ted, and then people can get hysterical about that, if they want to. But I think it's probably not worthwhile.

(What kind of a snobby reader am I, anyway? The kind that largely agrees with Harold Bloom about Harry Potter, but mostly likes Bloom's headline: "Can 35 Million Book Buyers Be Wrong? Yes." There, now I've alienated all six of you.)

Anyway, about Midgley: I hadn't meant to turn this into the Mary Midgley Hour, but she writes seriously, and without appeals to God, about why we shouldn't believe Rodney Brooks (remember Rodney Brooks?) when he says we're machines and no different from any other kind of biological machines, possibly no different in any important way from any other kind of machine, period. And why Dawkins is wrong when he says that science is the only way we have of understanding the world. So I'm taking my time reading her book, and doing something that's unusual for me, scribbling arguments all over it. I don't usually write in books, but hers needs a conversation.

Hang on, I've got to go tell the shrink I don't want any more Xanax. Half a pill and I felt like one of those things you poke with a stick and it doesn't move. To think people build an empire on this.


Chuck said...

So what happened to the highbrow/not-so-highbrow comparisons? Are you still up to it?

Amy Charles said...

Sure, I'm always open to a bludgeoning. Not tonight, though. Give me a day or two.