Saturday, October 15, 2011

More Alan Glynn, plus "interactive discussion"

Where was I? Oh, yes: buzzwords, privatizationthe evils of corporate control.

Alan Glynn's new Bloodland sparked much of that discussion, and the concerns in that book are a neat bookend to those in Glynn's  2001 novel The Dark Fields (also published as Limitless, title of the movie based on it).

That novel follows a New York semi-slacker on a journey through Manhattan's financial stratosphere fueled by a magical drug that lets him do just about anything, includings things he can't always remember. Here are three favorite quotation from the book which, though ten years old, is possibly more pertinent today than ever:
"The military superpower was a thing of the past, a dinosaur, and the only structure that counted in the world today was the ‘hyperpower’, the digitalized, globalized English-language based entertainment culture that controlled the hearts, minds and disposable incomes of successive generations of 18- to 24-year-olds."

"She worked as the production co-ordinator of a small cable TV guide, but I’d always pictured her moving on to bigger and better things, editing a daily newspaper, directing movies, running for the Senate."

"Hank Atwood, the Chairman of MCL-Parnassus, was routinely described as one of the ‘architects of the entertainment-industrial complex.’"
Back on my personal newspaper front, a story about young civic activists had one touting "sustainable models" and another talking about a conference that sought to encourage "interactive discussion."

"Interactive discussion." That takes redundancy to the next level.

© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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42 Comments:

Blogger Photographe à Dublin said...

I think you would enjoy "Death Sentence, The Decay of Public Language" by Don Watson.

I find it helpful when reading Alan Glynn's novels because they give such attention to the importance of language in both public and private spheres.

The main thesis of Watson's book is:

"So the language of the media and the language of politics are blended. If one is a peculiar, dishonest or debased language, the other is bound to become so." (page 62)

I find it remarkable that so many people are writing critiques of political jargon at present. It probably is a good sign that not everybody is asleep at the wheel.

October 16, 2011  
Blogger seana said...

I enjoyed this book a lot, though it is quite different from Winterland and I presume Bloodland in tone. I think Glynn made a wise choice to take the next book back to Dublin, though.

October 16, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks, P. I had not heard of that book. I'll look for it.

It was obvious, especially in Bloodland, that Glynn plays special attention of public language without, I think, hitting the reader over the head. He would not have liked some of the uses of narrative in my newsroom.

October 16, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, I found "Bloodland" and "The Dark Fields/Limitless" somewhat similar in tone.

As for going back to Dublin, "Bloodland" has many American characters. In that book and in this one, Glynn puts one speech tic that I take to be Irish in th emouths of those characters. In "Bloodland: he has a character memory tells me is American insist that something be done "straightaway." An American would say "right away," never "straightaway."

October 16, 2011  
Blogger seana said...

I think you're right about that, although 'never' is too strong. I've probably said it myself. I think there can be a bit of bleedthrough from reading British fiction, watching British television shows, or following British bands.

October 16, 2011  
Blogger seana said...

And in response to Maria's comment, I can remember from long ago my professor mentioning a scholar who saw the erosion of the German ethical system by the way language became degraded. I mean at the time not in retrospect. I never could remember the man's name, but he is mentioned in Erik Larsen's [i]In the Garden of Beasts[/i]. Unfortunately, I gave my galley back to the store for someone else to read so I don't have the man's name here in front of me.

Oh wait, I fiugred it out--it was Victor Klemperer, cousin to the conductor. He kept a diary witnessing the process.

October 16, 2011  
Blogger Tales from the Birch Wood. said...

I certainly did not pick up on the unusual use of "straightaway".

This indicates that your antennae are very finely and exactly tuned:

"http://www.englishforums.com/English/Idioms/7/hckqr/Post.htm"

An English friend has pointed out the Irish are always trying to reassure one another and make sure that everyone is comfortable. "Are you alright?" seems to be the constant mantra here.

Your insight has given a new edge to my reading experience...

October 16, 2011  
Blogger Tales from the Birch Wood. said...

In response to Seana's interesting comment, I think there are far too many people bemoaning the fall of society into linguistic incoherence at the moment.

Certainly the way journalists behave at the moment is not exemplary, but I begin to wonder if things were ever really much better. Alexander Pope was a great man for the long moan as well, and that's some time back.

October 16, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, bleedthrough or maybe a small but calculated effort on Glynn's part to keep his readers as much a part of the story as possible. In any case, it wsa not at all obtrusive.

October 16, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Cousin to the conductor and so a relative of Col. Klink's. I'd be wary of tying erosion (or change) in language too closely to any ethical decline.

October 16, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Maria, you didn't pick up on the unusual use of "straighaway" because it occurs just once in the book, I think, but probably also because its use would likely not be unusual to you. I'm sure you'd note similar instances in an Irish or English character written by an American author.

October 16, 2011  
Blogger seana said...

Actually, in California, no one ever says "I'll get to that right away!" either.

We say, "Later, dude."

October 16, 2011  
Blogger seana said...

Also, Peter, go over and weigh in on Adrian's beard. You are in a better position to weigh in on the pros and cons than many. Well, than me.

Not that that stopped me.

October 16, 2011  
Blogger seana said...

On your earlier note on being wary of tying language erosion to ethical decline, here is the page that led me back to Klemperer. Perhaps it makes a difference if the language erosion is deliberate.

October 16, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I have heard that in Mexico, the stereotypical word is mañana.

Adrian's Beard sounds like a title. I shall weigh in on this vital matter.

October 16, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

It matters if the manipulation/eroision is deliberate. It also sometimes surprises me that young people, those supposed bearers of truth, throw tendentious, misleading, concealing jargon around with as much freedom as do the political and coporate types they affect to despise.

October 16, 2011  
Blogger seana said...

Actually, I got that slightly wrong. The correct California usage would be "No, problem, man."

As to the beard, the right decision could make or break him.

At least in Germany.

October 16, 2011  
Blogger seana said...

Uh, "No problem, man."

My last attempt was the victim of too many commas.

October 16, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana: Even Primo Levi's brief excerpts provide context. I can't say as much for the others.

His discussion of prisoners and men reminds of the use of assets to mean private spies or killers.

Incidentally, the publicity material for the movie Limitless appears to exaggerate the importance of the billionaire Carl Van Loon. That couldn't be because Robert De Niro plays the character, could it? The movie also chops a syllable or two from the protagonist's name.

October 16, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

No, problem Seana.

Incidentally, the other Irish speech quirk that Glynn often gives his American characters is yeah? tacked onto the end of a statement, as if seeking affirmation:

"-– that’s Mediflux Inc., a Florida drug company, yeah?"

I take that to be a quirk of irish speech because Irish writers have characters say it all the time. I have never heard an American use it, on the other hand. An American would say "you know?" or "right?" or "OK?"

October 16, 2011  
Blogger seana said...

I thought assets were people the spies 'handled'.

Yeah, I didn't think much of that page, except for the sense that it wasn't just Klemperer who thought that something terrible had happened to the German language.

I would like to see the movie. I'm sure it's just a coincidence that Deniro has a bigger role than the book intended. As an actor, DeNiro has to be an advocate of the saying that there are no small parts only small actors. Right?

October 16, 2011  
Blogger seana said...

I mean, yeah?

That's kind of funny about the Irish using yeah reflexively, because my understanding is that Irish had or has no word for yes.

October 16, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, maybe the terminology is different for PMCs. The scene ins question is from Bloodland, yeah? The head of the private military contractor is moving people in to eavesdrop on and then get rid of the protagonist, and he tells a pesky businessman things like "I'm moving an asset in now."

Levi's excerpts alone make the page worth reading.


I'll probably see the movie, too. And yes, there are no big actors, just big advertising budgets and actors with big contracts.

October 16, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I thought Irish had no word for no, yes?

October 16, 2011  
Blogger seana said...

Yes, no word for no, but yes, no word for yes too.

October 16, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

No!

October 16, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Eddie Spinola in the book apparently becomes Eddie Morra in the movie.

October 16, 2011  
Blogger seana said...

Yup. Sorry, I had to revert to American, where is not only one word for yes, but several.

October 16, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

OK.

October 16, 2011  
Blogger seana said...

Spinola to Morra--how odd. Sometimes you think they just change things because they can. For instance changing the title of movie from the original. I've read Glynn say that he wasn't thrilled by this, but what was he going to do--walk out? Not too likely.

October 16, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Limitless is not a bad title for the story, I'd say.

Spinola to Morra is a bit of puzzle. The name is still vaguely ethnic, though it does simplify matters by being one syllable shorter.

Carmen Sternwood became Camillia in the 1978 remake of The Big Sleep for no reason that I can figure out.

October 16, 2011  
Blogger seana said...

It isn't but it isn't the one he chose. It would be different if he liked it better, but apparently he wasn't won over.

October 16, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I read the F. Scott Fitzgerald epigraph from which Glynn took his original title. I'd have to give the matter some thought before deciding whether that original title was a good one.

October 16, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The comments about the German language remind me of what Joseph Brodsky said about Russian literature under communism.

October 16, 2011  
Anonymous Liz said...

Any discussion of decline in language reminds me of efforts against English by L'Académie Française.

October 16, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

It's easy for discussions to stray into that territory, Liz. At the same time, examples like Glynn's are reminders of the evil ends to which language be put. I can't believe that someone who would use an expression like "interactive discussion" is anything but either a dupe -- or else expects her audience to be one.

October 16, 2011  
Anonymous Liz said...

Some context, Peter. Recently, I sent friends with young children my commiseration and a post on the evolution of language. My view of L'Académie Française is mellowing with age.
That said, "interactive discussion" is, of course, ludicrous. Much public discourse is, in my view, and always has been and will be. Public, however, is safer than the alternative, and catch words do make distortions easier to spot.

October 17, 2011  
Anonymous I.J.Parker said...

I have a notion that the catch words and catch phrases that pop up in political speech and are popularized by the media and the speech of those in power during the Third Reich are indeed related. In an effort to be understood and to drum meaning into the befuddled heads of the masses, these speakers simplify, obscure, and convince by assertion and repetition.


What happened with the Academie Francaise, and indeed also in post-war Germany, was an effort to keep foreign words (in this case English) out of the language. In Germany, it failed totally, to judge by the latest Krimi I just read. I have a notion that France didn't do much better. It's the young people who adopt words and ideas most rapidly. Their elders bemoan change.

October 17, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Liz, "interactive" is this generation's "all-natural": a marketing slogan liable to be used for almost anything and thus almost meaningless.

I wonder if public discourse is any more or less honest than it used to be. We are probably more alert for bullshit since the 1960s and since Wategate than we used to.

October 17, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I.J., perhaps humans have always felt a need to exaggerate their own claims, but with different vocabulary according to the disctates of fashion.

October 17, 2011  
Blogger Photographe à Dublin said...

Alan Glynn recently said that he admires Joseph Conrad's writing.

I find the physicality of much of Glynn's style leads to very vivid images forming in one's mind.

In that he has a lot in common with Conrad. Abstract language is often satirised in Mr Glynn's world, I feel.

"http://hellinakiss.blogspot.com/2009/08/joseph-conrads-youth.html"

October 22, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

"Abstract" is one word for the kind of language Glynn satirizes, that'd for sure. Thanks.

October 22, 2011  

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