Friday, March 25, 2016

A new book by, and an old post about, Alan Glynn (on words as self-deluding weapons)

Today's mail brought a copy of Alan Glynn's upcoming novel Paradime, and that is beyond good news. No crime or thriller writer is more alert to the scary power of language, to its manipulation by government and business elites (including, of course, Apple), and to our eager complicity in that manipulation. Have you ever been part of the conversation? Part of a narrative?  (If not, you will be. We can partner on that going forward.) If so, and if you take words seriously, and think they should mean what they say, you'll like Glynn.

Paradime is Glynn's fifth novel, following Winterland, Bloodland, Graveland, and The Dark Fields. (The last is also available as Limitless, the title of the movie adaptation that starred Bradley Cooper and Robert DeNiro.) All the books are excellent.

© Peter Rozovsky 2016

=======================
Words are weapons, and Alan Glynn knows weapons can be evasive and defensive as well as offensive.  Anyone who says "going forward" clearly would prefer that you not examine what he or she has left behind. (Is it any accident that going forward entered the American lexicon in a big way around the time Mark McGwire torpedoed his Hall of Fame chances by telling the U.S. Senate that he was not here to talk about the past?)

Glynn is alert to the ominous vogue uses of conversation and narrative, especially by corporations and politicians. But even the good guys in his books slip into jargon of their own, which adds to his novels' all-embracing sense of dread. Here's the crusading reporter Ellen Dorsey in his new novel, Graveland, (emphasis mine):
"Walking back to her apartment, she decides that with the lack of any intel on the perps, the only other likely route into the story is through the vics."
Perps is probably widespread enough in American usage (Graveland is set in New York) by now to have been stripped of whatever moral weight it may once have carried, and I'm not sure vics (for victims) is real slang. But intel is real, as fraught with self-importance and grandiosity as good, ominous slang ought to be. (A good test for a buzzword's bullshit quotient is how easily it can be replaced with an ordinary word. In this case, intel says nothing information would not. Its bullshit score is therefore 100.)
*
Here's Glynn on 1970s paranoia thrillers. And here's a question for you, readers: What are your least favorite buzzwords and phrases that have come into wide use since the early 1990s, say since the beginning of Bill Clinton's first administration? Why do you hate them? Here are two more of mine:
  • Friend modified by a person's name, e.g., a Clinton friend. Calls attention to the clubbiness of America's controlling elites, which might be good news except that reporters embraced the construction wholeheartedly. A (fill in the name) friend may a uniquely American construction. No one in the UK would see the need to call a prime minister's associate a Cameron friend because everyone would take for granted that, having gone to the same public schools before going on to Oxford or Cambridge, of course they were friends.
  • Conversation, as a neat catch-all for the vast, messy sprawl of opinions, verbal ejaculations, and seeming irrelevancies on a given subject, with the implication that the mess can be tidied up and manipulated. Trust no one who invites you to be part of the conversation, much less, as one of Glynn's characters does in Bloodland, to "change the conversation."
© Peter Rozovsky 2013

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50 Comments:

Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Love Alan Glynn and his latest book is him on top form!

July 11, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

He's one of the very best. In honor of one of his inspirations, for which he named the magazine that Ellen Dorsey writes for, I am watching The Parallax View at this moment.

July 11, 2013  
Blogger seana graham said...

Speaking of friend, the use of the word as a verb as in "to friend someone" is pretty obnoxious.

In fact, the word friend has become pretty hollowed out in general. I guess it's a little like love in being used for everything from the most shallow relationships (I love ice cream, for instance) to the most profound.)

July 11, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I guess it's a little like love

And that, forgive me for saying so, has to be the title of a song.

"Friend" as a verb is beyond obnoxious, but I won't include it on my list unless it spreads beyond its limited use for a particular social network. I think I've seen it used just once, if that, in a non-Facebook reference, and I hope I never see it used that way again.

I British reader once chided either me or some author here on DBB for using "love" loosely, but I pointed out that that was simply a fact of American speech. When and why it became a fact of American speech would be a matter of interest.

July 11, 2013  
Anonymous Alan Glynn said...

Must re-visit Parallax myself. And Marathon Man - just watched a great interview with William Goldman:
http://bit.ly/19UnwT1

Two words that are like fingernails on a chalk board to me - when not used in their literal senses -sen are "journey" and "place".

July 11, 2013  
Anonymous Alan Glynn said...

Shoulda previewed.

July 11, 2013  
Blogger seana graham said...

I guess I accidently dissed Adrian by comparing friend with love when he'd just mentioned loving Alan's books.

You're right, it may just be Facebook, although, I'm not on that, so don't know it from there. I think of it being part of the Good Reads and Linked in lingo too, but maybe they say something more like, become a friend? But now I'm realizing that to friend is really just to befriend, modernized.

As I said in the last post, I'm reading Bloodland in my spare moments. I wouldn't dare say now that I think it will take me on a journey to a place I've never been, but I will say I am soon taking it on a journey to a place it's never been, which is the laundromat.

July 11, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

As in, "I'm in a bad place right now"? Yeah, that's one of the worst. I suspect that the 1960s, via Oprah and similar shows, are to be blamed for the virulent spread of stuff like that.

One interesting bit of The Parallax View had a chimpanzee or monkey playing pong in a psychologist's lab. It's inconceivable that any filmmaker today would dare to or even be capable of coming up with such a scene. (I just assumed, by the way, that you named Parallax magazine for the movie. And why the "shoulda previewed"?)

Speaking of Marathon Man, I am overdue for a visit to the dentist. Thanks.

July 11, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, I had Adrian's comment in mind when I replied to you. The man has obviously absorbed much from his time in America.

Whatever the circles where friend as a verb enjoys currency, I don't think it has come into wide use. Friend as a verb is befriend but without the brand. If it has not attained wider use by now, I suspect it never will. But if it does, I hope it does not become a word that people use in a manner they fancy is ironic and dismissive but really indicates wholehearted submission to all that friend as a verb (or verbal friend)stands for.

July 11, 2013  
Anonymous Alan Glynn said...

"Shoulda previewed" my first comment before hitting the Publish button, Peter, coz of the typo in it toward the end (-sen).

Did indeed use Parallax deliberately. Don't remember the monkey in the lab. Will re-watch.

Don't forget your oil of cloves when you get back from the dentist.

Hope it's safe.

Seana, ever taught ESL? That's a complete lesson plan you have right there on usage.

Alan

July 11, 2013  
Blogger seana graham said...

I haven't, Alan, but I have a feeling that people in an ESL class might decided to just pack it in on English after that example.

July 11, 2013  
Anonymous Alan Glynn said...

I taught it for years, Seana, we have a wonderfully bonkers language.

July 11, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Alan: My dentist has a fine sense of humor. We have discussed Marathon Man (which I have not seen) with me in the chair.

The monkey bit is the opening of the scene where Warren Beatty's character visits the psychologist, played by Anthony Zerbe. We see a ball going back and forth on a pong screen, and we hear one of the players, Zerbe, talking. The camera pulls back, and we see why only one of the players was talking: the other is a monkey or a chimp. The shot was about as subtle as a grand piano dropping onto the viewer's head, but still amusing.

Another touch that underlined its own significance: Do you remember the scene where the plane has returned to Los Angeles after Beatty's character figures out there's a bomb on it? The jet is seen in a long shot, through a wire fence, as the soundtrack plays airport announcements. A sign attached to the wire fence reads: "Beware of jet blast."

July 11, 2013  
Blogger seana graham said...

Bonkers being a case in point.

July 11, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

From Merriam-Webster online:

Origin of BONKERS
perhaps from bonk + -ers (as in crackers)

July 11, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

"I taught it for years, Seana, we have a wonderfully bonkers language."

I should say, Alan, that that was the first time I'd ever seen bonkers as an attribute adjective rather than a predicate adjective. But it works. Our language is indeed wonderfully bonkers.

July 11, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana (and now Alan, too): I wonder what goes through the minds of earnest students, especially older ones, perhaps, studying English and trying to absorb instruction that may contradict what they hear every day. How do teachers deal with this reality? How do they explain that a given usage may be a living part of the language, but still not correct?

July 11, 2013  
Blogger seana graham said...

Bonk is a weird word itself.

Alan will be more likely to understand what goes on in English learners minds than I would. Well, except my own.

July 11, 2013  
Anonymous Alan Glynn said...

Oh man, what a question - and just as I'm about to hit the hay (retire, catch some zzz's, crash, get some shut eye etc). English grammar isn't complex, but the language is soooo idiomatic. Phrasal verbs are a nightmare. I think usage is the great shifting fault line, and teachers don't have an easy time of it.

You must see Marathon Man. It's not as politically urgent as Parallax/Conversation/Condor, but it's really terrific. Great score by Michael Small.

G'night.

July 11, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Bonk is imitative and was first recorded in 1931, according to Merriam-Webster online. I wonder if American English is more open to imitative words and onomatopoeia.

I love the formal tone with which dictionaries discuss whimsical words. My favorite example was hardass as a noun, which I remember because it headed a column on its page in, I think, Merriam-Webster's Tenth Collegiate, the official desk dictionary of my newspaper at the time. A hardass, according to that dictionary, is "One who is hardass."

July 11, 2013  
Blogger seana graham said...

Peter, that's great. I guess it would hardly do to take a whimsical tone, would it? When you're a dictionary, I mean.

I'm off to do that preannounced laundromat thing.

July 11, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Alan, while you're sawing logs, I'll be thinking about English usage and about asking where you taught ESL. The shift I've noticed in recent years is that words seem to come into and go out of fashion faster than they had before. No mystery to that, really.

July 11, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana: I'll head out to a coffeeshop to do some work and pick up some infuriating examples of young slackers talking like Republicans.

July 11, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

In a comment above, I meant that I wondered if American English was more open to to imitative words and onomatopoeia than other languages and other forms of English. Do comic books in other languages, that is, have their counterparts to the sound effects of American comics and early pulp stories?

July 11, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana: Sure enough, I was not in the cafe for two minutes before I got what I came for. I young man was painting a wall, and I asked if I could still plug in my computer.

"Go for it!" he said, an expression I've never liked.

July 11, 2013  
Blogger seana graham said...

I don't mind it, because at least it's encouraging, but I'm pretty sure its original utterers were exhorting people to do something a little more taxing than putting a plug in a wall.

July 11, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

As a substitute for sure!, be my guest, go ahead, or yes, it is boosterish and over the top.

V-word: aphasia

July 11, 2013  
Blogger seana graham said...

You've got to admit that it's better than if he had said "Whatever." I'll take overenthusiasm over underenthusiasm any day. Especially if it's about something I want to do.

July 11, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Whatever.

July 11, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

... which I hate far worse than I do "Go for it." And that reminds me that people whose jobs involve interacting with the public -- and sorry, but this is more characteristic of people in their twenties than of older people -- and who are so goddamn lazy and rude that they can't mobilize their vocal apparatus to form articulate sounds and instead grunt "Mmhmm" at the customer deserve to be slapped.

I have never done this. But I have responded with an unnecessarily emphatic "Mmhmm," hoping that the slobs will get the message.

July 11, 2013  
Anonymous Alan Glynn said...

Peter, I taught ESL (we say EFL over here, 'f' for foreign) in Verona, Italy, and back here in Dublin. In Italy, if you're learning Italian, you have to contend with the fact that most places have dialect - so you learn formal Italian and then step out into a world where most people are speaking an almost unrecognizable version of what you've supposedly just been learning. But this thing is, the people you talk to can switch back to 'proper' Italian and you'll be fine. For poor folks studying English, however, it's a bit different. You learn your formal/standardized English in class and then you step out into a world where most people are speaking an almost unrecognizable version of what you've supposedly just been learning but IT STAYS THAT WAY. There's no switching back, nothing to switch back to, because we don't have dialect in English, just heavy accents and lots of local idiomatic variation - so depending on whether you're learning English in Dublin, Cork, Glasgow, London, Belfast, Sydney, Jo'burg, Baltimore, Dallas . . . well, good luck. I've seen the despair on the faces of beleagured Japanese businessmen. It means we have an incredibly rich and varied language, with that loose Shakespearean impulse to coin and invent still intact, but my fear is that a second English is developing, a globalised, functional, stilted, ugly ESL-speak that is used for business and computers and diplomacy but that won't develop organically the way languages normally do - or will, but in a twisted way - and that will be resented by a lot of the people who are forced to use it.

Oh dear.

Time for my early morning double espresso.

July 12, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I, on the other hand, have just had my nightly glass of beer and will retire for the evening before returning to comment at greater length tomorrow.

I lived in Rome for five months 16 years ago and I had the novel (for me) experience of noting that any Italian who spoke perfect official English did so with a decidedly English accent.

I also remember traveling from Padua through Ravenna to Florence back to Rome and noticing the shift from the z sound of the Venetian speech to the soft g in Rome. And in Rome, our hard c is pronounced with the throat almost open, so Caracala sounds almost like Garagala.

Buona notte.

July 12, 2013  
Anonymous Alan Glynn said...

I speak Italian with a Veronese accent, which people from other parts of Italy find hilarious - just as I find a Japanese person speaking English with a Cork accent hilarious. But there is a thing in Italy, especially in Rome, with Anglophilia - as in thinking if it ain't the Queen's English, RP, then it somehow isn't the real deal. And this extends to a snobbery about American English, which a lot of Italians imagine to be a dialect of English, and therefore somehow inferior, and to be avoided. This used to drive me crazy, and I can't count the number of times I'd whip out a passage from Melville or F Scott Fitzgerald or Flannery O'Connor (or Chandler or Pynchon) and say, Dialect? Check THIS shit out, you sorry-ass sonofabitch.

Next time you're in Dublin, ti offro un caffe . . .

July 12, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Yep, public address announcements in English in Rome can be an elocution lesson for we slacker native speakers. As for entertaining combinations of speaker and accent, I enjoyed the time I heard a woman who had been born in the Philippines say. "Oh, aye" as we rode the bus to Cookstown.

You may know that I was just in Dublin last month. I shall have to return for that coffee.

July 12, 2013  
Blogger seana graham said...

One bemusing experience of English I had was when I was in Hong Kong, and heard all these Chinese school children speaking elevated British English. This was before the handover, so I don't know what it's like now.

July 12, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

You think maybe they're now all saying, Yo!"?

July 12, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I had the experience in Hong Kong of hearing a Chinese waiter say "strudel" when listing the available desserts at the the local Jewish center/club.

July 12, 2013  
Blogger seana graham said...

Truly a cross cultural experience, Peter.

July 12, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, I put up a blog post about Irish speech that included that incident. Gerard Brennan replied with a wonderful example of Belfast speech on a Russian tongue.

July 12, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Oh, you mean the Hong Kong strudel incident. That happened before blogs were invented, so no post on that one. Sorry.

July 12, 2013  
Blogger seana graham said...

I did, but, I'm glad of the misunderstanding, because that was great.

v word=talkside

July 12, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I even get a kick out of Chinese kids jabbering away like valley girls.

Talkside could be the name of a five-minute radio show in which we discuss odd speech experiences like these.

July 12, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Alan, a big question is the extent to which this stilted, ugly ESL-speak will spill back and seep into the speech of native English speakers. Or has it done so already, in the form of the words and phrases about which we complain here?

July 12, 2013  
Anonymous Alan Glynn said...

That's bound to happen to some degree, but it'll be very hard to track. I've been out of ESL for a long time. But I do think that English is an incredibly resilient language, and while pedantic old farts like me (us?) have a role as self-appointed watchdogs (fewer,less etc) the beauty of English is that, really, anything goes. Richard Ford's The Lay of the Land is a great example - without being experimental or meta in any way - of how malleable, democratic, forgiving, inventive, funny and downright bonkers modern English can be.

July 13, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

English famously has by far the largest vocabulary of any language. I have seen this attributed to its willingness to absorb words from anywhere. Like England, France had far-flung colonial possessions, so French could have become just as promiscuous a vocabulary sponge. Apprently it did not. Why? A thought occurs to me:

Did France's tendency toward centralized control of its overseas possession militate against the French language's possibility of absorbing vocabulary? Alexis de Tocqueville wrote that the French made bad colonists because they tried to control everything from Paris, whereas the English let their colonists go their own way to a much greater extent. He was talking about administration, but perhaps French colonial officials were strict in matters of language as well, wary of letting French become polluted by local tongues.

July 13, 2013  
Blogger seana graham said...

Alan, I will definitely check out Lay of the Land.

It's interesting to me, that people who have thought about English a lot seem to break into two camps--the enforcers and the appreciators. I was surprised listening to a bit of Stephen Fry on language lately to find that he was in the latter camp and tries to squelch his own pedantic tendencies in favor of the richness of language. I suppose I shouldn't have been, because the flexibility of language has to be a great resource for a comedian.

July 13, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, I have always said that to be good at my job, one ought to be liberal in understanding the rules of language but conservative in applying them.

July 13, 2013  
Anonymous Alan Glynn said...

Yes, yes, and yes, Peter and Seana. And very interesting re colonialism. As an Irish person, I'd be loath to credit the English with "smarts" in this area. But you really have to laugh at the French and their academy. Stephen Fry is a very clever guy. At the end of the day, as it were, language is life.

July 13, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

One would be hard-pressed to find anyone saying anything good about any form of colonialism these days. Here's Tocqueville on French administration in Algeria, highlighting mine:

"This first obstacle, created by our national character, is joined by those created by our political habits and our laws. For several centuries, the central government in France has worked constantly to control every decision itself; today, we can say that it does not just govern but administers all the separate parts of the realm. It would be beyond the scope of our subject to study what might be useful or dangerous in this state of affairs; we limit ourselves to noting that it is so.

...

"There is no permanent center for the civil administration in Algiers. Everything is centralized in Paris in M. Laurence's hands.20 The tiniest affairs are decided according to his whim. We cannot grant an inch of land to emigrants without endless formalities that last months and result in M. Laurence's visa. When things are regulated in this way, we miss our chance and the colonist leaves, or rather the prospect of such a state prevents him from coming. The central administration in Paris continually takes the initiative on a slew of measures without consulting the department heads."


In re England and Ireland, I wonder what Ireland would be like today if English/Anglo/Norman presence had remained frozen in the form it had taken for it first four hundred or so years -- you know, before the really bad stuff started.

July 13, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Here's one that has no ominous implications but is bloody annoying for its cutesy earnestness: "(blanking) the world, one (blank) at a time."

When are writers and speakers going to stop finding this amusing? No way anything like this would make it into a big-city newspaper.

July 14, 2013  

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