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Norman Mailer

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From the AP:

Norman Mailer, the macho prince of American letters who for decades reigned as the country's literary conscience and provocateur with such books as "The Naked and the Dead," died Saturday, his literary executor said. He was 84.

It's an excellent obit.

I expect our friends at Arts & Letters Daily will have lots of links to Mailer obits/appreciations.

[More later...]

By Joel Achenbach  |  November 10, 2007; 8:29 AM ET
 
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Next: When Genius Bombs

Comments

Foist.
Can't say I have ever read any Mailer. He just seemed to be this larger than life guy that was more famous for being famous. Still, it's tough to see the post-war literary lions going down. So it goes.

Posted by: yellojkt | November 10, 2007 8:44 AM | Report abuse

Thanks for all the congrats on behalf of my son in the last boodle, but running out and buying a ton of white and gold is not a done deal yet. He still has his eye on a more northern Institute of Technology. We won't hear from them for another month. And more importantly, we won't have the word from the financial aid offices until April.

I spent the morning thinking about the end of his high school marching band career and got myself unaccustomedly choked up.

http://livebythefoma.blogspot.com/2007/11/accepted.html

Posted by: yellojkt | November 10, 2007 8:51 AM | Report abuse

There there, YJ. Sniff. I am teary too. How about this? You pass me the band baton and we will keep it going for the next four years. Conveniently, we are also a blue-band, although your shade of blue is a bit more electric. We are Navy with touches of Carolina blue.

Posted by: College Parkian | November 10, 2007 9:03 AM | Report abuse

Oh, the days of waiting for college acceptances...I hope SonofYJ gets in the northern engineering school, if that's what he wants. But it's always good for the answer to be YES from dad's alma mater.

Older daughter got her acceptance to ASU the Friday after Thanksgiving. We were at Mr. T's mother's, so she had to call, at 10:45 p.m. Everybody was in bed, but we didn't mind getting up for the good news. Younger daughter didn't apply early and didn't hear from UNC until the end of March. Not that there was any doubt she'd get in.

Posted by: Slyness | November 10, 2007 9:13 AM | Report abuse

I'm sure yello knows this, but I think Atlanta has the highest per capita number of, um... "gentlemen's" clubs in the nation. And we're talking *completely* revealing natural costumes.

Smack dab in the middle of the Bible Belt, no less. Of course, it's a big convention town, so that puts a little perspective on it.

Of course, those places require a bit more disposable income for one night than the typical college kid makes in two weeks, so SonOfYJ should get plenty of studying done.

Except for all the other fun stuff in a big city (and in Atlanta, a lot of the fun stuff is free).

Posted by: martooni | November 10, 2007 9:40 AM | Report abuse

Forgot to add my congrats earlier, yello.
Congrats.

In other news, Norman Mailer is dead, and I don't feel so good myself.

Gotta run.

bc

Posted by: bc | November 10, 2007 9:51 AM | Report abuse

Liked these grafs from the Mailer obit, link provided by Joel. They're food for thought, some of the same ideas tossed around at last Saturday night's literary smackdown at the Texas Book Festival:

In 2005, Mailer received a gold medal for lifetime achievement at the National Book Awards, where he deplored what he called the "withering" of general interest in the "serious novel."

Authors like himself, he said more than once, had become anachronisms as people focused on television and young writers aspired to screenwriting or journalism.

When he was young, Mailer said, "fiction was everything. The novel, the big novel, the driving force. We all wanted to be Hemingway ...

Posted by: Loomis | November 10, 2007 10:29 AM | Report abuse

Dance clubs can be pretty expensive. This fellow alumnus didn't use his brains when he racked up 53 grand at a strip club. And it wasn't even in Atlanta.

http://www.local6.com/news/14443516/detail.html?taf=orlpn

I had my bachelor party at the world famous Cheetah III, all the more amusing since I was the only straight guy in the group. Which is a story for a different day.

I used to live across the highway from a particularly seedy joint that Brett Butler (the comedienne, not the ball player) used to headline. I never got the chance to say "I used to know her when".

When I lived at the Darlington in lower Buckhead, one of my neighbors danced and was always inviting me to come see her, on a professional basis of course.

http://livebythefoma.blogspot.com/2007/10/getting-geek-right.html

So, yeah, I'm kinda aware of the entertainment choices in Atlanta. There is a reason it's a popular location for conventions.

Posted by: yellojkt | November 10, 2007 10:43 AM | Report abuse

yellojkt: Congrats to offspring! Also question. The last photos you linked to included a NYC trip. Where were the photos taken with the Empire State Building so gloriously visible in the background?

re: Mailer. Naked and the Dead was good, though it's been a long while for me. I also found Harlot's Ghost to be an engaging spy novel.

martooni, congrats to you too. You're going to need an assistant soon to do the prep work for you!

Posted by: SonofCarl | November 10, 2007 10:50 AM | Report abuse

Congratulations to Son of Yello; even if you're still waiting it is nice to have a solid "yes" somewhere. Colleges, of course, not marriage proposals.

I admit, right this moment I can't remember whether I've actually read Mailer or just inhaled his work as part of the zeitgeist. That's a little scary. Nonetheless I'm willing to sign on to the "literary titan" consensus and be thankful for his work.

Time to get out of my gowntails and continue my very slow start on the day (hey it is only 11 am here).

Posted by: Ivansmom | November 10, 2007 12:08 PM | Report abuse

What's up, friends. Ivansmom, I'm still in the house thing here and planning on staying that way for awhile.

Missed the pictures from TBG, but going back and see if I can get them up.

Nice and sunny here, but the threat of cold still in the air.

I don't believe I've read anything by this great author, but I think have, but it's been a long time ago.

I've been up since five thirty, and am really, really, sleepy.

Congrats, yk on your son. I hope he enjoys his college experience, and the South.

God loves us so much more than we can imagine through Him that died for all, Jesus Christ.

Posted by: Cassandra S | November 10, 2007 12:26 PM | Report abuse

I read that gentleman's obit, and he was something else. He had so many wives. I don't think he cared much for women. Probably one of those men that think women serve a purpose, one purpose?

Posted by: Cassandra S | November 10, 2007 12:42 PM | Report abuse

Anyone seen the new Tomcat movie? Bad reviews on the Yahoo page. Some say it's a movie for liberals and left thinking folks. You're not American if you like this film, that what some of the reviews state.

Posted by: Cassandra S | November 10, 2007 12:51 PM | Report abuse

No movies here, Cassandra. I am hoping to get outside today. It is a nice warm fall day, blue sky, not too much wind. Perhaps another day for the Zoo. My big accomplishment so far today has been chopping tomatoes, cucumber and herbs for tabouli. Also, the grocery store calls. I like the luxury of unplanned weekends.

Posted by: Ivansmom | November 10, 2007 1:39 PM | Report abuse

Mr. T is watching the Carolina/NC State football game, so I took the opportunity to get into the lower cabinet of the breakfront and go through the papers in there. I found the cards my mother received when I was born, my father's commission, training certificates, and orders from WWI, and genealogies. Oh, and lots of photos. Fun stuff.

I'm glad to spend the afternoon quietly, since I pulled spearmint and spent flowers from the yard this morning. You'd think that as much bending over as I do, it wouldn't bother me but my legs will be sore tomorrow. Amazing how prolific the mint is. I suppose I should put herbicide on it and get rid of it for good.

Posted by: Slyness | November 10, 2007 2:47 PM | Report abuse

Because Love Lives On...

Diamonds created from carbon of your loved one as a precious memorial.

www.LifeGem.com

-------------------------
In case you missed it, this ad is on the Fox News site.

I think it explains all those very obese people. They are being readied to become a LARGE precious memorial.

Posted by: nellie | November 10, 2007 3:39 PM | Report abuse

Instead of saying that's really mean, I'll just ask what it means.

Posted by: CC | November 10, 2007 3:43 PM | Report abuse

That's very funny, nellie. Can't afford to give your loved one a big sparkling rock? Wait long enough (and consume heavily) and you can be her large sparkling rock - which she'll sport along with her second husband.

This is a slow Boodle day! Hope y'all are enjoying temperate climes and fun activities.

Posted by: Ivansmom | November 10, 2007 5:46 PM | Report abuse

I feel a little guilty. I spent last night over at truthdig reading articles by, and interviews with, Gore Vidal.

Posted by: Boko999 | November 10, 2007 6:14 PM | Report abuse

Not a Mailer fan. And may I say that the most laugh-inducing line was his gripe about the passing of the "Serious novel?"

Get over yourself, man. It's just a story, an amusing composition using a collection of words that you can find in any dictionary.

It's not like developing a vaccine for polio. I mean, any plumber standing up and saying "I am a serious plumber, and I'm so upset that nobody takes plumbing seriously anymore", would be laughed out and then easily rebutted.

Or, say, an engineer mourning the passing of the slide-rule for all newfangled calculation media such as calculators and computers.

All of this is a roundabout way to say that I'm with Cassandra, he sounds like a real prick to me.

And his 2003 essay doesn't win any love from me. Mudge, I think you could probably clean up his grammar somewhat there.

http://www.nybooks.com/articles/16470

Personally, I'd not rate him highly as an essay writer, no matter his strengths as a fiction writer.



Posted by: Wilbrod | November 10, 2007 6:50 PM | Report abuse

Wrestled with the earth, planting daylilies and daffodils (day lilies @ $2/hunk rimmed by Thalia white daffodils @ 10/$3) and I hope that in spring this sidebar will no longer be in need of mowing.

Even with the roto-tiller I hurt in all the nether regions.

UMCP football game this evening I think. The couch burning seasons seem long ago and far away.

Norman Mailer was not the best writer. I hope he had the comfort of family and friends and love around him at the end.

Posted by: College Parkian | November 10, 2007 6:57 PM | Report abuse

I wish that for everybody, CP.

Posted by: Wilbrod | November 10, 2007 7:13 PM | Report abuse

Norman Mailer. Hmm. Wasn't that the guy who produced "Sanford and Son"?

Look, I never claimed to be well-read.

Posted by: RD Padouk | November 10, 2007 7:32 PM | Report abuse

The more I think of it the more I suspect I have not in fact read any of Mailer's books, though we may own one or two. I'm not well-read, just extensively read.

I have to say, though, that I ascribe to the theory of the serious novel. I don't believe that it is dead, but I think it is important. A well-told story can resonate at a deep emotional and philosophical level, and tell us things about ourselves and the human condition that we may not be able to accept in another form. In humanity's relatively limited experience with the written word, a really well-told story can be timeless. Not everyone will be affected by the same story, but I think everyone can be affected by some story out there, or perhaps not yet written. That's the "art" of it.

Posted by: Ivansmom | November 10, 2007 7:53 PM | Report abuse

I too believe in the serious novel. But I also believe it is not for the writer to decide his or her own work is serious, even if that was the intent. I'm sure many who start out with "it was a dark and stormy night" don't expect to be the authors of drek. It is then a bonus if a writer is both successful and taken seriously. When a novelist is noted for one and not the other, then complains about it I can't help but think about the beautiful girl who says "Oh, I just hate my______" just so she can hear , "Are you nuts? You're so beautiful."

Posted by: frostbitten | November 10, 2007 8:10 PM | Report abuse

Ivansmom, I just take issue with the idea that a novel must be serious to hit home with a reader. Or even highly literary.

Children's literature holds the greatest power to influence imagination and introduce timeless topics. Yet they are often quite light-hearted in tone or have abundant humor. And they're not necessarily "high writing" either.

I consider Mark Twain to be a serious writer, yet he wrote humor nearly all the time.

Posted by: Wilbrod | November 10, 2007 8:18 PM | Report abuse

Ran around and took care of several errands today, watching some college football this evening, saw a bit of Illinois knocking off #1 Ohio St. (at home!), and am watching BC at my Terps.

BC just scored to tie it up 7-7 in the first. The Terps tend to play pretty well in the first quarter, but start unraveling in the second, and usually have abysmal 3rd quarters. They seem to revive in the 4th, but usually only enough to keep the score from being completely lopsided.

Norman Mailer: difficult to separate the man from the literature.

bc

Posted by: bc | November 10, 2007 8:36 PM | Report abuse

Mr. F called last night and will back in the US on Thursday, home in Tampa on Friday. That's not the big news though. His call awakened me in time to hear a headline on BBC radio news, a rice donation vocab game has reached the billion grains of rice level. I did some checking and according to the Kansas City Star web site, "Ten grains of rice is a tiny amount, Breen acknowledges, but the numbers add up. On its first day, Oct. 7, the site donated just 830 grains of rice. As of Tuesday (Nov. 3), more than 850 million grains of rice had been donated."

Posted by: frostbitten | November 10, 2007 9:01 PM | Report abuse

Mailer didn't appeal to me, either, Wilbrod. But we already know my preferences in books. There was a time in my life when I wanted to be the next great American novelist, but I read Milton's On the Morning of Christ's Nativity and realized I wasn't on his level of genius. So I gave that dream up and became a highly competent fire service policy wonk.

I briefly looked at that essay. I am so over the white male ego, probably because I suffered my share because of it. What a shame that we have to think that women, and blacks, and Hispanics are just as good as men, these days.

Sorry, guys, that just popped right out in response to the essay.

Posted by: Slyness | November 10, 2007 9:12 PM | Report abuse

We are some serious vocabulary addicts out here in Boodleland, frostbitten.

Posted by: Wilbrod | November 10, 2007 9:12 PM | Report abuse

Wilbrod-I don't care to admit how much work I have to do tomorrow for having spent too much time playing the game today.

Posted by: frostbitten | November 10, 2007 9:16 PM | Report abuse

Yikes. Am I the only one on the Boodle who has actually read and liked some of Mailer's stuff, and who will stand up for the guy?

First, there is no question but that "N@ked and the Dead," "Armies of the Night," "Of a Fire on the Moon," and "The Executioner's Song" were great pieces of work, as were some of the essays and short stories. Of this there can be no doubt, and the man is not to be dissed or dismissed who has written this work. And not only did Mailer write them, he piopneered techniques and methods; he went where no one else had been (literarily) and did things no else had done. For that he deserves all due recognition. No one -- especially people who never even read him -- can take that away from him.

(I confess to a personal favorite. Some time about 1968 or so, one of the major publishers tried something new, a literary magazine published as a regular paperback book, called (IIRC) New American Review. In it were stories and poems by a couple dozen major writers, and the first issue had a short story by Mailer, called "The Time of Her Time." Most of you in the Boodle wouldn't like it, for its language, sexual content, chauvinism/sex1sm, etc., and maybe you'd be right. But I think it was a great piece of work even for all that, and it has remained burned into my memory every since. It's a great example of Mailer doing things no one else could or would ever do back then.) (Also there was a great story in it by Joseph Brodsky, the name of which escapes me.)

That's the good part.

Only after that much has been said, only then can one begin to criticize Mailer as person -- and then of course, it's Sally bar the door. As an artist, Mailer's greatest failing was that he was too ambitious, tried too hard, wanted too much. He wanted to be "the great American novelist," not only to take his place alongside Melville and Twain and Hemingway (which would have been ambitious enough already), but in fact to supplant them. He not only wanted to be "the great American novelist," he wanted to be THE Great. American. Novelist. So, like Icarus, he flew much, much too close to the sun. And all his entire adult life was a battle within himself, because he knew he just wasn't quite that good. He wanted to achieve the unachieveable. He was battling ghosts, and being ghosts they possessed supernatural powers, while he himself, being mortal, had none. And so he battled his fellow man instead (people he had a better chance of beating, in other words), as though someone had told him to go pick on someone his own size. Most famously he fought Gore Vidal, himself a man possessing a world-class ego. Now THERE was a clash of titans. (And I like Vidal, too.)

It's probably true that Hemingway was the first American writer (after Mark Twain, anyway) who, in addition to his work, turned himself and his own life into a consciously created character, a celebrity and larger-than-life figure. (Twain pleasantly so, Hemingway not so much.) And so Mailer, needing to beat Papa at his own game, did the same, and I think actually succeeded in outdoing Hemingway as The Writer As Celebrity/Bad Boy even as he was only half the writer Hemingway was. If you can't be a bigger literary lion, then be a bigger literary celebrity, I suppose. So Mailer won a round against the Old Man, but it was in the field of celebrity/bad boy, not in the field of writing.

To many of us in the outside world, observing Mailer going through his paces, his marriages, his feuds, his politics, was all great, great theater. Mailer would lie dormant for a while, and then every couple of years, there's be some explosion, some new outrage, some TV appearance, some new book (good or bad), and we'd all get the pleasure of watching an episode of the Norman Mailer Show for a couple of days, until the storm blew over.

(I'm tempted to compare these Mailerian solar flares as akin to our current outbursts of embarrassing crass behavior from the likes of Paris Hilton or Britney Spears, the schadenfreude we all get from watching someone self-destruct in public. But to liken Mailer to Hilton or Spears is just so, so wrong. Hilton is just a talentless s1ut, and Spears is just a moron. Mailer, at least, had talent and ambition and a work ethic and strove mightily for things he couldn't achieve, because he set his sights too high. You can't remotely begin to say anything comparable about Spears or Hilton or whoever.)

Some of you just see Mailer as a "prick," or a jerk, or a chauvinist, inflated male ego, yadda yadda, and all that's pretty much true, but it misses the point and it wrongly diminishes the man, which is the intent of the complaint. Plenty of artists are jerks and pricks, just like all the rest of us. But whether you "liked" Mailer as a person is kind of like saying you don't like Shakespeare because he ran out on his wife and kids, or that Da Vinci was gay, or something. It just misses the point by a country mile. Whatever else he was, Mailer was a Serious World-class Artist, who more than most exposed all his faults to public srutiny.

Personally, I liked the guy. He had ambition. He was deadly serious about his work and his craft. He wanted to scale Mount Olympus. He was colorful. In a way he was Jack Falstaff, a man with an excess of appetites, many of them not quite socially acceptable or politically correct. He was generally correct (at least in my view; conservatives will of course disagree, as they must) in his politics. He had (pardon me, ladies) balls. He took no crap from anyone. He went looking for fights, some of which were good causes and Nobel Battles, and some weren't. Yeah, he had a little too much testosterone for his own good, but there's plenty of people like that, and I can't hate all of them. He lived not only a full life, but a life much fuller than it necessarily had to be. Was he a great, world-class writer? No, but that wasn't his fault. He gave it everything he had. It just wasn't quite enough, that's all. And he knew it. Give him credit: he never admitted it, but he knew it. That's what made him the way he was.

(And he was right about the decline of the serious novel.)

Posted by: Curmudgeon | November 10, 2007 9:19 PM | Report abuse

Few people are on the level of Milton's genius, Slyness. Milton was a singular religious writer and poet.

Isaac Asimov once wrote an essay entitled "Milton! That Thou should be living at this hour" in which he argues that if Milton was alive today, he would be a science fiction writer.

To him, when Lucifer looks upon hell with "darkness made visible", Milton is practically describing infrared vision. It was a diverting essay, but I wonder if Milton was speaking of regaining his vision.

Asimov frequently quoted Milton in various works, including in the Tales of the Black Widowers. A cryptogram by a former waiter is deduced as being based on the sonnet "On His Blindness", a sentimental favorite of waiters (apparently!) as the last line is "good things come to those who stand and wait."

Posted by: Wilbrod | November 10, 2007 9:22 PM | Report abuse

Wilbrod, I can pinpoint the time I became educated. It was spring semester my junior year, the semester I took Milton and Modern Literary Criticism under the same professor, who was a great teacher. I was sitting in class and realized that all human knowledge is linked together, and it really doesn't matter where you jump in to learn. That insight has kept me reasonable about my talents and knowledge ever since.

Posted by: Slyness | November 10, 2007 9:45 PM | Report abuse

SoC,
The most recent picture I have of New York are in this Flickr set.

http://flickr.com/photos/yellojkt/sets/72157601247938213/

The daylight picture of the Empire State Building was taken from West 42nd Street probably around 10th Avenue.

The night pictures with the ESB in the background were taken just after dusk from the top of Rockefeller Center. Called Top Of The Rock, the observation platform at the top of the GE building has great views of midtown Manhattan and Central Park.

Hopefully that answers your question.

Slyness, ASU and UNC are both good schools. I tell people that the top public schools like UVA and Chapel Hill are nearly as competitive for out of state students as Ivy Leagues. My son got an invite to a college presentation that is cosponsored by Harvard, Princeton, and UVA. Charlottesville is in good company there.

Posted by: yellojkt | November 10, 2007 9:54 PM | Report abuse

I was just gonna go to bed when I saw that the old, original (better) Thomas Crown Affair was just coming on.

Drat.

Posted by: Curmudgeon | November 10, 2007 10:01 PM | Report abuse

Hey, yello, I caught the Achenblog tee shirt in the photo of you on the bike! Great pictures of NY.

So your son doesn't want to be a Terp? Of course, I'm sure he'll qualify for scholarships that will enable his parents to keep their retirement, wherever he goes. I told my kids they could go to any college in the UNC system, unless they wanted to pay for it themselves.

ASU is a screaming deal. I had enough saved to help a friend of my older daughter. This kid is a native of Ukraine and came to the US as a young teenager so her family didn't have much. She won a scholarship for her first year, then my mother, my ex-husband, and I were able to give her enough to make it, with what she earned at a part-time job. I've never done anything that gave me as much satisfaction as that.

My younger daughter's college fund didn't do nearly as well, so it's a good thing she got the tuition waiver for being a graduate of the NC School of Science and Math. I made the call this week to close the account out; the bill for her final semester came today. *sigh* Another milestone.

At least the two of them aren't likely to get married at nearly the same time. Last year, it looked like they might. We're waiting for the older one's boyfriend to pop the question; the younger one broke up with the boyfriend and is now happily single.

Posted by: Slyness | November 10, 2007 10:20 PM | Report abuse

Mudge, I would agree that The Executioners Song is an important work, and it is exquisitely crafted (I wanted to say, "well executed" but then thought better of it). And I read "Superman Comes to the Supermarket" when it was reprinted for one of Esquire's retrospective issues. Mailer could definitely write. But I remember reading An American Dream and being put off by the tone, the misogyny, the brutality. I don't remember specifics but I know that it discouraged me from reading any more of his books.

On the Miami Book Fair front, I will just say that it was a fabulous day. The weather was perfect. We were out there from 9 a.m. until 9 p.m. more or less, so I don't really have energy to describe it all right now. We did get some pictures, and eventually I will put the full report together and post it on my blog.

We conveyed boodle regards to Dave Barry and he returned the greetings, with compliments to Joel. Also saw and heard Wesley Clark, Rajiv Chandrasekaran, Mark Halperin, and the aforementioned Dave with Ridley Pearson. Details upcoming. Now it is time to sleep. Tomorrow we will see, among others, Crystal Zevon talking about her biography of the late Warren Z.

Posted by: kbertocci | November 10, 2007 10:23 PM | Report abuse

Just got in from a glorious concert featuring the church's mass choir. It was fantastic. And guess what? My grandsons are here, and they went with me. And of course, the g-girl. There were so many people, we didn't need to turn the heat on. Afterwards, they served light refreshments so I didn't have to make that Burger King stop.

Don't you just love it when everything falls in place? We're ready for bed. There is Sunday school tomorrow.

Sleep tight, boodle, and don't let the bed bugs bite. Night, boodle.

Posted by: Cassandra S | November 10, 2007 10:27 PM | Report abuse

G'night, Cassandra. Tomorrow I want to hear about the concert!

'Night, all.

Posted by: Slyness | November 10, 2007 10:37 PM | Report abuse

I've been holding my breath for the past hour and a half.

Boston College 35, Maryland 42. Sweet.

bc

Posted by: bc | November 10, 2007 11:41 PM | Report abuse

Curmudgeon, I loved your impassioned defense of Norman Mailer as a writer worthy of our respect. I have not read anything by Mailer. Perhaps I'd better get around to doing so.

It would have been nice if Mailer had been a stellar human being, a man ahead of his time in his political and social attitudes whose art could lead the way to where we ought to be. However, he wrote realistic fiction (as I understand it), fiction set within the world we know. When he was writing, that was a world that was largely sexist, racist, and ethnocentric, and he was a man of that time. We can pity him for not being superior to his society, but it seems not quite fair to despise him for it. It seems clear that he was an awful pig to the people in his life. I have noticed that many artists have a dichotomy between their creative artistic life and their personal life. Is the artistic accomplishment lessened by the fact that the artist is a lousy person? Many lousy people have accomplished great things, transcending themselves. Must we pull down their accomplishments because it turns out they were the accomplishments of flawed mortals rather than incorruptible saints? Personally, I place more value on the work that distills greatness from an ordinary person.

I think that "the serious novel" does not necessarily mean "the somber, dreary novel", it means "the novel with significant artistic aspirations." I doubt that Mailer sneered at Twain, or considered him less of a standard of accomplishment, for the fact that Huckleberry Finn has humor.

Tim Page had a review/appreciation in last week's Sunday Post for a restored print of Eisenstein's Battleship Potemkin. He placed it in the pantheon of great works of art that are hard to watch without serious moral revulsion: D. W. Griffith's "Birth of a Nation," Leni Riefenstahl's "Triumph of the Will," and "Battleship Potemkin." The point he made is that the thematic content of these films is repugnant. Yet, the artistry is undeniable -- writing, direction, cinematography, all brilliant. Groundbreaking. Generations of film-makers since, film-makers whose morality and politics we can view approvingly, pay homage to the seminal character of these works as visual art.

Posted by: StorytellerTim | November 10, 2007 11:57 PM | Report abuse

Mailer sounds like one of those cases where we confront the difference between what is great art, and what I like. Taste is not artistic judgment. Artistic judgment cannot change your taste. It can be a great work of art, and still be something I don't want to read.

Posted by: StorytellerTim | November 11, 2007 12:00 AM | Report abuse

StorytellerTim, your post was excellent, as was Curmudgeon's placing of Mailer into historical perspective. I remember reading some or all of "The Armies of the Night" by Mailer, and being overwhelmed by the writing, but not wanting to ever read any of his works again.

Rather like Stephen King, who can write, but is a person I cannot read.

Posted by: nellie | November 11, 2007 12:25 AM | Report abuse

And you know what is sad? Mailer wanted to be "the great American writer" --- and he was a tremendous character --- but it looks like only one or maybe two members of the blog under the age of 60 ever read his works.

Posted by: nellie | November 11, 2007 12:47 AM | Report abuse

Good observation, nellie. My own excuse is that I've read little fiction of any sort, preferring the likes of John McPhee. In my high school and college years, I read enough Spanish-language literature that odd things happened, like reading Hamlet first in Jacinto Benavente's Spanish version. The play seemed pretty familiar when I finally saw a performance in Boulder, Colo.

And tim, good comments. I'm sufficiently short on cash that "Battleship Potemkin" is low on my purchase priority list. The local art museum has a fantastic DVD collection, anyway.

Today was lovely, all the more so because I'm getting relief from a gout attack.

Posted by: Dave of the Coonties | November 11, 2007 2:26 AM | Report abuse

"I have noticed that many artists have a dichotomy between their creative artistic life and their personal life. Is the artistic accomplishment lessened by the fact that the artist is a lousy person?"

Many artists suffer from bipolar disorder, depression, or other issues that can disturb their long-term relationships without actually making them "lousy people", just imperfect, and filled with a lot of emotional issues they work through by creating.

The human soul strives to be better and often misses its mark. I can see the drive to work on a single work of art that can be far more beautiful than the person's life is. I've never thought a person had to be "normal" to write well, or do good art.

Yet, we're talking about novels in particular. Novels rest on characterization, plot, setting, and imagery. Now, it's possible to write a good novel that skimps on one or more of those points, but I'd argue that characterization is difficult to skimp on and have a good novel that people love.

The author must be able to live his characters and grasp their motivations in a manner comprehensible and believable by the reader, while maintaining their interest. And the narrative voice must be impartial, interesting, comical, likable, or fascinatingly evil.

So I would challenge SciTim's comparsion of novelists to other artists, in that their personality somehow doesn't matter to their work, and I also disagree with the comparsion to Shakespeare being a bad guy because/if he ran out on his wife and kids. A novelist's artistry is to observe people and build up characters and give them motives, both base and higher.

You can do a lot of observation, write the people you know well, or take the step to transcend both observation and experience to imagine a character in a very unique situation, consistently make his motives and wants clear at every turn in the narrative, and have the reader BE there with the character.

That's not something an born as** does well, since his problem is his inability to empathize with people and see their viewpoints easily. Nor could a saint really write people honestly with all their foibles and weaknesses.

And ultimately-- the writer has to make people want to keep reading. No, failure to appeal to the reader's taste is not irrelevant to the merits of the work.

Despite what Mudge thinks, I saw Norman Mailer in HS, leafed through his books. His name was known to me in HS. I recognized it immediately, and not because of his reputation, I didn't know that at all. It was that his books were everywhere. Yet, as a writer he left me unmoved and bored. I do remember is that Norman Mailer reinforced my dislike of 20th century "serious fiction" as being dull and banal.

Joseph Campbell said once, ""I don't believe people are looking for the meaning of life as much as they are looking for the experience of being alive." He was speaking of myths, folklore, the foundations of all of our modern narratives. He's right.

Even a trashy romance novel delivers thrills. So does a dime mystery, through its plotting which evokes the searching and danger of mythological questing, and so do science fiction and nautical tales. People read that stuff because it's fun. They play within the worlds the author has created and enjoy his thoughts, his wit, and observational skill.

Did Norman Mailer make the reader feel alive and make the reader experience outside his own realm of experience?

All this talk of technique and fancy writing is besides the point, if the reader can't breathe and get a little elbow room to lean back and enjoy himself while inside his novels.

Posted by: Wilbrod | November 11, 2007 3:32 AM | Report abuse

BTW, I believe "fascinatingly evil" is available as a boodle name.

Posted by: Wilbrod | November 11, 2007 3:34 AM | Report abuse

*groggy band parent waves*

Today is Kurt Vonnegut's birthday. He would have been 83.

http://livebythefoma.blogspot.com/2007/11/kurt-vonnegut-veteran.html

So it goes.

Posted by: yellojkt | November 11, 2007 4:29 AM | Report abuse

*groggy medicated insomniac waves*

Mornin' all...

Cassandra, you're "Night, night, don't let the bed bugs bite" had me giggling. Part of Little Bean's nightly bedtime ritual starts with that line and then goes:

"And if they do, bite them back"

"And in the morning we'll have bedbug sandwiches with pickles and peanut butter and honey and shoelaces," which always ends in a bunch of giggles. We go back and forth on the ingredients and they change all the time.

Speaking of bed... I really want to go back there, but just too much to do. Frost on the ground, misty and 30F outside. The shop heater is gonna get a workout today.

Peace :-)

Posted by: martooni | November 11, 2007 6:53 AM | Report abuse

'Morning, Boodle.

Tommy Crown flew the coop and left poor Faye at the cemetery trash can. For the 23rd time, too, as we (now) knew he would. Alas, I noded off during the second caper but awoke in time for the denoument. (Now there's a word you just cannot write without italics, d@mmit.)

Liked your 12:25, nellie. I can't read Stephen King either. I read his book about writing, "On Writing," and it was "just OK."

Got a wedding to go to this afternoon--looking forward to it.

Tim, the artist Mailer most reminds me of is Picasso, who was also a pretty terrible human being to people around him. Howver, Picasso (IMHO) had much more talent and "genius" than Mailer, who I would in no way classify as a "genius." Picasso was a pain in the butt in part *because* he was a genius. Mailer was a pain in the butt pretty much because he wasn't, but wanted to be.

Posted by: Curmudgeon | November 11, 2007 8:55 AM | Report abuse

Morning boodle. I think the otters have taken up residence right here on the riverbank at Chez Frostbitten North. I let two cups of coffee go cold watching them fish and play before I could leave the kitchen window and start the day's work. I had hoped, and had some weak suspicions that we had otters all summer. The muskrats were trapped out last winter and otters often take up their abandoned lodgings. Except for a narrow path to the dock we keep our riverbank unmanicured so I was startled several times by the sound of something slipping out of the wild rice and cattails and into the water. My first blinking, pulse racing thought was "Otter!" but I always talked myself out of it.

I believe The Executioner's Song is the only Mailer book I've read, though I have stumbled across essays and short stories over the years. In some remembrance yesterday someone mentioned his "invention" of novelized journalism and my umbrage meter pegged. But I was just learning to read when Capote's In Cold Blood was published so I'll take Wiki's word that Armies of the Night, though later, received more critical attention. I'll have to read it.

Playful otter tail waves to all.

Posted by: frostbitten | November 11, 2007 9:23 AM | Report abuse

Novelized journalism is my primary reason for not reading Mailer and Capote. Who needs more truthiness?

The slide of journalism away from reporting toward genres of opinion both saddens and alarms me.

However, I take Mudge's point about a place for Mailer and other such writers. But, I would put them as exhibits in the museum of "too bad how WE are thus now."

Dreaming of daffodils and day lilies. In fall a gardening gals fancy turns toward what will be....let the catalog season begin, and oh my how delightful the imaginary gardens.

Posted by: College Parkian | November 11, 2007 9:45 AM | Report abuse

Good morning, all.

I slept in late (7:30 AM!) and just as I was getting out of bed, looking forward to a leisurely civilized morning (including some hot coffee) the power went out.

Called the power company, they told me that they don't expect to have juice restored until 7:30 PM. Yikes! It's 25 degrees outside (according to my thermometer). Fortunately, I have a wood stove and a generator.

It's going to be a big day today, I'm certainly going to need a shower at some point.

I apprecaite Mudge's, *Tim's, and Wilbrod's impassioned and well-reasoned arguments, and would simply add that rightly or wrongly, more Americans know who Steven King is than Norman Mailer. I would also add that F. Scott Fitzgerald did not seem to me to be exceptionally intelligent or intellectually powerful
(though he did seem to be emotionally effed up, de riguer), but produced what many consider to be the greatest American novel.

Anyway, I guess we're all in agreement that we imperfect humans produce imperfect results, and in that universe of human imperfection there are things that I happen to like but may not appeal to anyone else.

Personally, I'm OK with this.
I don't feel the need to come to Mudge's side to argue the virutes of Alberto Vargas' art, he can handle that himself.

bc

Posted by: bc | November 11, 2007 9:56 AM | Report abuse

Hey there BC, Scotty Fitz is my cousin via his Molly McQuillen-mother. Here is what the family said about him:

Well, my, what is the fuss about a drinker who lives off his grandparent's money?

I do like his books; however, I detect that personal self-absorption that might be partly the "American" slant in writing.

My favorite Americanist is Wallace Stegner.

Posted by: College Parkian | November 11, 2007 10:06 AM | Report abuse

Oh, CP! Terrible pangs of frenvy over your bulb and rhizome planting. Surely you are stiff from a day behind the tiller. What sweet agony, twinges well earned and sure to leave muscles "toot sweet" as Frostdaddy says. Other aches and pains may linger a little too long and spur that nagging, "I've really blown my knee this time" feeling.

My day lilies were divided months ago and I missed the window for bulb planting, too unsure of the siting of my new raised bed. Tulips are a June flower here, and daffodils often frozen to mush just as they are ready to open. I would gladly endure your humid, fungus plagued, summers to have glorious spring that comes while it is still spring on the calendar.

Posted by: frostbitten | November 11, 2007 10:18 AM | Report abuse

CP, you *know* I invoked F.SF to tweak you, and someone else we know...

I think you need to be deeply, passionately absorbed with yourself to be a good writer in general.

Having a love/hate relationship helps.

bc

Posted by: bc | November 11, 2007 10:31 AM | Report abuse

The problem with modern 'literature' is we already have too many books written by and about MFA professors sleeping with their students.

Posted by: yellojkt | November 11, 2007 10:44 AM | Report abuse

Ok. Carry on

Posted by: Anonymous | November 11, 2007 11:02 AM | Report abuse

The Just

Jorge Luis Borges

A man who cultivates his garden, as Voltaire wished.
He who is grateful for the existence of music.
He who takes pleasure in tracing an etymology.
Two workmen playing, in a cafe in the South, a silent game of chess.
The potter, contemplating a color and a form.
The typographer who sets this page well, though it may not please him.
A woman and a man, who read the last tercets of a certain canto.
He who strokes a sleeping animal.
He who justifies, or wishes to, a wrong done him.
He who is grateful for the existence of Stevenson.
He who prefers others to be right.
These people, unaware, are saving the world.

Translation: Alastair Reid

Posted by: frostbitten | November 11, 2007 11:05 AM | Report abuse

An economist solves the mystery of dating.

...We also found that women got more dates when they won high marks for looks from research assistants, who were hired for the much sought-after position of hanging out in a bar to rate the dater's level of attractiveness on a scale of one to ten.

Read the rest here-http://www.slate.com/id/2177637/

Posted by: frostbitten | November 11, 2007 11:16 AM | Report abuse

SCC
http://www.slate.com/id/2177637/

But why wait for a boodle hog to post this stuff?

Check out 3 quarks daily
http://www.3quarksdaily.com/

Posted by: frostbitten | November 11, 2007 11:19 AM | Report abuse

Executioners Song and Tough Guys Don't Dance are what I read. I never trusted Mailer, though. Although his portrayal of Gary Gilmore was fascinating, I never could peel back Mailer's limited slant. I suspect him of blurred vision. This is why I was interested in both The Gospel According to the Son, and The Castle in the Forest, but made a conscious decision not to read them.

I suspect he never mastered the art of useful self-criticism and felt obligated to perform the non-useful sort, as an act of ultimately futile ritualistic penitence.

I must say if someone abuses alcohol and amphetamines, a diagnosis of "polar disorder" won't garner much sympathy. That sort of thing is in one sense irrelevant to me, although making him surely difficult to others in his personal sphere. In another sense, it is a clue to his expressed vision of things. I have read little of his, but from that I could not describe him as a man who was able to transcend his demons.

"I used to live in a room full of mirrors.
All I could see was me. So I took my spirit and I smashed my mirrors. Now the whole world is here for me to see." - Hendrix

Posted by: Jumper | November 11, 2007 11:25 AM | Report abuse

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/asia/article2846737.ece

A little-known player to Westerners.
(Jumper bats ball towards boodle.)

Posted by: Jumper | November 11, 2007 12:05 PM | Report abuse

Happy Veterans Day to all who have served in the past and present.Your dedication and sacrifices are greatly appreciated by all of us.

I also wanted to wish the happy couple a Wonderful day, filled with Family and Friends. May your many years together be filled with Love, Joy and Happiness!!

Posted by: greenwithenvy | November 11, 2007 12:07 PM | Report abuse

Wow, Joel is probably hoping his funeral boodle doesn't sound like this. LOL.

Writing is lonely work, bc, so I guess a certain willingess to "talk to yourself" on paper and be stuck with yourself for hours on end while you work does help.

I know of a woman who's written 3 novels in one year, mostly roughed out-- christian romance/other theme-- and she reads her writing every week to her nearly blind mother who is her biggest fan and is agog for the next installment of her writing, so she's pretty much chained to the writing mill, good or bad writing. Lots of people, like RD, may write stories on request for family and to specifically please their audience. But... yeah. It takes guts and courage to show work to others and risk ridicule.

As for Picasso. Genius, okay, different type of art, sure. Do I like his artwork?

Not really, most of his paintings are seriously butt-ugly. Any guy who paints women like that, over and over, well I didn't need to read his biography to know the sort of guy he was.

I did like his Blue and Rose periods; my art teacher showed us a slide of his work before he went into cubism, and the guy could paint, no doubt.
My guess is he did one cubist painting or a dozen and then suddenly he couldn't paint anything else, and heck, he could slap 12 cubist paintings before lunch and sell them for good money. He became a Ugly Widget Painting factory. It's about every artist's dream-- and nightmare, to be locked into a form because it's what everybody demands. (Doyle hated Holmes after a while, and there are many other examples).

Two minor examples of the blue and rose period each:
http://picasso.csdl.tamu.edu/picasso/WorksInfo?CatID=OPP.05:016

http://picasso.csdl.tamu.edu/picasso/WorksInfo?CatID=OPP.06:061

http://picasso.csdl.tamu.edu/picasso/WorksInfo?CatID=OPP.02:009

I suppose he did pick blue because he was blue, as many people think. However, blue is also a fanastic choice for monochrome because you don't get into the red-green colorblindness issue at all there, and it's a cool, receding color that makes a good dark rich background.

I've painted with blue ink, and it's quite effective for producing shading and play of light without the need to mix colors to produce the right shades as you would for other colors.

My guess is even back as a teenager, Picasso was trying to paint as much as he could with the least waste of materials and time. He wanted to sell paintings and eat, not spend a year on a masterpiece.



Posted by: Wilbrod | November 11, 2007 1:09 PM | Report abuse

Wilbrod, I think you are falling into the fallacy of "I don't know art, but I know what I like." "What I like" is a description of what will make me happy to have on my living-room wall. Art is what will teach me to see myself or to see the world more sensitively, more perceptively. It may be ugly, it may be unpleasant, but it is neither wrong nor incompetent. Perhaps I will not want to see it more than once in my life. That doesn't make it less valid.

Posted by: ScienceTim | November 11, 2007 2:33 PM | Report abuse

My comments on Picasso reminds me of the old joke about how to get to Carnegie Hall-- "practice, practice, and practice." The same holds true for almost any kind of artform.
You can have talent but there is no genius without practice, practice.

You have to be willing to do a lot of crap to get to where you can do something good.
For every nice artwork I've ever done, I can remember the thousands of crappy drawings I've done to hone my technique and ability to do that drawing.

90% of artistic talent, like athletic talent, is the capacity to work continuously and improve. Picasso mastered that part.

And now I'll get off the boodle hog.



Posted by: Wilbrod | November 11, 2007 2:34 PM | Report abuse

SciTim, my tastes are pretty broad. I took art history and donkeyloads of art classes.

My definition of "like" is not the same as yours. I like a lot of art that would never fit in any house I would want to own. Works of art that are depressing can be beautiful, yet not be something I want to live with daily. I'm highly impressed by Robert Mapplethorpe's work.

I can be very criticial of a work of art because of the inappropriateness of its location (say over my sofa) and still go, it's pretty good, just not in this place.

But I don't like most of Picasso's later period. I wasn't alone.

"Picasso became more daring, his works more colourful and expressive, and from 1968 through 1971 he produced a torrent of paintings and hundreds of copperplate etchings. At the time these works were dismissed by most as pornographic fantasies of an impotent old man or the slapdash works of an artist who was past his prime. One long time admirer, Douglas Cooper, called them "the incoherent scribblings of a frenetic old man".[citation needed] Only later, after Picasso's death, when the rest of the art world had moved on from abstract expressionism, did the critical community come to see that Picasso had already discovered neo-expressionism and was, as so often before, ahead of his time."

Okay. I'm looking at other neo-expressionist painters and they're very different. This neo-expressionist painter is visually stunning even with his drab palette and subject matter.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anselm_Kiefer

What I define as "like"-- well, everytime I look at an artwork, I am looking at the aesthetic impact, the technique, the materials, the style, the composition, and the mood.

I'm looking at whether I would like to paint this way, and if not, do I still appreciate the asthestics of it, do I appreciate the composition, etc.

I like Picasso's blue period paintings so much I tried a few of my own, different subject matter and material.

I do not like Picasso's later work for many reasons. The early cubism attempts have good composition that made good use of the technique's strengths.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pablo_Picasso

1912- Violon, verre, pipe et encrier.

Contrast to:

1941--Dora Maar au Chat. Now, he's still making use of many skills from his Blue and Rose period in this 1941 painting. I like the blue and green shading.

"Evocation" from 1901 is just stunning, in its double triangle composition and near perfect parallel between the shrouded corpse and the white horse, the entwined couple and the arch below. There are so many strengths in this composition I can't name them all. It is mesmerizing, not just because of the color.

Looking over Picasso's whole oeuvre, you can learn a lot from him, artistically. But I still can say his later work wasn't great work.

I don't really care to debate the philosophical implications of what makes art. Some philosophers think that animal-produced art is still art. I tend to agree to an extent, because that's how we perceive it. But it's unlikely the artists were consciously trying to alter others' sensibilities.

If they were trying to make artwork of some form, their motives were to reduplicate a certain element of their perception that they enjoyed so they could experience it again and again. It is sensory play. All art is play.

That's my story and I'm sticking by it.

Posted by: Wilbrod | November 11, 2007 3:05 PM | Report abuse

Band Competition Update:
West Side Story (3)
Dreamgirls (2)
Rent
Chicago
Jesus Christ Superstar
Emerson Lake & Palmer
Kiss

If the parents listen to it they can play it.

Posted by: yellojkt | November 11, 2007 3:15 PM | Report abuse

YJ, interesting choices. Ours this year were

Can you Feel It (Jackson Five)
Play that Funky Music (Average White Band)
Saturday in the Park (Chicago)
"Something Sousa-escue" (parent scored years ago)
El Gato (Samba/salsa thingie with steel drums)
That's the Way of the World (Earth, Wind, & Fire)

Posted by: College Parkian | November 11, 2007 3:39 PM | Report abuse

By now, a wedding has happened that is important in boodle-land. Babies and weddings can put us in the "Win" column of live.

Frosti -- the poem is true and how did I live so long with out it? CPBroNo3's company is called Voltaire's Gardener. He was delighted with the poem. It may appear on the next batch of biz cards.

Posted by: College Parkian | November 11, 2007 3:46 PM | Report abuse

Howdy from windy windy Oklahoma. Despite the lovely balmy weather this is a good day to stay indoors. Sneezing.

Thanks, Mudge,StorytellerTim & kbertocci, for your considered opinions on Mailer. That is about where I come down - nothing I've heard about the man encourages me to approve of his personal life, but I do admire his work, and his dedication to his work. The Executioner's Song is the one I keep meaning to read, if only for reasons of professional interest.

I think Wilbrod has it backwards when saying that you can have talent, but there's no genius without practice, practice, practice. In fact, if you have talent you may still have no success without practice, practice, practice -- but genius transcends those categories and boundaries. If you have artistic genius you may not even care about what you're doing, but you'll still turn out material which is qualitatively different and superior to others' work. This is why talented artists so often are bitter about geniuses, much as they may admire them. You're good at something, you work really hard at it, and then some genius waltzes in and bam! you are forced to admit the gulf between your own abilities and transcendent art. The classic (or classical, hee hee) example, of course, is Mozart and Salieri. There are others in every field.

Posted by: Ivansmom | November 11, 2007 3:53 PM | Report abuse

That, Ivansmom, is exactly why I gave up on being the next great American novelist. I was 21 when I read On the Morning of Christ's Nativity, which was Milton's age when he wrote it. Jane Austen was 20 when she wrote the first draft of Pride and Prejudice. Nope, I wasn't in that class, knew it, and went on to other things.

There is much to be said for being *normal* and for being a normally productive member of society. And for happiness, not that I haven't had my share of the opposite.

Posted by: Slyness | November 11, 2007 4:05 PM | Report abuse

Oh, talent/genius does make a difference, Ivansmom, just like in athletics.

But Edison said genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration, and that's true. How much you achieve with that is up to the individual.

I have a friend who has taken gobs of art lessons and knows more techniques than I've ever even heard of.

But she lacks the eye and the ability to criticize her work to make it better. She has life-long vision problems, and she has a poor memory for many things.

Those two points hold her back considerably as an artist. She is actually rather an auditory thinker, not a visual thinker. That makes art a battle against her weak points. It's possible if she worked on breaking to the next level conceptually, not just in technique, she could do better work.

Mozart was immersed in music from a young age and was encouraged in his genius from a young age. I mean, how many three-year olds even have the harpischord around to play with? Or even have parents who can play that instrument and be teachers for the child?

These parents wanted him to be a musician. Mozart played a song after he had seen his father play it on the harpischord. Again, environment makes a huge difference here.

He had the perfect memory of a very young child, the imagination of same, an excellent ear for pitch, and the love of music, and profound musical influence by his parents. He also could have had precocious fine finger muscle control.

Those gifts gave him the foundation to build a genius that would have lasted life-long.

Had he been barred from playing the harpischord until he was 10, or barred from any kind of music after age 5, or have had parents who were disinterested in music, I doubt he'd have been able to be as a full-fledged genius as he was.

He'd be too far behind in his musical development; his ear and musical memory and imagination would be stunted.

Studies show that blind infants have language delay problems, but are more adept at picking up sound nuances, prosody, verbal gestures, and music. They work on their auditory memory because they must. So what seems difficult to others, becomes easy to them when it comes to music, even if they weren't gifted by nature with total recall.

Children and adults with WIlliams syndrome have such horrible visuospatial ability they cannot tie their own shoelaces. They are voluble and highly social, but cannot do math at all; they cannot grasp the very basics of what is meant by "foot" or "mile", etc.

Yet, they have fanastic talent in music and good memory for songs. None of them have been "geniuses" in composition yet, but music is no doubt their thing. They are a source of wonder-- brain damage in them basically results in musical genius.

Yes, it's easy for "talented" artists to be jealous of true genius. A quirk of genius has allowed those people to rapidly assimilate and grasp easily patterns in art that others struggle with and never see.

Yes, raw potential makes the difference in genius, but it's not everything.

Modern research on learning and intelligence indicates that early environment and environmental enrichment builds IQ. It also builds genius.

Mozart, had he been born into a rain forest tribe, probably would have had a great sense of location where-ever he went because of his ability to hear the differences in locations, he probably would have been good at locating prey by sound, and he'd be playing and creating tribal music.

Would his abilities have so far exceeded the others in his tribe whon grew up in the same environment, that he would have been hailed forever as a genius? That's a very good question. I'm inclined to think not.

Would those children with Williams syndrome, blessed with normal abilities, be such savant musicans? The evidence indicates not.

Autistic children can draw extremely detailed and realistic pictures and have savant abilities at art at age 5 or so. Yet they cannot mature or play with style and diversify. They are locked into their need to be detailed and realistic. They have the visual memory, but no imagination or play.

Things get tricky when we discuss math. We have singular geniuses that almost nobody can explain, such as Ramaujan.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Srinivasa_Ramanujan

But we can see that Ramujan worked very hard to learn every bit of math he could, and wrote math daily as much as he could. It's a fair bet that he spent a lot more than 15 minutes a night on his math homework.

It may be that math ability has a later "critical period" for it to bloom than language or music ability does. I think the idea that math ability grows with age has been mentioned (by Yellojkt or RD Padouk).

We do not know enough of what forms raw mathematical ability neurologically, other that it is extremely diverse in people, more diverse than any other mental trait known. Math skill seems to correlate with a symmetrical brain and an abundance of glial matter.

Yet, brain damage apparently doesn't bar math ability, either. A british man with severe hydrocephalus that left him with only a thin coating of brain against his large skull had normal IQ and achieved a master's in mathematics.

I wish also to mention that dementia can also "release" hidden artistic abilities. Grandma Moses started painting at age 80.

Maybe the key between talent and genius is allowing a single obsession and skill to take our brains over.

Posted by: Wilbrod | November 11, 2007 5:09 PM | Report abuse

In some disciplines, age actually favors genius and greater creativity.

Biology, especially evolutionary or ecological biology is one such because the biologist has had decades to collect data and make great, elegant insights out of an inital mess.

Darwin published "the Origin of Species" at age 50. Yeah, it's not Austen or Milton, but it has a place in history. And it wasn't his last book. "The Descent of Man" would provoke even more controversy. And at the end of life, he published a brillant treatise on earthworms, using evidence he took decades to gather.

Genius isn't all snazz and show.

So who knows, maybe Slyness can be the Great Firefighter Novelist instead :-P. Or just write some good hose 'n' bodice-rippers. It's time we developed the pyrobug genre of fiction.



Posted by: Wilbrod | November 11, 2007 5:23 PM | Report abuse

Certainly genius, like anything else, flourishes where it is encouraged. However, the results of artistic genius are qualitatively and exponentially different from mere talent. I don't suggest the work of genius is snazz and show; in fact I'm saying the opposite. In some ways there is no comparison between an artistic genius and a talented and hardworking artist: the latter may produce very good work, may even surpass the former in popularity or success, but the work itself will not be the same. Mozart was a musical genius. It is pointless to ask whether he would have been considered a genius (which, largely, he was not during his lifetime) had his talents been channeled differently due to a different environment. You describe persons who are limited in some areas but, possibly because of those limitations, very good in others. Are they all geniuses? Almost certainly not. Fantastic talent and genius are not the same. Any number of fantastically talented performers have entertained audiences to wild acclaim, but they're not geniuses.

Time to take my non-genius, but talented, young performer off to an audition. More reading time for me!

Posted by: Ivansmom | November 11, 2007 5:56 PM | Report abuse

LOL, and thanks, Wilbrod! Truly, the state of firefighter fiction is abysmal. I *could* do something about it! And if I do, the dedication will read:

To Wilbrod, my inspiration and friend

Posted by: Slyness | November 11, 2007 6:16 PM | Report abuse

It wasn't fiction, but I read Dennis Smith's _Report From Engine Co. 82_ back in '72 when it first came out. I hope it wasn't horrid, but am not willing to find out by rereading. Some things are better left in the amber of an 11 year old brain.

Posted by: frostbitten | November 11, 2007 6:29 PM | Report abuse

Report from Engine Co. 82 is pretty realistic for its time and place, frosti, and isn't a bad read, IIRC. There have been many changes in the fire service since then, but FDNY hasn't been on the leading edge of progressive fire departments. A former fire commissioner from Boston has written a couple of novels, but I haven't read them so I can't comment. That's another place where tradition has trumped progress.

Posted by: Slyness | November 11, 2007 6:36 PM | Report abuse

Da Vinci was a genius; this is apparent from his profilic work and interest in many fields. He is considered to have a high IQ, not just genius in the narrow sense of talent in art.

I'm confused which kind of genius you are talking about. Mudge and others were apparently talking about genius as an extraordinary achiever in a field, not in the sense of achieving a standard IQ test.

By the IQ standard, a lot of the people here on the boodle are geniuses. But none of us are Mozarts and such.
(I did want to be a future Da Vinci as a kid, though, but I sucked at physics. But I had fun observing how leaves fell and such for my sketchbook).

You provoke an interesting question, though, about the interplay of talent, environment, and intelligence.

Williams syndrome: http://www.highlightskids.com/Stories/NonFiction/NF1100_genius.asp

A large proportion of them are good enough to be professional musicians. They're often on the level of "can play 1,000 songs from memory" talented. Do they write songs? No.

Here a scientist is ready to zap his brain so he can be a genius...
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/467029.stm

And how can you be a savant?
http://discovermagazine.com/2002/feb/featsavant/

Posted by: Wilbrod | November 11, 2007 6:44 PM | Report abuse

Good evening, my friends. Just got time to pop in and say hello. We're just getting in after church and running the streets all day. We had a ball. Going to do a little math, fractions, ugh! No school tomorrow, so there will be more time for that.

Slyness, the concert was absolutely beautiful. You know I did not get much of it, but what I got was good. All the performers put their heart and soul in each song, and the audience loved it. A packed house or packed church. It got too hot for me and I made the escape to the kitchen for ice and cold water. After cooling off, went right back. The kids seemed to enjoy it also.

I am beat, just really tired. I love these guys but grandma can't keep up anymore.

Ivansmom,give the Boy my best. I understand what you're saying involving the distinction between genius and hard work, at least some of it, but I think sometimes we do get hung up on words as in putting people in boxes, categories, etc. No one ask me, but I think sometimes people get caught up in those "second causes". Where did anyone get anything they have, the genius or the other than?


Wilbrod, you state your case pretty good, but it seems your argument does not allow for genius at all, if my understanding is correct, and it probably isn't. Oh well, I like it anyway.

I'm going in here and tackle these birds. In a weaken condition, I probably should not, but hey, I'm game.

Perserverance is great, and it is certainly needed to achieve worthy goals, and sometimes not so worthy goals, but the question that comes to my mind when we talk about human endeavor is the one that God asked Job. Anyone know that question? I believe God starts it out by asking Job, "Where were you when ......"?

God loves us so much more than we can imagine through Him that died for all, Jesus Christ.

Posted by: Cassandra S | November 11, 2007 6:58 PM | Report abuse

I think good old Edison said it best - Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.

Posted by: RD Padouk | November 11, 2007 7:19 PM | Report abuse

Right, Cassandra.

Those who are called geniuses for their artistic achievement have seen something old in a new way. However, many people do that, but never take the next step with it.

The ones that get recognized as such are the ones that are willing to DO something with their ideas, and make that known to others. I think that's something you can appreciate.

I've been reading a history of invention. It's interesting how many "fathers" television has, and that the fax machine was invented before the telephone, and that the British claim THEY invented the light bulb, and so on. Edison wasn't the first to try inventing an incandescent light bulb, but he was the one who made it into a commerical success suitable for home and office and workable with home-delivered electricity.

Ironically it's thought that Edison missed out on inventing the vacuum tube (which would have helped invent radio and the first computers), because he was so singleminded on the light bulb.

Posted by: Wilbrod | November 11, 2007 7:29 PM | Report abuse

Going to bed. I went to Wal-Mart, and picked up a few items. While in there my chest was hurting and my breathing was labored. I do believe I was wheezing because a lady looked at me kind of funny. I hope it just the asthma. Got to find the inhaler.

Sweet dreams, boodle. I know, I need to do something. I'm going to call my daughter and get her here. Will talk to tomorrow, God willing.

Posted by: Cassandra S | November 11, 2007 7:42 PM | Report abuse

To end up this boodle-hogging, I'll just quote from Gray's Elegy written in a country churchyard:

http://www.blupete.com/Literature/Poetry/Elegy.htm

Full many a gem of purest ray serene
The dark unfathom'd caves of ocean bear:
Full many a flower is born to blush unseen,
And waste its sweetness on the desert air.

Some village-Hampden, that with dauntless breast
The little tyrant of his fields withstood,
Some mute inglorious Milton here may rest,
Some Cromwell, guiltless of his country's blood.

Th' applause of list'ning senates to command,
The threats of pain and ruin to despise,
To scatter plenty o'er a smiling land,
And read their history in a nation's eyes,

Their lot forbad: nor circumscribed alone
Their growing virtues, but their crimes confined;
Forbad to wade through slaughter to a throne,
And shut the gates of mercy on mankind,

The struggling pangs of conscious truth to hide,
To quench the blushes of ingenuous shame,
Or heap the shrine of Luxury and Pride
With incense kindled at the Muse's flame.

Far from the madding crowd's ignoble strife,
Their sober wishes never learn'd to stray;
Along the cool sequester'd vale of life
They kept the noiseless tenour of their way.

.... They lived and died as ordinary folk in the country, although they could, in other circumstances, have done historical deeds of genius. They're the same people, the same blood, as the great people of British history.

I've always liked this poem from the first day I read it.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Gray

Britian was a stratified society in Grey's day (and still is to some extent.).

Posted by: Wilbrod | November 11, 2007 7:44 PM | Report abuse

Actually, now that I think about it, I think Edison is wrong. Although for the vast majority of people great achievement is based upon talent coupled with a huge amount of work, I believe there does exist something more that can only be described as true Genius.

I think that in any field true Genius is someone for whom great achievement comes with shocking ease.

Someone like Feynman or Mozart or Bobby Fisher. A person who has a brain that just happens to be brilliantly tuned to some particular type of thought or ability.

This is, of course, incredibly rare. And such a mind comes at a cost. Such people often have a hard time functioning outside of their area of specialty.

Further these people can incite much rancor and envy because they make things that are terribly difficult for most look so frighteningly easy.

Posted by: RD Padouk | November 11, 2007 7:52 PM | Report abuse

Let me give you an example. I went to school with a girl who did calligraphy with ease. Heck, she even did calligraphy before she knew what calligraphy was. She could make the most intricate and beautiful letters with complete and total ease. It was a game to her. In that particular field she was a true genius.

Posted by: RD Padouk | November 11, 2007 7:58 PM | Report abuse

RD, very well-stated. We all have our talents. Some considered at the genius level. However, I have known some very smart people (photographic memory-types mostly) who have never amounted to much ... okay, financially and/or recognized ... primarily because they were lazy or simply uninspired. A shame.

Posted by: birdie | November 11, 2007 8:21 PM | Report abuse

I was gonna mention Mozart and Salieri, but I see Ivansmom beat me too it. And she expressed what I said way better. And first.

Harumph.

By the way - best wishes and thanks to all Veterans on this special day.

Posted by: RD Padouk | November 11, 2007 8:23 PM | Report abuse

Mudge, we made your beefy vegetable soup. Very good. I halved the recipe and used a pound and three quarters of lean ground beef. That is one healthy soup.

Thanks!

Posted by: birdie | November 11, 2007 8:24 PM | Report abuse

birdie - yes I have known a couple of people like that as well. It's as if they don't value their own unique abilities.

I think guilt also sometimes comes into play with true geniuses. Something that others must work at comes so easily to them that they feel as if they haven't earned the right to benefit from their gift.

Posted by: RD Padouk | November 11, 2007 8:30 PM | Report abuse

But she knew what writing was, RD. Yes, talent and intelligence is simply not acquired by work by the individual's behalf.

However, most learning is not conscious but absorbed, especially from young age onwards. That's the thing that trips us up when we're thinking about genius. Why does this come easily?

How can anybody have a "natural skill" for writing prettily?

I often feel self-conscious when I find things easy that other people find hard. Maybe I'm in the habit of minimizing genius. Or maybe I just see it differently.

In dogs, behavior is very hardwired. You can breed a dog that will run under a carriage with the horses at a given distance (dalmatians), reflexively snap into a point when it sights game (pointers), be compulsive about retrieving items, or herd livestock without any training whatsoever. THAT's genius.

All of those behaviors are innate to the wolf, but they have been artifically enhanced and extended. The herding dog does what a pack of wolves would do.

Wilbrodog took what seemed like forever to "get" alerting, but once he did and was praised, he generalized in a way no dog is supposed to do.

Everything of interest; people approaching, everything he would point out to me. I started winnowing that behavior down, but ever since he has been very helpful to me and ready to do more than he's been trained for.

And an hearing dog is a combination of many hard-to-mix traits-- natural watchdog tendency, alertness, calmness, low fear, and high sociability to owner.

It is when those traits are in reasonable balance that a dog can work safely and with high enthusaism as a hearing dog.

But service dog work differs from specialized function dogs-- instead of one amplified trait, many traits must be dampened (prey drive, aggressiveness, etc.) and the rest balanced so the dog is as comfortable working at one task as another, and doing it in any environment.

That's harder to achieve than a pointer that will snap in a point at any bird. The working service dog can be fairly dumb or be brilliant at doing its tasks without direction.

A rottweiler showed what most people would consider "genius" level thinking in saving her owner's life.
http://www.akc.org/news/ace/2005/honorees.cfm

"Incredibly, when commands could not be given, Faith problem-solved on her own and performed a series of tasks that, according to doctors, saved Leana's life. Taking the phone off its base, Faith pushed the special 9-1-1 speed-dial button and barked into the phone. Returning to her owner, Faith used her seizure response training to roll Leana into a recovery position. Able to recognize police uniforms, Faith unlocked the door when help arrived, and lead the police to her owner."

Yet, that's all built on a solid education of how to help her owner.

This past year, a golden retriever performed the heimlech maneveur after taking his cues from the owner's own attempt to do the maneveur on herself.



Posted by: Wilbrod | November 11, 2007 8:30 PM | Report abuse

Wilbrod - you seem to have some resistance to the notion of the effortless genius. But they do indeed exist. I have seen them with mine own eyes. For goodness sake, I work with a couple.

As to my classmate the innate Calligrapher, this person could "write prettily" as soon as she could pick up crayons. She used to copy the letters from blocks before she could even read. She didn't even know what these shapes were for - she just liked their aesthetics. In this narrow area she was a true genius. And while they are rare, they do exist. This one lived down the street from me.

Posted by: RD Padouk | November 11, 2007 8:40 PM | Report abuse

For me genius is the only thing that can explain Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, or anyone of exceptional drive and ability who achieves far beyond others of exceptional drive and ability in the same field. The genius just sees things that others can't. Whether this rare gift is inborn or acquired, or a combination, really doesn't matter. Most of us practice, practice, practice and get to Carnegie Hall to sit in the audience.

Posted by: frostbitten | November 11, 2007 9:03 PM | Report abuse

Back from the band competition. Sixteen hour day. This parenting thing isn't all its cracked up to be.

My family yesterday had lunch with another family that has a ten year old boy with a well above above average talent for math. I don't know how far out on the bell curve you need to be genius, but my wife's ten years of teaching gifted and talented students makes her think that kids with that level are wired different than the ones that are merely bright. They see numbers in a different way and need to be taught differently.

Her GT math classes often had 20-25% of the grade in it and it really shortchanged the kids that could go much faster than even her course.

Posted by: yellojkt | November 11, 2007 9:24 PM | Report abuse

To me the ironic thing about true genius is that, although we praise and admire those who have it, true genius is not a virtue. It is a profound gift. Like physical beauty or height or the color of one's eyes. It just is. The only thing that people of true genius did right, sometimes, is pick the correct parents.

Now whether Norman Mailer was a genius or not I will leave up to better read folks. But, in general, I have a lot of trouble when I hear of brilliantly talented people like Mailer behaving badly. Those who have great gifts are not freed from being good people. If anything else, they have an obligation to be good to balance things out.

Oh great, I suddenly realize that I am dangerously close to quoting from "Spiderman" again.

I hate it when that happens.

Posted by: RD Padouk | November 11, 2007 10:01 PM | Report abuse

RD, I was in a special reading group in my GT class because I was so far ahead. When my teacher would read aloud, I'd be reading the pages 4 times or more by the time it took her to finish.

I was reading close to 6th grade level at age 6. By age 12, college level.

When I was learning colors in preschool, I was reading them off my crayons.

I was never an artistic prodigy but I was doing art beyond my age level since preschool.

I was reading Shakespeare by age 12 and college-level anatomy textbooks. I read 2 psychology textbooks in less than 3 weeks.

In senior year, I had an English teacher challenge me to put down "real numbers" because I couldn't possibly have read 100 pages in 30 minutes or less. She finally conceded the point after I started reading aloud as fast as I could sign.

Now, all of my siblings were reading at similarly young ages and my mom dedicated her time to getting us adequate books to read.

I know deaf people who are bright but will never be able to fully be fluent English because they were deprived of language at a crucial age.

The more I learn about how lucky I was, the more I do believe that genius needs footholds.

In my case, I can say yes it is effortless and it's because I was bloody lucky to be raised in an environment that allowed me to acquire language and which encouraged reading and learning language.

If I hadn't gotten that exposure period, which every hearing child takes for granted, but must be given to deaf children visually, I probably couldn't write a grammatical English sentence of any length. I know deaf people who are stuck with limited second-language proficency forever because of that deficiency.

For them, the language we take for granted is an uphill struggle, because they missed out on a crucial exposure period.

Recently, scientist have identified that delaying first exposure to a language until around age 5 may not impact fluency in the first language, but will forever affect the child's ability to acquire new languages when the child is school-age. This means they miss out on something that equips them to learn new languages.

Therefore, prelingually deaf children who have not been fully exposed to language throughout infancy struggle to read because they must learn a second language-- English in order to read, and they already are doomed to be worse at learning second languages because of their missed critical period.

So the basics: no sign language, no nothing during infancy means that the children are not equipped to live to their full potential and succeed in school. It makes NO DIFFERENCE HOW SMART THEY ARE.

My deaf brother managed to learn sign before age 5 and he has excellent English, but no talent for languages otherwise, although he enjoyed learning his latin roots and can write well and wittily. He is most gifted in math. His brains and an enriched environment saved him; he learned to read about the same time he learned sign.

Now, we both could have wound up language-deprived as so many of our acquaintances and friends were.

Instead, I not only learned English, I thrived on learning other languages as well-- something none of my siblings were ever into, either.

The big difference was that I was signed to as a baby and I was encouraged to know how to translate English into sign and back before I was 5.

And I'm not saying the only gifted people in my family are deaf. Another brother has perfect pitch. Another received operatic training. Another was a champion athlete. At a young age, she had fanastic hand-eye coordination.

Yes, some things come really easily.

Obviously, if I had been born hearing I'd have just thought I always had a knack for languages and this was something innate. Maybe I'd actually speak a few languages instead of zero.

And then I would buy into your idea that some things are just easy for a given person, they're born that way, poof, instead of seeing genius as a complex braid of temperament, environment, experience, and ability.

Posted by: Wilbrod | November 11, 2007 10:28 PM | Report abuse

Yes, RD. It's luck, and a blessing. Thank you!

I wish every child in America had the opportunity to have the best environment long before they hit school and are expected to be A Child Not Left Behind. I really do believe there is a lot of wasted potential out there.

Later environmental enrichment can do a lot, but for some things, such as language, the deficit can be narrowed but never eliminated.

And I think that someday a monolingual environment will be considered an impoverished environment. Children raised in a bilingual environment learn language differently.

I highly recommend those two books for a real look at how the brain learns and adapts:

One is "Enriching the brain: How to maximize every learner's potential"
Eric Jensen, 2006.

The other is "The brain that changes itself" by Norman Doidge, M.D.

Yellojkt, I believe it about the really gifted math students. They are capable of learning without being led step by step through a problem and should be allowed to solve on their own first.

It's too bad we don't know enough how children acquire the foundation skills that enables them to think mathematically.

Posted by: Wilbrod | November 11, 2007 10:44 PM | Report abuse

Good morning, friends. I'm up and moving about after a shakey night. Went to bed and fell right off to sleep. Everything tired. I think it was an asthma attack.

Feel okay this morning, just the swollen fingers. God is good.

RD, you don't sound like Spiderman, more like a spiritual person, which isn't bad at all. Or is that a no, no?

The only thing I have a knack for is running my mouth, which allows everyone near and far to see how much I lack. No genius here.

I've often thought about the reasons some people want to be famous. Is it so that when they die people will remember them? And in that aid to memory, will that person(the famous person) receive any thing from that, I mean after all they are dead, right? Perhaps wanting to be famous has its core in acquiring wealth and power? When one looks at Britney Spears' life and other celebrities, these folks don't get much peace in their lives. But I guess the wealth is worth that hassle? I'll bet they (famous people) have chains on their bathroom door and had the room swept for bugs, the seeing eye kind.

I don't believe that kind of noteriety lasts anyway. I mean even when streets are named after individuals, one might not know that individual or what they did in their lifetime, although I admit some people should be remembered for the good they have done in their lifetime, but we usually don't rmemeber good people, only those that have been scandalous.

Have a great day, folks. For some it's a long weekend. I'm the only thing up in this household, and I told my grandsons I will not wake them up early.

Scotty, Mudge, Slyness, and all, a good morning to you.*waving*

I'm thinking we might liven the place up a bit with some, I don't know, out of the way thinking? Something out of the realm of what we usually do? Futuristic or not the same 9-5 thinking? I'm probably babbling here, but I believe there is someone out there that may have some idea of what I'm talking about, although I don't. It's just an idea, Mr. Achenbach, not a critque of your work (which is amazing) or trying to take over, none of that stuff. Just an idea. Perhaps not a good one at that.

Something like, what did you do today to fight racism in America or do you know that family in your town that went to bed hungry? Oh, just a number of things. Of course some of these aren't futuristic or out of the norm, but you get what I'm talking about? Or it could be an idea that has twiddle around in your brain for some time that you believe to have some merit. Something on the order of good for mankind, but people would think you're crazy if you tried it. You get where I'm going here? I feel like deleting all of this, but I won't. It can be serious or seriously funny. Oh, we're already doing that, right?

God loves us so much more than we can imagine through Him that died for all, Jesus Christ.

Posted by: Cassandra S | November 12, 2007 5:53 AM | Report abuse

Genius can also mean guardian spirit or household diety. Here is poem where the superlative joy - with a dash of rooster -- of the man that morning is clear:

Danse Russe

IF when my wife is sleeping
and the baby and Kathleen
are sleeping
and the sun is a flame-white disc
in silken mists
above shining trees,--
if I in my north room
dance naked, grotesquely
before my mirror
waving my shirt round my head
and singing softly to myself:
"I am lonely, lonely.
I was born to be lonely,
I am best so!"
If I admire my arms, my face,
my shoulders, flanks, buttocks
against the yellow drawn shades,--

Who shall say I am not
the happy genius of my household?

William Carlos Williams

Posted by: College Parkian | November 12, 2007 7:13 AM | Report abuse

Hi Cassandra,

Your challenge reminds me of the rice-grains clicker many of us tried last week AND the lovely poem posted by Frosti about saving the world in tiny but measurable moments.

I believe you worked on fractions with your beloved circle of children. Fraction knowledge makes possible middle-to-higher math. That is a foundation-building moment.

Today, I present advice on how to write clear instructions and procedures. It is raining, which can make students sleepwalkers at the desk. Let's hope I am lively enough.

May we see a flash of genius today....

Posted by: College Parkian | November 12, 2007 7:18 AM | Report abuse

Oh, CP, my post is the ramblings of an old woman, drug infused (legal), on waking up early in the morning with just her thoughts and a computer to amuse herself. We get so much good stuff here at the Achenblog, it is more than one(me,especially) can take in at times. As I said, at least I hope I said, my ramblings were not a critque of this blog.

And you will do fine today. We are getting ready to work on fractions here. I'm loving it, don't think that is the feeling of the group doing it.

I've been outside and it is chilly, real chilly, but the weather person is calling for a beautiful day. Rain would be nice, but that is entirely up to a higher authority, and I trust his decisions.

Posted by: Cassandra S | November 12, 2007 7:58 AM | Report abuse

Good morning, everybody--

RD, you had me giggling at 4:00 a.m. today. And that is a GOOD thing.

Mostlylurking was duly delivered (5:30 a.m.) to the airport for her long trek home. I proceeded to work and here I am in my cubicle trying to adjust to the idea that it is Monday morning and I'm not going to get any books signed today.

It was great making the transition from imaginary friend to 3D reality. Mostlylurking and I have a lot in common, beyond our A-blog obsession. We spent a lot of time listening, learning and reading but also did some sightseeing (Fort Lauderdale, Miami, Miami Beach) and had long conversations about culture, politics, journalism, our lives and experiences--hm, kind of like Achenblog, except in real life.

I have to edit the pictures when I get home (decrease the file size so I can post them on line). My camera betteries expired on the morning of the second day so I don't have a lot but we did get the requisite Dave Barry shot (he continues to inspire with his good humor and professionalism).

I'm sorry I'm not a speedy blogger like SOME people but eventually I'll get it done.

Posted by: kbertocci | November 12, 2007 8:18 AM | Report abuse

Good morning and happy Monday to all!

Good luck with fractions, Cassandra. I always have to think carefully but generally can work my way through them. Not a math genius here!

For a Monday giggle, I append the following link, sent to me by the she nerd in the family, noting that she laughed hysterically at its accuracy:

http://www.randsinrepose.com/archives/2007/11/11/the_nerd_handbook.html

Posted by: Slyness | November 12, 2007 8:51 AM | Report abuse

I think Edison was more than a little bit right when it comes to genius. Look at the great geniuses and they're all incredibly prolific, which is to say, hard working, and managed to spew out a lot of garbage along with the good stuff (think Mailer, for example).

I have a clip on that topic I'll try to post at some point.

Did anyone read the Roger Kimball piece (linked at arts and letters daily) on Mailer? Beyond harsh.

I'm on the road today and tomorrow but will endeavor to post using my fancy new Aircard doohickey. Look for something later in the day. I hope everyone had a great weekend.

Posted by: Achenbach | November 12, 2007 8:57 AM | Report abuse

Wow... it was great to get up this morning and to read the boodle, feeling like a fly on the wall of a great-thinkers' salon. I think that's the best word to describe this boodle... a salon.

I mean... what is genius? Genius!

The remarks about geniuses and bad behavior made me think of Frank Lloyd Wright. One of our family road trips began with a visit to Fallingwater and included a week in Oak Park and Chicago touring many of his works and learning a lot about him. The conclusion among my entire family: "What a genius. What an a$$hat."

Posted by: TBG | November 12, 2007 9:01 AM | Report abuse

Mailer was a man of his times. Do you not think it unfair to judge him from an aesthetic that has changed over a number of decades?

I am reminded of something historian Joseph Ellis said at the Texas Book Festival--and wrote, on page 12 of American Creation:

With this cloistered climate [of academe], in short, the Oedipal side of the adolescent interpretation holds sway, so that it is possible, in all seriousness, to argue that the American Revolution was an unmitigated calamity and the founding itself an abject failure because, as one historian put it, it "failed to free the slaves, failed to offer full political equality to women, failed to grant citizenship to Indians, failed to create an economic world in which all could compete on equal terms."

Posted by: Loomis | November 12, 2007 9:28 AM | Report abuse

Dying to see the pictures, kb. I'm tempted to fire up the scanner and post my pics from fifteen years ago.

Posted by: yellojkt | November 12, 2007 9:37 AM | Report abuse

Now this is what I call genius, a healthy, cookie that can spend a year on the shelf without spoiling and is suitable both on earth and in space.

http://www.thestar.com/living/article/275515

Of course I may have a lower standard for what I consider genius than many of you.

Cassandra loved your 5:53 post.

Posted by: dmd | November 12, 2007 9:44 AM | Report abuse

Darn, dmd, I was hoping for the recipe. Cool story, I'll bet they could license the production and retire!

Posted by: Slyness | November 12, 2007 9:55 AM | Report abuse

Well seeing as it was discovered while he was a government/crown corp employee I doubt he could get much benefit but it could perhaps fund our invasion effort :-)

Posted by: dmd | November 12, 2007 10:11 AM | Report abuse

Cassandra, RDP was refering to the Quote from the first Spiderman Movie: "With great power comes great responsibility."

Or maybe the comic book story: "With great power there must also come - - great responsibility!"

Which is actually a paraphrase of a Churchill quote: "For with primacy in power is joined an awe-inspiring accountability for the future."

Said in the presence of Truman, addressing the new role of the USA post WWII.

Posted by: omni | November 12, 2007 10:42 AM | Report abuse

omni,
Great comics trivia, but who said "It's clobbering time!"?

Posted by: yellojkt | November 12, 2007 11:03 AM | Report abuse

yello.... love your blog today. Especially the, er... anticipation (?) of your son's acceptance to MIT.

Posted by: TBG | November 12, 2007 11:12 AM | Report abuse

Cassandra, I had to laugh at your post of this morning because I found myself thinking yesterday about how I affect the world in a positive way. How can I do more?

I am as ever deeply touched moved, and beholden to those who fought and died for their countries. I don't think fighting is the way to change everything, but sometimes there is justice in standing to fight, and going to war. Sometimes it is the only way left.

Either way, our young men go off and do what we ask of them, and they should be honoured for doing it, at great personal cost. But I sat there watching the coverage from the National War Memorial, and saw the flowers laid on the Unknown Soldiers Tomb and knew that though my remebering is strong, there has to be more than remembering the gift they left. We do need to use the gift which remains to better the world too.

Posted by: dr | November 12, 2007 11:12 AM | Report abuse

Good morning, all.

Where does Fly-Away Hair figure into all of this discussion of genius?

bc

Posted by: bc | November 12, 2007 11:13 AM | Report abuse

Thanks, TBG. It does frighten me that college bound students have less sex than their dumber classmates. Since it's a slow boodle day and I do link to a real WaPo article, go check out my concerns about the latest teen sex survey.

http://livebythefoma.blogspot.com/2007/11/horny-teens-arent-hoodlums.html

Posted by: yellojkt | November 12, 2007 11:31 AM | Report abuse

dr, you put it so much better than me. Very true, dr, very true.

omni, thanks for the info. I was teasing RD. I read his post all the time, but know I'm not getting much of them. Just a different playing field, but still enjoy the game.

thanks, dmd.

Loomis, I suspect there has always been some injustice in this world even before our times. When there wasn't gadgets and technology, there was the ability to not get sick and die early or the person that could get out of the way of harm, and even to getting enough food to eat. Some of us have always been on the minus side, and others abound. It just that we've gotten away from basics to some extent, and moved in the realm of useless and tasteless. Being the descendent of a slave, I call America my home with all its warts and faults. Doesn't mean it can't be better, just means its home, regardless of those that believe otherwise. And I don't feel any less than anyone else because of my heritage in this country. My peoples' free labor and countless abuses entitles me and them.

Posted by: Cassandra S | November 12, 2007 11:32 AM | Report abuse

I think the problem is that we are expecting too much from the word Genius. It cannot mean both talent coupled with hard work *and* transcendent effortless ability.

I like the Edison quote because it recognizes this contradiction. Edison is making an ironic little joke. He is saying, hey, what I do may look like the work of a genius, but it is actually just the result of a hard-working man.

This is an attractive philosophy because it is humble, it is enabling since it offers hope of greatness to all willing to work, and it suggests that the speaker is worthy of being considered virtuous because of his sweat.

The remaining question, though, is if we accept the term Genius to mean the former definition of talent and hard work, what, dare I ask, do we call the latter?

Posted by: RD Padouk | November 12, 2007 11:39 AM | Report abuse

God's gift?

Posted by: Cassandra S | November 12, 2007 11:43 AM | Report abuse

Loomis... that is a great quote. I can see how it would stick with you; it really does explain what happens when we judge by the wrong standards--from the wrong frame of reference.

Thanks for pointing it out.

Posted by: TBG | November 12, 2007 11:50 AM | Report abuse

Yello I liked the blog entry.

Did anyone else see this Zogby poll released yesterday on the preferences for "reds", "blues" and "purples", I found it very interesting. The actual questions asked are attached.

http://www.zogby.com/news/ReadNews.dbm?ID=1387

Posted by: dmd | November 12, 2007 12:07 PM | Report abuse

yell, Sounds like Jimmy Durante?

Posted by: omni | November 12, 2007 12:12 PM | Report abuse

I've been too busy to do anything but lurk for a while. Conrats, yello, on the occasion of your son's acceptance to college. I hope that the rest of the responses you are awaiting break in your favour. We went to a dog show in Greensboro on Saturday and installed ceiling fans for the better part of the day Sunday: 3 fans installed in roughly 6 hours, braces, ceiling boxes, assembly and all. I have one more to do upstairs and the lighting will be nearly finished. Yet another restoration milestone.

Posted by: jack | November 12, 2007 12:17 PM | Report abuse

Oh yeah, a congrats to the yello family. I'm sure there are other things but I as usual forget them all by the time I catch up.

Posted by: omni | November 12, 2007 12:20 PM | Report abuse

Loomis,my response to your post is not a contradiction or a bad feeling thing. It is a great quotation, and I was responding to that.

Posted by: Cassandra S | November 12, 2007 12:22 PM | Report abuse

I found the blustery delivery of Rush Limbaugh entertaining all in itself. Like an unaware Stephen Colbert. But between the commercial breaks and the blatant material stretching, I find it too tedious to listen to him.

A former coworker has a Rush related parlor game. Begin listening at a random part of his show and time until he states a complete falsehood or engages in an ad hominem attack. It usually doesn't take long.

I like Al Franken, but he wasn't quite animated enough to work the radio waves. I used to listen to Randi Rhodes when she was a shock jock in Miami/WPB. She had some cool sound effects like squeaky mattress springs whenever the topic got a little blue and a popping sound she played for first time callers. Don't know if she uses those on Air America.

Posted by: yellojkt | November 12, 2007 12:24 PM | Report abuse

jack,
When you are done, come over and change the ceiling fan in our bedroom. It's a cathedral ceiling, so the box is 15 feet in the air. The fan has a slight imbalance at low speed and its too loud at high speed, but I'm too lazy to change out the fan.

Posted by: yellojkt | November 12, 2007 12:27 PM | Report abuse

Oboy... Lotsa BackBoodling to do, I see...

But that's what happens when a guy is lucky enough to exchange a FofSN for a NukeSpouse...

:-))))))))))))))))))))

Yes, a more fulsome accounting and pictures will follow soon!

*extra-happy Grover waves and a backflip*

:-)

Posted by: Scottynuke | November 12, 2007 12:29 PM | Report abuse

Scotty - my most sincere best wishes for a lifetime of extra-happy Grover backflips. Congratulations!!!

Posted by: dmd | November 12, 2007 12:32 PM | Report abuse

Belated congrats to SonofYello (and fingers crossed for a positive letter from Cambridge ((and not the English one)) ) as I continue catching up!!! :-)

Posted by: Scottynuke | November 12, 2007 12:36 PM | Report abuse

I'll be right over, yello. *hurredly packing the Makita, fasteners, the BIG ladder and Duct Tape.*

Posted by: jack | November 12, 2007 12:39 PM | Report abuse

Congrats, Snuke, you're one lucky guy! Don't wait long on the pictures, we reaaallly want to see them!

Posted by: Slyness | November 12, 2007 12:47 PM | Report abuse

And this just in (Yesterday): 5 Myths About Art, Age and Genius http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/11/08/AR2007110800952.html?hpid=opinionsbox1

Posted by: omni | November 12, 2007 12:53 PM | Report abuse

yellojkt;

Why, it's almost always Ben Grimm, a.k.a. The Fantastic Four's Thing, who bellows "It's Clobberin' Time!!!" when his crusty fists are about to fly.

:-)

Posted by: Scottynuke | November 12, 2007 1:00 PM | Report abuse

And another: Get Smart(er) http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/story/2007/11/09/ST2007110901878.html?sid=ST2007110901878?hpid=smartliving

Posted by: omni | November 12, 2007 1:05 PM | Report abuse

S'nuke:
Best wishes and much happiness for you and NukeSpouse. You didn't even tip us off that this was in the works, you sly dog.

Posted by: yellojkt | November 12, 2007 1:12 PM | Report abuse

Cassandra - I was thinking sorta along the same lines. Such people do have something akin to the spark of the divine about them.

And thank you so much for your kind comment last night. To be called Spiritual by you is profoundly flattering. You made me blush.

Scotty - Congrats! This weekend is a most excellent time of the year to get hitched. The Mrs. and I are celebrating our 19th wedding anniversary today. Since I am off work, and the kids are at school, this can mean just one thing.

Yes, that's right. We're painting the guest bedroom.

Posted by: RD Padouk | November 12, 2007 1:16 PM | Report abuse

ScottyNuke, my heartiest congratulations. NukeSpouse too! I shall toast a suitable beverage in your honour.

Posted by: dr | November 12, 2007 1:22 PM | Report abuse

yellojkt- thanks for the reply to my question. What a great view.

All this talk about genius and Edison reminds me of the other great quotation on the topic: "If I have seen further, it is because I have stood on the shoulders of giants" (Newton)

I am also unfortunately reminded that one of the reasons why many lawyers are such crushing bores is that the first thing we do (to "help") is to define the terms involved. This is sometimes unfortunate, as an early boodle definition of genius might have prevented several of the interesting comments.

Scotty: congrats. A successful marriage is 1% inspiration, and 99% conversation

Either that or "If my marriage has lasted longer than most it is because I have stood at the back entrance while taking off my shoes"

Posted by: SonofCarl | November 12, 2007 1:32 PM | Report abuse

WoooHooo, Scotty! Congratulations!

Posted by: jack | November 12, 2007 1:36 PM | Report abuse

Scotty, big Grover *congratulations!* :-)

Yello, all good things to your son. :-)

Loomis, I think humanity has always looked back, judging from an aesthetic that has changed over a number of decades. That's why historiography exists. As long as one keeps present assumptions and the accumulation of time in mind, there's a chance for illumination and real understanding.

Beyond that, even in those misogenistic times, Mailer stood out as a rabid practitioner. That tells us something too.

Posted by: dbG | November 12, 2007 2:16 PM | Report abuse

Best wishes, Scottynuke, to you and your wife. May you be happy together for a very long time.

Posted by: kbertocci | November 12, 2007 2:17 PM | Report abuse

Scotty, I am wishing you and your beautiful bride the best life has to offer.! You didn't tell us a thing, give my best to Mrs. Scotty. Congratulations!

Is it okay to still holler at you early in the morning or will that be a thing of the past? Enjoy your new bride, I'm teasing you.

Posted by: Cassandra S | November 12, 2007 2:39 PM | Report abuse

Everyone remember my tax woes with TurbTax last April...Well there back in the form of the DC Gov. claiming I didn't pay them. several things are causing me to scratch my head. The amount they say I owe is different than the actual amount I owed. I did pay the amount owed, which was more than the amount they claim I owe. Also, the first I hear of this is today is from not the DC Gov., but a collection agency.

CRAP

Posted by: omni | November 12, 2007 3:03 PM | Report abuse

Head scratching causing major SCC event...

Posted by: omni | November 12, 2007 3:07 PM | Report abuse

Snukegrats are in order!

Cassandra, I agree with your and DbG's posts this morning, and try hard to share the optimism (but fail, I'm afraid) of the last sentence of dr's 11:12 post this morning about the need of soldiers to better the world.

This Veterans Day has me rather blue, aside from the fact that my nose is still running and I'm still coughing a lot.

I look at this way: President Bush skipped town when the observance of the 25th anniversary of the Vietnam Memorial was taking place in D.C.. Then he came to San Antonio, to Brook Army Medical Center to visit the worst of the war-wounded at the Center of the Intrepid. Brian Williams showed four heart-wrenching photos on his broadcast Thurday night of this local visit, with stirring music, mind you, but no mention by anyone except perhaps by our local press that the Center of the Intrepid was paid for not by the government but through donations from citizens, and not too many Texans in the latter category.

Dr. James Peake, who served at another base in town, Ft. Sam Houston, has been nominated and has yet to be confirmed as Bush's Secretary of Veteran Affairs.

http://www.mysanantonio.com/news/metro/stories/MYSA103107.01A.State.Vets.3405139.html

President Bush on Tuesday nominated retired Army Lt. Gen. James Peake, a former Army surgeon general who headed the U.S. Army Medical Command at Fort Sam Houston, as secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The nomination of Peake to replace outgoing Secretary James Nicholson comes as San Antonio is slated to receive a fifth national facility to treat soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with multiple wounds.

Then Bush sashays up to Crawford to cozy up to German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Former Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder never got a ranch invite because he didn't support the war. Then to see Dick Cheney, with his long list of past draft deferments, laying the wreath at Arlington this morning.

Then to read in the Post's article about Pakistan and nuclear proliferation that at one time our CIA could have nabbed A.G. Khan! Too much, I tell you, too much.

Posted by: Loomis | November 12, 2007 3:22 PM | Report abuse

Omni, you forgot something. A govenrment computer is saying your computer owes, which is causing your woes. If you and they fix the computers, all will be well.

Posted by: dr | November 12, 2007 3:24 PM | Report abuse

...which is supposed to be a funny haha, but isn't.

All I know is don't pay too fast. Government systems can't accept that you would pay before they might expect you too.

Posted by: dr | November 12, 2007 3:41 PM | Report abuse

EEEK! Scottynuke is MARRIED?!?!? Congratulations! I knew you were engaged, but geez. This is great. Boy, talk about Boodle-shaking news.

Also congratulations to RD on your anniversary. I hope you wait until the paint fumes subside to open the wine.

Thanks to RD & Cassandra for expressing so well my views on the whole "genius" thing. I do reserve the term for more than the talented and incredibly hard-working. If you want to take Edison literally (and I think RD interpreted that well) then we have to call those transcendent folks something else.

And Loomis, that was indeed a great quote.

Posted by: Ivansmom | November 12, 2007 3:49 PM | Report abuse

http://www.monkeyview.net/id/2480/wedding/index.vhtml

So yes, NukeSpouse and I have taken the plunge. Thank you all very much for your kind wishes! *blushing* :-)

No, we didn't widely advertise things ahead of time. Several factors led us to decide on a short engagement, and it was more than enough fun handling the logistics to get family members here. We're very indebted to the Boodlers who were able to make it.

I sweated over the forecast last week, but Sunday afternoon couldn't have been any better. At least I thought so, but I was the only one not wearing a jacket, so my perception's probably skewed.

Anyway, the sky was clear, the sun was bright (you'll probably notice more than a little squinting in the pics), and Great Falls was its usual stunning self. Or perhaps a little more stunning than usual, as a helicopter showed up JUST as we were getting started. At first we thought RDP was making a late appearance, but in fact a couple of foolhardy kayakers were actually going THROUGH the falls! I noticed several park rangers on the banks before we got going again.

It was all a bit of a blur, but we've got rings on our fingers and papers showing we said all the proper things, so it seems to have worked out properly, despite our excellent celebrant referring to a "Susan" at one point. The celebrant had a full schedule, so perhaps it was a bit of wedding crosstalk.

My family, NukeSpouse's friends and the redoubtable Boodlers then headed over to, where else, M&S and took over the usual BPH spot for a few hours. The food and spirits were delightful, but no match for the company and good times. And yes, we pondered how perfect it would have been to get married in Mianus, CT.

Thank you all again!!! :-)

Posted by: Scottynuke | November 12, 2007 3:58 PM | Report abuse

It is three o'clock in the afternoon on November 12th, and the air conditioner just came on. The thermostat is set to 76 (f). It was pleasant working outside this morning, but something just seems wrong with that.

Posted by: Ivansmom | November 12, 2007 4:00 PM | Report abuse

Good on ya Snuke!
My respects to your lady.

Posted by: Boko999 | November 12, 2007 4:04 PM | Report abuse

Very nice pictures Scotty.

Posted by: dmd | November 12, 2007 4:08 PM | Report abuse

Happy Veterans Day to all who have served in the past and present.Your dedication and sacrifices are greatly appreciated by all of us.

I also wanted to wish the happy couple a Wonderful day, filled with Family and Friends. May your many years together be filled with Love, Joy and Happiness!!

Posted by: greenwithenvy | November 11, 2007 12:07 PM

Did no one else guess what this foretold? If not, then I'll claim to be a genius and punch anyone in the nose who disagrees.

Congrats to the S'nukes!

I am in Minneapolis for a meeting in St. Paul tomorrow and am off to a Christmas gift book binge and Ikea look fest. Thought of some recent building design/wretched excess boodles on the drive down. One new ugly building after another eating up the former farmland. Not just not my taste, pure offspring of the Ly parents, Ug and Home.

Posted by: frostbitten | November 12, 2007 4:25 PM | Report abuse

I AM SO JEALOUS!!! TBG and bc and Mudge and mo ALL got to be there and I DIDN'T!!!

I'd take umbrage if it weren't such a happy occasion and if everybody didn't have a good time.

Congratulations again, Scotty, and best wishes for a wonderful life together.

Posted by: Slyness | November 12, 2007 4:37 PM | Report abuse

You're right, Scottynuke, it would have been wonderful to be able to say "I got hitched in Mianus." Or, "I got a ring on my finger in Mianus." I guess you'll just have to settle for second-rate.

Congratulations, anyway.

Posted by: ScienceTim | November 12, 2007 4:38 PM | Report abuse

Great pictures, Scottynuke, and thanks for sharing!

I don't know, Slyness, the guest list kinda reminds me of Wizard of Oz: "And bc, and Mo, and Mudge, and -- TBG! Yes, TBG was there too!" All down home and comforting.

Posted by: Ivansmom | November 12, 2007 5:06 PM | Report abuse

Scottynuke, congrats on the big day and thanks for those pics...I'm going to post your comment on the next kit.

Posted by: Achenbach | November 12, 2007 5:31 PM | Report abuse

Scottynuke, you dog! Congratulations. Welcome to the Ranks of the Happily Married.

Posted by: CowTown | November 12, 2007 6:26 PM | Report abuse

*crickets*

Posted by: Anonymous | November 13, 2007 2:15 AM | Report abuse

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