Why Emerson Is Dudely

My blog’s title is inspired by my man Ralph Waldo Emerson, the 19th century philosopher whose essay “Circles” in particular had a big impact on my way of thinking. “Circles” is late Emerson, after personal tragedy had rounded off the corners of his eternal optimism, and it’s basically about incompleteness and instability as sources of insight. As we move through the world, devouring ideas and images, the incompleteness of our vision (our circle) intersects with other circles in a way that’s always liminal and partial, leaving more to be explored.

I take some comfort in that notion, as did The Stranger in The Big Lebowski, when he noted that “the Dude abides.” Like the Dude, Emerson takes all things into himself without ever compromising his core dudeness: “No facts are to me sacred; none are profane; I simply experiment, an endless seeker, with no Past at my back… Whilst the eternal generation of circles proceeds, the eternal generator abides.”


Against the Day

Here’s my previous (unpublished) letter to The Oregonian from December 2006. One more and I’m officially considered a crank. Hey at least my unhinged ravings are consistent:

After reading Richard Melo’s embarrassingly inept review of Thomas Pynchon’s Against the Day, I have to conclude what I have long suspected: The Oregonian doesn’t care about book reviewing.

I share Melo’s glowing assessment of the novel, but with one key difference: I’ve actually read it. I can’t prove of course, that he hasn’t, but it’s the only merciful way to explain why the review is so chockfull of useless filler regarding the book’s physical weight (3 lbs!), a fan wiki, the author’s reclusive nature, and best of all, a full paragraph on the book’s cover typography. I was struck by the review’s similarity to an episode of The Simpsons in which Bart attempts an on-the-fly book report on Treasure Island based on the book’s title and cover. Bart’s effort was better.

I’m not sure what qualifies Melo to review the first novel in a decade by one of the most important writers of the last 50 years (or, as Melo styles it, a writer whose past successes can no longer be considered a “fluke”). Melo has written a novel himself, it seems; is that the extent of it? In a city renowned for its literary culture, its bookstores, and its libraries, it is shameful that our newspaper of record shows so little regard for the reading that goes on beyond its pages. Give books at least the same regard you give to films; turn them over to professional reviewers who take their craft seriously.