May 21, 2011

The impact of higher education

Two of the world's most famous living writers are named Tom: Tom Wolfe and Tom Stoppard.

Although they work in different branches of literature and are from different countries, they are surprisingly similar. Both were born in the 1930s, both started their working lives as newspaper reporters, both made dazzling breakthroughs into fame in the mid-1960s (Wolfe with The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine Flake Streamline Baby, Stoppard with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead), both are fairly conservative politically, both were substantially influenced by Evelyn Waugh, both have kept basically the same trademark look since the 1960s (white suit v. Rolling Stones hairdo), both are dandies who spend a lot of money on their clothes and furnishings, and both have enjoyed quite long and successful careers. The personality differences between them in their writing style are subtle: Wolfe is more satirical, Stoppard more parodical.

So, they make a fun and fair comparison for this question: Judging from their published works, can you guess which one never attended a day of college and which one earned a doctorate from a world-famous university? Which one's Dr. Tom?

72 comments:

Whiskey said...

I would guess (without looking them up) that Wolfe never attended college, and that Stoppard is the guy who had a graduate degree from a tony school.

Why? Because Wolfe is obsessed with Ivy League rich guys, and Stoppard is not. I am just guessing though.

Besides, JK Rowling and Dan Brown are the most famous living writers. If you're talking about people knowing what they wrote.

Anonymous said...

I'm afraid I'm not guessing. I learned about Wolfe's fancy Ivy League credentials when he gave a speech at Duke in 1999. The professor that introduced Dr. Wolfe bragged to us by saying that they both had earned Ph.D's in "American Studies" from Yale.

Anonymous said...

I'll have to check the written paint.

Whatever or whoever, Wolfe is awful on the topic of fine art. He throws out the baby with the bathwater.

Anonymous said...

"Besides, JK Rowling and Dan Brown are the most famous living writers. If you're talking about people knowing what they wrote."

Followed by Toni Morrison and Stephen King.

Anonymous said...

Annnnd Whisket proves once again that he's ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS wrong about everything

Steve Sailer said...

It's intended to be a trick question.

Anonymous said...

Yes; I can guess. That's an answer which satisfies the question, trick or not.

Anonymous said...

"Whiskey" wrote:

"I would guess (without looking them up) that Wolfe never attended college, and that Stoppard is the guy who had a graduate degree from a tony school."

Oh my God, it never fails. He is always wrong. About everything.

Steve Sailer said...

Okay, Whiskey was wrong about a carefully crafted trick question. But, he did show his usual courage in jumping right in to give a logical answer.

Nanonymous said...

I guessed wrong (Wolfe). Not that I think the two have that much in common or that a formal education means anything much as far as writing is concerned.

anony-mouse said...

Er, reading the question, Whiskey is not necessarily wrong, and his critics here not necessarily right.

The question was 'Judging from their published works..."

That means going onto Wikipedia, going back into your own memory, etc. doesn't cut it.

Honest Broker said...

It's always reassuring to see somebody post a question of middling importance, then get answered instantaneously (and here also incorrectly) by a troll who can't spare 5 seconds for Wikipedia. Anyway the Americans are always the ones to make a fetish of doctoral diplomas; back in the Old Country it doesn't carry any implication of training for a profession, so you can get a degree in growing primo weed in your backyard if so desired. Doesn't shlock director Uwe Boll have a doctorate? But the Yanks dearly prize their alphabet-soup credentials based on the vital unquestioned assumption that it strictly qualifies you to perform some or another bit of drudgery. We've not yet reached the point feared by Robert Hutchins in 1953 (Berkeley's Ph.D in Driver's Ed) but we're well on our way toward late-medieval Prussia.

Anonymous said...

Let's just get this over with:

Whiskey, which party will win the 2012 presidential election?

Anonymous said...

"It's always reassuring to see somebody post a question of middling importance, then get answered instantaneously (and here also incorrectly) by a troll who can't spare 5 seconds for Wikipedia."

The point of the question was NOT to look it up.

"Anyway the Americans are always the ones to make a fetish of doctoral diplomas; back in the Old Country it doesn't carry any implication of training for a profession, so you can get a degree in growing primo weed in your backyard if so desired."

Europe - screw education, let's just smoke up!

Huh, I had no idea the stereotypes were, in fact, reversed - Europe is stupid. Fascinating!

"Doesn't shlock director Uwe Boll have a doctorate?"

Well there's an American name if I ever saw one. Uwe.

"But the Yanks dearly prize their alphabet-soup credentials based on the vital unquestioned assumption that it strictly qualifies you to perform some or another bit of drudgery."

Sincerely, Duke Monocle Face, OBE, D.Litt., LL.B.

"We've not yet reached the point feared by Robert Hutchins in 1953 (Berkeley's Ph.D in Driver's Ed) but we're well on our way toward late-medieval Prussia."

Revolutions in math, philosophy, and music, then? That Prussia?

Dennis Dale said...

Screw those guys. T Paw can open an close doors with his mind.
From miles away.

Anonymous said...

I want to admit that I guessed wrong. I mean I don't know sh*t about either Tom but when I read Whiskey's first comment I was pretty damn confident that he had looked it up and was lying about not having done so in order to make him and his theory look better.

The fact that he was wrong demonstrates that I was wrong but, in my opinion, my error is far worse, I underestimated Whiskey's character.

I disagree with 2/3 of his obsessions and on the 3rd (der juden) I still think he's nuts, just less nuts than other commentators here on the subject. But credit where credit is due, he was honest and that impresses me, what with his repulsice Game adoration and his funny flights of fancy, I never would have guessed he would be. I was way wrong.

munch said...

"Anyway the Americans are always the ones to make a fetish of doctoral diplomas;"

When I was on a bicycling tour of France, we were stopped at a winery and the owner tried to engage us in converation. I managed to identify that I was a lawyer ("advocat" or something) and that I lived in Manhattan. Gawd, he gave me free bottles of wine when he was trying to sell every other member of the tour. I never got such undeserved respect in NYC for being a lawyer (and a pretty high powered one).

No people invest more in a paper degree or a professional card than the French.

Anonymous said...

Trick question calls for a trick answer. I would say both attended elite universities. Wolfe because he did and Stoppard because to be an intelligent Jew means to carry a university in one's mind. Many Jews in the 40s who attended New York City Colleges were intellectually more formidable than many who attended Ivy League universities due to family wealth, connections in high places, and being the 'right kind of people'.

Stanley Kubrick didn't attend any kind of college, but he was one of the most erudite, brilliant, and profound filmmakers of all time.

Anonymous said...

Other highly intelligent, accomplished, and/or knowledgeable people who never went to or finished college:

Bob Dylan and Steven Spielberg.

seedofjapheth said...

I would say that degrees in general are important because they require a certain degree of literacy that would be beneficial to anyone engaging in some sort of writing endeavor however I do recognize that some people without any sort of degrees can be far smarter and more literate than many degree holding people.

Anonymous said...

"I underestimated Whiskey's character."

You're interpreting laziness as honesty. He never looks anything up. The archives are full of him saying things that are wrong even though they would have been easy to look up.

Knowing Whiskey, I feel confident that if he did look it up, he wouldn't have posted his incorrect guess.

"I thought it was Wolfe who never went to college, but a quick look at the Wikipedia just told me I was wrong" - if I read THAT from him, I'd have fallen from my chair. THAT would have required an infinitesimal, sure, but definitely a detectable amount of honor.

But that's not what we saw. As always, he was just too lazy, not neurotic enough to look things up.

Black Sea said...

As you say, they make an interesting comparision, but I'm wondering what conclusions you draw, other than the rather obvious one that a university degree -- or lack thereof -- has little effect on a writer's output, unless the writer is particularly drawn to those years as raw material for fiction. Waugh, for example, or Harold Brodkey, who wrote a series of incredibly tedious short stories about his days at Harvard.

Based on recollection, some writers who never attended college:

Faulkner (actually, he never graduated from high school)

Hemingway

Robert Stone (he attended the writing program at Stanford, but otherwise no university education, and I think he was already published by the time he took some classes there)

Hunter Thompson

It might be more interesting to compare the work of Thompson and Wolfe, since they often mined the same vein. For myself, I've always thought that Thopmson was the better writer, though obviously he went into a long decline, during which he mostly mailed it in and descended into self-parody.

There's something about Wolfe's writing that has a "trying too hard," contrived cleverness that I've never really liked. But he's probably more clear-minded that Thompson ever was, even when accounting for all the booze and drugs that Thompson ingested. Thompson can be amusing as hell on the subject of politcs, but you'd never actually trust his political judgements.

Anonymous said...

"I managed to identify that I was a lawyer ("advocat" or something) and that I lived in Manhattan. Gawd, he gave me free bottles of wine when he was trying to sell every other member of the tour. I never got such undeserved respect in NYC for being a lawyer (and a pretty high powered one)."


Obviously you've never done any marketing. Your law degree identified you as high income enough to pay for lots of bottles of wine. And your location, a target market like no other due to population size. One rich NY lawyer shares this fine French wine with another rich, influential friend, and so on...

Kinda cute and kinda dumb for all the wealth and power, Munch. ;0)

Earnest goes to Harvard said...

No people invest more in a paper degree or a professional card than the French.

NE Asians - especially the Japanese. Total blind praise.

Truth said...

"Okay, Whiskey was wrong about a carefully crafted trick question. But, he did show his usual courage in jumping right in to give a logical answer."

What about "Obama's criticizing Israel to get more street cred from blacks, was that logica too?

That one made tears run down my freaking cheeks.

Seriously Steve here's an old test SAT question for you:

Sailer - Whiskey's contributions as
Liberals -

a. Detroit's downfall
b. NAM test scores
c. The murder rate by race

Give up?

It's another trick queston!

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH!

Anonymous said...

Ok, not having looked anything up cause I've been to wiki too many times today already, I'll make some guesses both ways:

Since Wolfe is irreverent towards higher education, I'd say he actually has the graduate degree from the prestigious university which gives him insight into the kind of people who attend such institutions and the confidence to mock both.

Stoppard's hyper-intellectualism, on the other hand, could be compensatory in nature. Not only does he have to measure up against all those other playwrights with PhDs, he also greatly overrates the value of using abstruse philosophy and science in his work.

Jonathan said...


John Stossel : Is College Worth it?(Video)

Anonymous said...

Stoppard is from England and the whole Brit playwright thing gives him an air of erudition that most Americans won't have or won't feel comfortable displaying.

Tom kind of does the same thing from a different direction. Both have adapted to their environment.

Kylie said...

"It's always reassuring to see somebody post a question of middling importance, then get answered instantaneously (and here also incorrectly) by a troll who can't spare 5 seconds for Wikipedia."

It's always annoying to see somebody submit a comment of middling importance, then get criticized instantaneously (and here also incorrectly) by a troll who can't spare 5 seconds to read the original question correctly.

Anonymous said...

Now, here's my guess at the probable trick Sailer is turning:

college and university have different meanings

Since I hear the term "university" frequently in the US as well as knowing PhDs are called doctors here, I can guess that English universities are possibly broken down by separate colleges vs. departments here in America. I could further speculate that the college a person attends might award the degree in the UK rather than the University and that the names of the degrees are perhaps different as well.

Reg C├Žsar said...

John Gardner's book for aspiring writers strongly recommended "university education", as if a modern author's training is necessarily incomplete without it. He was a teacher himself, though, so this does emit an aroma of conflict-of-interest.

Considering the nature of Gardner's demise, he might himself have better studied under that "PhD in Driver's Ed".

Steve Sailer said...

"For myself, I've always thought that Thopmson was the better writer, though obviously he went into a long decline ... There's something about Wolfe's writing that has a "trying too hard,""

I'd agree. "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" is better in terms of comic rhetoric than any single thing Wolfe did.

Traveller said...

"famous"?

I guess Stephen King is more famous than them.

Wes said...

Question: Would you guys say any fiction authors have had any real impact in the 20th century? I mean, beyond giving a few people something to muse over. I'm drawing a blank. Do any of you think fiction authors actually change anything?

Ayn Rand may have in a small way, but it was often her non-fiction that was effective. Hemingway? Falkner? I don't think so.

What piece of fiction had much effect on the world? I'm open, I may be missing something.

Black Sea said...

" Would you guys say any fiction authors have had any real impact in the 20th century . . . . What piece of fiction had much effect on the world?"

Sigmund Freud, "Introduction to Psychoanalysis," 1917.

Traveller said...

Wes said...
"Do any of you think fiction authors actually change anything?"

Tolkien, while it is not exactly correct to say he invented fantasy genre, he influenced greatly the world of gaming and roleplaying.

Not what you expected? Well if it comes to my mind something else I will write.

Wes said...

Black Sea - nice!

Traveller - good call.

The last novel that I know of that really had an impact - believe it or not - is Uncle Tom's Cabin. From what I understand it was read by millions and seriously created a moral outrage about slavery. That was back was way back the middle of the 19th century.

But my knowledge is not deep. I guess I am looking for something that changed the moral outlook or led to new laws or changed the way people saw things in a profound way.

In other words, something that justifies literature departments. I can see the impact of ancient literature more than anything remotely modern. Is modern fiction reading just for pleasure and nothing more?

Mark Caplan said...

I had read that Stoppard's erudite works are perhaps an autodidact's overcompensation for his lack of a university degree. Woody Allen is another example of someone without college credentials who seems driven to impress people with his scholarly erudition. I think there are other famous such examples, but their names escape me at the moment. Ben Franklin, of course, never got past third grade, but I'm thinking of contemporary examples.

Wandrin said...

"The fact that he was wrong demonstrates that I was wrong but, in my opinion, my error is far worse, I underestimated Whiskey's character."

Imagine a person role-playing someone who was Scotch-Irish based on their personal caricature of what Scotch-Irish were like e.g. Whiskey sounds a lot less dumb when he slips out of character.

Wandrin said...

Wes

"Would you guys say any fiction authors have had any real impact in the 20th century?"

Orwell.

Wes said...

Wandrin - Orwell is a very good call. 1984 and Animal Farm both gave the world a chilling vision of what totalitarian/socialist societies would be like. Probably hurt the socialist cause in the long run. And it did become part of the general culture - it's themes and warnings.

It gave us a way to think about Big Brother as well as the language and mind games that would be played to keep people under control. It actually changed the way people spoke about government power and created a certain healty paranoia. That's pretty important.

So far, that is the biggest novel the 20th century.

dearieme said...

"Would you guys say any fiction authors have had any real impact in the 20th century?" Orwell.

Harry Baldwin said...

Question: Would you guys say any fiction authors have had any real impact in the 20th century? I mean, beyond giving a few people something to muse over.

Barack Obama, "Dreams From My Father."

I don't think the book itself had much an impact, but the fact that the author was understood to have written a book gave him a claim to intellectual seriousness and may have helped push him over the top. And as Steve has indicated, much of it is fictitious.

When Lincoln met Harrie Beecher Stowe, author of "Uncle Tom's Cabin," in 1863 he is supposed to have said, "So you're the little lady who started this great war." It's hard to find a recent work of fiction that had comparable effect.

"Catch 22"influenced many people's feelings about war, and Keruoac inspired a generation of hippies to hit the road. The "Left Behind" series has had enormous influence on Christians, from what I've heard. "Gone With the Wind" presented a Southern view of the Civil War that affected America's thinking for generations. Books that we all had to read in high school like "To Kill a Mockingbird," "Invisible Man," and "Native Son" no doubt instilled some guilt in the hearts of earnest whites. "The Diary of Anne Frank," which some people believe to be fictional, really got Holocaustism going. "The Godfather" popularized Machiavellian thinking for the masses. Orwell and Huxley gave us visions of dystopian futures. "Camp of the Saints" foreshadowed the immigration dilemma.

Could any of these books be described as having had real impact? Maybe.

Anonymous said...

I happen to know which one of them attended college; so, by process of elimination, I know which of the two didn't. But if I didn't know, I would have guessed wrong.

Anonymous said...

What piece of fiction had much effect on the world? I'm open, I may be missing something.

I could be snarky and say the Bible or the Koran. But I won't be snarky and I'll say "Uncle Tom's Cabin" had a huge effect on America (and maybe other places as well).

Anonymous said...

"Would you guys say any fiction authors have had any real impact in the 20th century?"

"Orwell."

Yes, he did give communism, especially Stalinism, a bad name. But, I wouldn't really attribute the fall of communism to him. After all, plenty of intellectuals and journalists were still enthused about men like Castro, Mao, Che, Ho, and many others up to the 60s/70s. Even if Orwell hadn't written 1984, communism would have been doomed because it's just not an efficient or humane way to run an economy or government.

I wonder if Solzhenitsyn had a bigger impact on the world, though more for his non-fiction than his fiction.

Sartre and Camus had a huge impact on post-war existentialism which influenced art, philosophy, culture, society, etc. But again, they were just as admired for their non-fiction as for their fiction.

Some might say Ayn Rand, but I don't think she had much of a real impact either.

Some might say L. Ron Hubbard cuz he founded Scientology, but it's still just a big cult, not a true religion in the eyes of most people.

If I had to mention one name, it would be Kafka. Though Orwell was the most explicitly political author, his view of history and human condition was more limited in ANIMAL FARM and 1984, his two most famous works. So, people don't tend to think much of those works apart from communism--though, to be sure, words like 'doublespeak' have become part of the terminology on both the right and left. And to the extent that Orwell, a leftist, satirized the betrayals or the logical catastrophe of the far left, he had a dual effect on politics. The left claims him as its own because he was a socialist. But the right claims him too because no other fiction writer satirized communism as well.

Still, I say Kafka had a greater overall impact on how people in the 20th century and even now see things and in many more fields. Also, if Orwell's point is quite clear and can be understood down to their smallest political and psychological detail, the more you think about Kafka's works, the more questions they raise.

So many more artists--in just about every genre--have been influenced by Kafka than by Orwell. Orwell dealt with the psychology of power and terror, but his most famous works are about totalitarianism. So, there is the hope of freedom outside totalitarianism. But Kafka explored the labyrinth of paranoia, anxiety, and repression within the mind itself. Given that many people in the free world still don't feel free, Kafka is the man. Mamet, Kobo Abe, tons of sci-fi writers owe a lot to Kafka.

Speaking of Mamet, which playwright had the greatest impact? Brecht? Miller? Williams?

PS. Steinbeck's GRAPES OF WRATH was kinda like UNCLE TOM'S CABIN of the 20th century in waking people up to the plight of the poor during the Depression.

Anonymous said...

"I'd agree. 'Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas' is better in terms of comic rhetoric than any single thing Wolfe did."

You gotta be kidding. I find it unreadable and gave up after about 10 pages. And the movie was unwatchable.

Anonymous said...

A guy who didn't go to college but wrote a dense book imagining an ideal academic setting was Hermann Hesse with GLASS BEAD GAME. I guess people who skipped out on the experience craves it for the rest of one's life. It's like unrequited love. Because it's only been idealized but not realized--and revealed nothing-really-special behind the curtain--, it lingers in one's mind as something special for the rest of one's life.

TH said...

Solzhenitsyn obviously.

Mitch said...

Uncle Tom's Cabin (Stowe), Orwell, and Kafka are all good picks. One minor correction:

"From what I understand it was read by millions and seriously created a moral outrage about slavery."

There was, by that time, a very active and strong abolitionist movement--anti-slavery third parties had already "spoiled" more than one election. Uncle Tom's Cabin was written in response to the strengthened Fugitive Slave Act in the Compromise of 1850. The South had given up a lot--including a loss of political equity in Congress--all for a stronger and biased FSA. Abolitionists were outraged by the terms of the FSA, which functionally forced escaping slaves to go all the way to Canada in order to be safe.

Stowe's novel showed Northerners, who already opposed slavery for a variety of reasons, including moral ones, that the FSA was a new horror requiring their cooperation. This gave them skin in the game, and northerners everywhere cooperated in nullifying the law, either through state legislation or jury action.

Thus, the hard won compromise was almost instantly invalidated by outraged Northerners spurred in part by Stowe's book. Southerners responded by invalidating the compromise altogether with the Kansas Nebraska Act (with Douglass's cooperation), and then the Dred Scott decision, written by slaveholder Roger Taney, intended to settle all this nonsense about the rights of fugitive slaves.

/end geekout. But if you have a kid taking the SAT US History test, he or she will need to know that UTC was written in response to FSA.

By the way, I assume we are talking about socially relevant books. From a style or format perspective, many books have been extremely influential.

Anonymous said...

"But Kafka explored the labyrinth of paranoia, anxiety, and repression within the mind itself. Given that many people in the free world still don't feel free, Kafka is the man. Mamet, Kobo Abe, tons of sci-fi writers owe a lot to Kafka."

I don't see this at all. The little bit of Kafka I've been able to stomach demonstrates a total lack of acceptance/insight into anyone's perspective than your own. And Mamet's often delicate treatment of the psychological processes of a flawed human being are nothing like.

Brett Stevens said...

Wolfe delivered the most logical explanation for why people adopt promiscuous altruism as a social value:

http://www.neh.gov/whoweare/wolfe/lecture.html

In short, to manipulate others by making them think the altruist is "good" -- a clear parallel to Plato's parable of the ring of the Lydian.

dearieme said...

""Uncle Tom's Cabin" had a huge effect on America (and maybe other places as well)." Most other literate places had abolished slavery some time before before.

Anonymous said...

Hunter S. Thompson vs. Tom Wolfe? Oh please. Thompson is a dog's breakfast of a writer -- obvious, lurid, easy, unfunny, and unthinking (cuz ya have to really think to be really funny), and in the long run... mostly wrong. Wolfe is observant and incisive, (though also sometimes wrong, but at least in a way that's interesting) and if his timing isn't "easy" it's becuz he's playing a long game... he's invested in what we professional comedy writers (yes, I have Emmys in my office) sometimes call "steam."

While I'm smashing idols, somebody upthread called Kubrick "brilliant, erudite and profound" or some such horseshit. Dude, you can't be serious. Kubrick was a fine visual artist -- woulda made a great Renaissance painter -- but "brilliant"? "Profound"? You shitting me?

Let's go to the evidence:

Kubrick's early work: competent, forgettable noir.

Spartacus: paging Mr. de Mille. Oh, he's unavailable? Then get me William Wyler. Still no luck? OK, Stanley, suit up -- you're in the game.

Paths of Glory: well done. First solid A.

Doctor Strangelove: Great visuals, great comedy (thank you Terry Southern!), but the politics here are smug and wrong, and dangerously approach the insane. A-plus for visuals and easy comedy, D-minus for "brilliance" or "thought."

Lolita: yawn. Subtract 30 points.

2001: the guy's masterpiece. A-plus-plus for visuals and visionary (ie artistic) coherence; but there's nothing "profound" here -- the triumph is one of formalism.

Barry Lyndon -- ya gotta be kidding.

A Clockwork Orange: A-minus for visual flair and showmanship. But what little "thought" or analysis exists here belongs to Anthony Burgess, and Stanley can't even keep THAT straight. Intellectually and stylistically, this film's a mess. Great costumes, though.

The Shining: very well done. A-plus.

Full Metal Jacket: Funny, well-done, slightly insipid, and surely not worth the wait. Do you mean to tell me War Is Bad? Thanks, I'll be sure to remember that! B-minus.

Eyes Wide Shut: You can't be serious.

All told, in a career that spanned like five decades, we have a record of pretty good achievement, with about 3 solid A-pluses. That's fine, and it's better than I could do. But "one of the most brilliant, profound filmmakers of all time"?

Come on.

btw that crap about "an intelligent Jew carries around a university in his mind" was comedy gold, too. I work with 'em. I had to larf.

Fellow Traveler in Berkeley said...

Fiction of the 20th c. that had a galvanizing effect, spurred changes in laws, etc...The Jungle by Upton Sinclair.

Mark Caplan said...

"Would you guys say any fiction authors have had any real impact in the 20th century?"

Upton Sinclair's THE JUNGLE (1906) still packs a wallop, or did when I read it as a kid. I never read THE GRAPES OF WRATH but perhaps it had a liberal influence that persisted into the 1960s. GONE WITH THE WIND fabricated many of the currently prevailing myths about the Civil War and the honorable Southern Cause, as did the movie BIRTH OF A NATION, still undoubtedly popular with today's Birthers.

Anonymous said...

"While I'm smashing idols, somebody upthread called Kubrick "brilliant, erudite and profound" or some such horseshit. Dude, you can't be serious. Kubrick was a fine visual artist -- woulda made a great Renaissance painter -- but "brilliant"? "Profound"? You shitting me?"

YOU SUCK! YOUR MAMA!

Anonymous said...

"The little bit of Kafka I've been able to stomach demonstrates a total lack of acceptance/insight into anyone's perspective than your own. And Mamet's often delicate treatment of the psychological processes of a flawed human being are nothing like."

This is true of most Mamet's works but not HOMICIDE. That owes a lot to Kafka.

BigStraightPhil said...

"BIRTH OF A NATION, still undoubtedly popular with today's Birthers"

If America was really like that, I'd be wanting to move there. And if America was really like that, you'd let me.

Anonymous said...

""Uncle Tom's Cabin" had a huge effect on America (and maybe other places as well)." Most other literate places had abolished slavery some time before before.

I was thinking more along the lines of it prompting widespread sympathy for the oppressed "other" and leading indirectly to widespread sympathy for anti-colonialist causes. After all, the book was a huge success not only in the U.S. but worldwide. Also, whatever has a huge effect on America ipso facto has an effect on the rest of the world.

Wes said...

About Uncle Tom's Cabin: It does seem likely that the "moral outrage" was already in place before the book was written; the book just helped galvanize it. And war was not the best answer, but that's another debate.

A lot of the choices have been good - Orwell, Grapes of Wrath (never read it but know liberals loved it). Not sure about Kafka ... it seems to be very important in literary circles, like Joyce ... but I can't see any real world impact from it.

It seems like novels don't play that big a role in the culture other than as entertainment or items that reinforce previously existing mores.

I guess the novel is dead. But movies, while fun, seem a poor substitute. They can't develop an idea as fully for obvious reasons. All art has let us down for the past century from I can see.

David Davenport said...

Hunter Thompson

It might be more interesting to compare the work of Thompson and Wolfe, since they often mined the same vein.


Hippie Hero Hunter Thompson got much of his stuff from [actual] Nazi sympathizer Louie Celine -- try *Voyage To the End of the Night* or *Death On the Installment Plan*.

I don't think anyone would say the same about Tom W.

Bonus question -- which one is a pen name, "George Orwell" or Louis Ferdinand Celine"?

Anonymous said...

"About Uncle Tom's Cabin"

That was 19th century. We are talking about 20th century fiction that changed the world.

UNCLE TOM'S CABIN of the 20th century was TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, which is read in schools all across America. In 7th grade, we had to read that and THE CONTENTER by Lipstye. TKAMB was especially influential because it was made into a movie... which points to another truth. Cinema matter more than literature in the 20th century.

Incidentally, where would one put GONE WITH THE WIND? Huge mega-seller and the source of the biggest movie of the 20th century--and probably very influential, in spawning similar books and movies(in the genre of historical epic and romance). Though few people would agree with its social views and politics today, the movie and book are still vastly popular.

Could the book/movie, by romanticizing the South, have staved off social changes for a decade or two? Did the book/movie make more people in the North sympathetic to the South, at least before the coming of the Civil Rights movement?
GWTW was for Southerners what ATLAS SHRUGGED was for capitalists. Funny that both were written by women.
When I was in highschool, I knew a liberal Jewish girl who was crazy about GWTW. She read the book like three times in a row. Personally, I could never get into it. Anyway, it goes to show the importance of culture in shaping our view of history, people, and the world.

munch said...

"Kinda cute and kinda dumb for all the wealth and power, Munch. ;0)"

Thanks for that comment. I haven't been so tickled since I tried to do my own taxes with TurboTax. I entered my income and an error window came up saying "Are you sure, that seems unusually high". Try it in a tax program; add two zeros to your income and see the error message.

Unfortunately, reality is different. A pretty good sounding income is just the bottom edge of middle class in Manhattan. More fundementally, you will never get rich selling your time. There are about 50K lawyers working in NYC, there are maybe a thousand that make over a million a year. They do it by leverage - having the star power to draw in enough clients that they can keep multiple associates busy and skim some of the associates billing. that requires a pyramid and ever expanding law firm, which is all disappearing.

The Forbs list of richest people will not have practicing lawyers. Some achieve lots of power, but when I said high powered lawyer I ment big firm, fancy office, lots of zeros after the dollar signs on the papers. No real connections doing the grunt work for the rich and powerful.

Crawfurdmuir said...

I knew it was Wolfe, without looking; but I agree, with some reservations, to the point about the difference between American and British attitudes (leaving Continental Europe, which differs in its turn).

A British public-school education was for a long time quite a sufficient academic achievement to qualify one for any position of leadership in British society, such as a military or naval commission, membership in Parliament, service in the diplomatic corps or as a colonial administrator. To become a solicitor, one apprenticed in a law office; to become a barrister, one dined in term at the Inns of Court. A university education was necessary only if one intended to take holy orders, to become a physician, or to be an academic. Achievement was recognized by honours granted in the name of the monarch, ranging from the humble MBE, through various higher decorations, knighthoods, or peerages. In the world of scholarship and science, it meant much more to be a Fellow of the Royal Society than to have a mere DPhil.

Because the United States is constitutionally debarred from conferring titles of nobility, and has refrained (though not literally prohibited by the Constitution) from appointing its citizens to orders of chivalry (as republican France does with its Legion d'Honneur), the academy has become by default the American fons honorum.

Americans like titles just as well as any other people. It was once socially acceptable here for retired military officers ranking as captain or above to use their titles. Thus, Theodore Roosevelt was widely known as "Colonel" before, during, and after his presidency; and I can remember as a child hearing people refer to Dwight Eisenhower during and after his presidency as "General." This custom seems to me to have been abandoned around the time of the Vietnam war, when the military became unpopular. The academy's reputation, though, emerged unstained from that period, though it probably should not have done.

As post-graduate degrees have multiplied, the distinction of holding one has predictably declined. Now we begin to note that the institution by which the degree was granted receives more attention. It is no longer enough in some circles that one holds a PhD - one must have attended the right undergraduate and postgraduate schools.

To a great extent, this is an extension of education-as-racket, and serves little purpose in distinguishing real ability. I believe the percentage of CEOs of Fortune 500 companies holding Ivy League degrees has decreased in recent years. A degree may get one in the door, but is no more an automatic ticket to fame, fortune, or power than it ever was.

Black Sea said...

Steve,

Congratulations, I had no idea Rex Reed was an anonymous reader.

Steve Setzer said...

Wes: Would you guys say any fiction authors have had any real impact in the 20th century? I

I've heard it said that dozens, maybe hundreds of NASA engineers listed Robert Heinlein as their inspiration. The "we choose to go the moon" speech is so much hot air if those guys weren't already in aeronautical engineering.

Imagine the past five decades if America had continued under the post-Sputnik blues--the Soviets might well own all of Europe today.

TomV said...

"to be an intelligent Jew means to carry a university in one's mind."

Intelligent non-Jews, on the other hand, have this weird thing called self-awareness.

(Stoppard didn't learn he was Jewish until after his fiftieth birthday.)

Anonymous said...

Steve, interesting point about Heinlein - I hadn't considered science fiction's impact on scientists and engineers. In turn, we might not have had Star Trek (with all it inspired - computer "nerds" loved it) if not for earlier Science Fiction writers.

I notice most new "science fiction" is mainly fantasy and it seems like some of the air has gone out our desire to conquer space -- maybe a connection?

TomV - that is a good observation about lack of self-awareness. I wonder if such a trait could have an ethnic dimension.

John Mansfield said...

I think that Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird has been influential. Probably a hundred million former high school students have read it, and it's a pretty good read. This well-told story of one black man being railroaded is likely at the back of a lot of minds that believe most blacks in prison don't belong there.

Alberto Wong said...

I'd like to commend the poster who left the string of Stanley Kubrick reviews on his tremendous and unerring critical acumen.

Anonymous said...

"I'd like to commend the poster who left the string of Stanley Kubrick reviews on his tremendous and unerring critical acumen."

Ah, you have no eyes.