Tuesday, October 24, 2006

What do Joyce Carol Oates and Salman Rushdie Have in Common? Nothing

Joyce Carol Oates has an impressive resume: Princeton University Professor, prolific author, winner of numerous awards including being short listed for the Nobel Prize. I have read a bunch of her stories in the past usually taking an extended break because they tend to be so dark I can get berried in the story. Recently her reputation has taken on a more notorious side when she based a story off of the local murder of a college student. It isn't uncommon for writers to draw off of news events or another persons life story. Truth is stranger than fiction and life can have a stronger dramatic impact than anything a person can make up. Joyce capitalized on that fact by writing a particularly harsh story based on recent events surrounding the death of a local college student. The story is well written and can be used as a cautionary tale warning of the dangers of binge drinking on college campuses. What many people will find disturbing is how you are never left with a clear resolution. If it's done well you can get a sense of closure even if you never know what really happens. In this case it leaves you feeling cold. The story is nothing but drama for the characters come off as honest to a fault as people distraught over the death begin to let their more selfish side come through. More often than not when a young person dies everyone tells the world how tragic it is and the world is a worse off place because the person is no longer in it. Not this time. The characters paint a more fleshed out characterizationi of the deceased that is less than an idealization. It is no wonder this story upset a lot of people who knew the young student. I do not blame them for the student in the story comes off as very immature and self-centered. They have given Oates a lot of heat over the story. And I was ready to defender her until she made this comment:

In an e-mail sent Wednesday to The Associated Press, she likened the school's criticism to the reaction of Muslim fundamentalists who issued a fatwa, or religious edict, against Salman Rushdie for his "The Satanic Verses." (read the full article here)

Why did she have to say that? Any legitimate argument she may have had is now out the window. It only makes her look more ridiculous. I wanted to be on her side. How can she possibly make the same comparrison between her and Rushdie? She doesn't have to watch her back. Her life isn't in danger. People will probably be a tad ticked with her for a bit then forget all about it. Have we gotten such an inflated sense of self that we think every little thing we do will make the world stop?

In spite of it all, if you want to read the story and find out what the big deal is I'd still recommend it.

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posted by Out Of Jersey | 5:37 PM


Blogger Art said...

I always liked JCO though I haven't read her work in years. I'll have to read that...

As to, "Have we gotten such an inflated sense of self that we think every little thing we do will make the world stop?"

Collectively, as a culture, um... in a word - YES!

11:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oates is a great writer, but it sounds like years of praise have left her rather inflated.

I feel badly for the friends and family of the deceased, but you have to allow fiction to be what it is. When he character begins to look less like your loved one, don't take it personally. That's what fiction is.

6:00 AM  
Blogger The Cubicle Reverend said...

True, I didn't consider that, maybe as a whole we are that inflated.

I do not think she intended it to be anything other than an exploration into how these things can happen. I can also understand how it'd hit a nerve.

1:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Her reference to Rushdie seems extreme, but you might be surprised at how little provocation it takes to produce actual death threats. She's been threatened before -- I wouldn't be surprised if she got them over this as well. --R

4:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I haven't read the book and Oates isn't a big name around here, so I don't know the story. Still, it always surprises me how people keep comparing negative reactions to muslim fundamentalism. Most people who use it, has no knowledge of islam or muslims, and it's just a cop-out for when you don't have anything intelligent to say.

With the exeption of things that actually -are- just like muslim fundamentalism.

Personally, I think that fanatics are dangerous whatever their obsession is based on. I don't think that muslims are any more subjected to becoming fanatics than anyone else.

But that might be a bit off-topic:)

12:29 PM  
Blogger The Cubicle Reverend said...

Something tells me it isn't nearly as bad as all that.

it's still apt though. People can take these things too seriously, sadly there is precendent for people taking things too far.

1:08 PM  
Blogger jasdye said...

i have on my desk a young adult lit book that we're expected to use in our Reading classes. it's called Big Mouth & Ugly Girl. it's intentionally post-Colombine, and specifically about post-Colombine fears. as such, it could be used for post 9-11 fears.

it's called _Big Mouth & Ugly Girl_. it's by Joyce Carrol Oates.

whether or not we actually use the book (it's a bit too suburban for my students, and we're trying to keep it a bit more relevant at this point), i think that the author should be applauded if she/he can use a 'ripped-from-the-headlines' story to express a fundamental truth about the human condition and do it well. that may be more important than simply opening old wounds. maybe.

Messianic-complex or not, Oates is on to something.

6:34 PM  

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