Sunday, March 09, 2008

ignorant: the book review corner

People tell me I write how I talk but I hope that's untrue: the language I speak comes haltingly, broken unevenly into measures by "like"s, "I mean/guess," and a lot more shits and fucks and goddamns than my audience should accept. I resolved to quit "like" more New Year's than I can remember, but it takes such a pervasive role in my vocabulary that when I speak formally, to superiors at work, say, I might utter "yes, like, this situation . . . " realize that I've just used "like" improperly, and turn the actual situation into a hypothetical: "Yeah, like a situation wherein x might happen is analogous to the situation we're in" rather than "Yeah, our situation is x." And more minds than mine have drawn broader conclusions about this generation from our linguistic limp--things are not, for us, they are like this or like that. But I digress.
Since I read anything I see that has to do with meth addiction (I also feel compelled to read cookbooks and top 10 of anything lists, that's not what this is about here), I read the excerpt from Nic Sheff's meth addiction memoir Tweak, which was linked off an article in the Times. Here's a quote:

"I guess I've pretty much spent the last four years chasing that first high. I wanted desperately to feel that wholeness again. It was like, I don't know, like everything else faded out. All my dreams, my hopes, ambitions, relationships -- they all fell away as I took more and more crystal up my nose. I dropped out of college twice, my parents kicked me out, and, basically, my life unraveled."

This is amazing! What a mess, man, what an onslaught of cliches and nervous modifiers and "like"s and unnecessary adverbs. This phrase represents the core of this book, the truth of the devastation of this kid's life, and it's inept. One should not be allowed to get away with writing like this, much less earn a publishing contract from Simon and Schuster. But then, talk to me when you see me about inarticulateness and likely I'll look at you from behind a chunk of hair, scratch my nose, push up my glasses and say "Basically, like . . .fucking, like, we don't know how to talk anymore." So in a way this terrible writer has perfectly captured heavy sentiments for the era of the idle rich meth addict--he has no art, he could've done better but instead he did drugs. Is this prose commendable for its honesty and aptness or loathsome for its ignorance?
I saw about an hour of Into the Wild, which worked in a similar way: to express the naive alienation of its protagonist, the film's director (Sean Penn, I think) employs the dullest MTV techniques--slo-mo, split screens, topical Eddie Vedder songs--in a movie with themes (the romantic innocent trapped by society trekking out into the hills) for which this stylistic crap could not be less appropriate. . . OR IS IT?

Anyway, I have seen some movies lately, including Annie Hall, The Panic In Needle Park, J'entends plus la guitare, 10 Rillington Place, and Nobody Knows. Unlike Into the Wild, these were mostly good, particularly J'entends.

Based on Philippe Garrel's affair with Nico, the film has one topic--how love works--and cuts out any dross that might not relate to this particular thing. You don't know what any characater save one does for a living, the interiors are sparse, the camera lingers on faces, faces and pays attention to conversations, not actions. It is about the Frenchest thing I have ever seen.


j.m. said...

I'm glad J'entends plus la guitare got your approval. I read a reviewer somewhere (in Time Out?) that wasn't all that into it, but he made me want to see it a lot. So, when I get some cash, I think I may.

Also, I think I'll watch any movie with "guitar" in the title, for some strange reason. Yes, should they ever make a movie based on the Guitar Hero franchise, I'll probably see it, just so long as it's called Guitar Hero.

Laura said...

I just finished Nick Sheff's TWEAK and I disagree with your shallow critique of his writing and his "character," which you are so in touch with due to...what? Your clairvoyant nature? I found the book compelling, honest, utterly revealing; blood, gore, hellish nightmare experiences and the many roads back. Though not a meth head myself (never was) I can still imagine the challenge of enduring meth (etc) induced fried brain, psychotic depravity and then writing about it with such descriptive acumen that it made ME want to jump off a bridge a few times. Nic Sheff drives right to the point and if there is an excessive use of such spacers as "well," "like," etc, they mirror perfectly the gaps in recall, like the emtpy synaptic GABA reservoirs that always result in the brain chemistry of compulsive meth users. Sheff has that honest, no frill kind of voice that can hold debauchery and the tender heart all at once. He reminds me of a combination of Salinger, Bukowski (some of my favorite authors, too), and John Fante (esp. the 1939 novel, "Ask the Dust.")I am definitely off the bridge (glad he is, too) and waiting for his next book!