Good books write themselves, and this can be said from a small but successful book like Ripley to longer and greater works of literature. If the writer thinks about his material long enough, until it becomes a part of his mind and his life, and he goes to bed and wakes up thinking about it — then at last when he starts to work, it will flow out as if by itself. A writer should feel geared to his book during the time he is writing it, whether that takes six weeks, six months, a year or more. It is wonderful the way bits of information, faces, names, anecdotes, all kinds of impressions that come in from the outside world during the writing period, will be usable in the book, if one is in tune with the book and its needs. Is the writer attracting the right things, or is some process keeping out the wrong ones? Probably it’s a mixture of both.
I’ve been working on my novel for about three years now, and only in the last few months have I seen the characters completely taking over, leading the story. They give me ideas and take me in directions I hadn’t anticipated, and I discover things I had never planned or thought of when I set out to write this book. It’s very joyful–but it took three years to get to this point. (via)
I seem to be having some serious email trouble of late. I’m told that emails to me have bounced back, and I’ve also noticed I get emails two or three days late. So if you have written me and have not received a response, it may be that I never received your message in the first place. Apologies.
Earlier this month, historian Tony Judt was due to speak on “The Israel lobby and U.S. foreign policy” to a group called Network 20/20, which is comprised of young business leaders and academics from various countries. These meetings are usually held at the Polish consulate, which serves merely as host and not as organizer. The talk was cancelled at the last minute, and a controversy has erupted over the reasons why. Judt maintains that the consulate was threatened by Anti-Defamation League national director Abraham Foxman, while Foxman and the ADL claim they simply “inquired” into who was organizing the event.
Judt’s lecture was supposed to also include a discussion of Mearsheimer and Walt’s paper “The Israel Lobby,” which inflamed passions when it appeared in the London Review of Books last March. (The authors were accused of anti-semitism, among other things.) Recently, a panel of experts that included Martin Indyk, John Mearsheimer, Shlomo Ben-Ami, Tony Judt, Rashid Khalidi, and Dennis Ross discussed the paper at length in New York, without incident. You can view a video of the event here.
Now the New York Review of Books has published a letter, signed by more than a hundred writers, editors, critics, and academics protesting the ADL’s involvement into Tony Judt’s scheduled lecture at the Polish Consulate. The signatories state: “Though we, the undersigned, have many disagreements about political matters, foreign and domestic, we are united in believing that a climate of intimidation is inconsistent with fundamental principles of debate in a democracy. The Polish Consulate is not obliged to promote free speech. But the rules of the game in America oblige citizens to encourage rather than stifle public debate. We who have signed this letter are dismayed that the ADL did not choose to play a more constructive role in promoting liberty.”
For a radically different take you can read Christopher Hitchens’ takedown at Slate.
Despite the many flashes of brilliance in this book, Dawkins’s failure to appreciate just how hard philosophical questions about religion can be makes reading it an intellectually frustrating experience. As long as there are no decisive arguments for or against the existence of God, a certain number of smart people will go on believing in him, just as smart people reflexively believe in other things for which they have no knock-down philosophical arguments, like free will, or objective values, or the existence of other minds. Dawkins asserts that “the presence or absence of a creative super-intelligence is unequivocally a scientific question.” But what possible evidence could verify or falsify the God hypothesis? The doctrine that we are presided over by a loving deity has become so rounded and elastic that no earthly evil or natural disaster, it seems, can come into collision with it. Nor is it obvious what sort of event might unsettle an atheist’s conviction to the contrary.
You should read the whole article.
There’s a great profile of Dutch-Moroccan writer Abdelkader Benali in the Daily Star. The article covers his work as a novelist and playwright–as well as his more recent foray in literary reportage. (Benali was living in Beirut during the Israeli bombing, and wrote about it for Dutch audiences.) One tidbit that resonated with me:
Benali views his job as being to creatively undermine his assigned role.
“In Holland it’s all about belonging to clubs – a running club or a sewing club. I don’t belong to any club,” he says. “People expect me to speak as a Muslim or a Moroccan yet I’m giving you my own opinion. I use my tricks, my language skills, to undermine the role they’ve assigned me.
“The problem is that everything’s connected to Islam. It never really becomes an intellectual discussion because that would invite argument and people don’t want that. Whenever journalists want the ‘Muslim Dutch perspective,’ they never go to an intellectual. They find some old man at a mosque.
This doesn’t surprise me one bit. I was invited to a panel recently, with the express purpose to give “the Muslim perspective.” I said there is no such thing. I can only give my perspective. That didn’t go over so well.