Saturday, September 13, 2008

We want the funk

"Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things." Phillipians 4:8 (NIV)

"Ow, we want the funk; Give up the funk; Ow, we need the funk; We gotta have that funk" George Clinton

Sometimes I feel like my emotional life is an oscillation between two types of funk --the George Clinton variety, and the emo/Goth variety. As I've mentioned earlier on this blog, I've hit a rough spot, so I've been pretty navel-gazing and dull lately. Kinda like I was going going going on my bike as fast as I could for a long time and got out of control so I slammed on the brakes and got thrown off the bike and had the wind knocked out of me and so I'm laying here looking at the sky and not breathing a lot.

Or something.

The upside of all of this is that I've gotten a lot of reading done... nearing the end of my Great-Wendell-Berry-Read-Off. I finished Life is a Miracle before I left for Colorado, and it is a fantastic, fantastic book, one I'm actually going to buy for myself. When I was in Colorado, droolingly examining my brother's beautifully arranged bookshelves, I yanked Dave Eggers' A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius off the shelf and read it all the way through in 2-3 days.

Life is a Miracle has an essay where Berry responds to a panel discussion of artists discussing the tendency in post-modern literature to focus on the self, and to reveal all kinds of intimate details about oneself and one's family and friends. The majority of the panel overwhelmingly considered this to be necessary to artistic honesty, regardless of how one's friends may feel about having the intimate details of their life thrown out for all to read... and without an opportunity to present their side of the story. There was one lone voice on the panel arguing that there is betrayal in this trend in literature, and that it is unnecessary and harmful to trot out the stories of others, or even certain details of one's own story... that there are some things that are meant to be private. This, of course, is the crux of Berry's argument as well.

Anyone who has read Heartbreaking knows that this is probably the Ultimate Work of Postmodern Navel-Gazing Self-Disclosure, not to mention selective and seemingly careless disclosure of the intimate details of other people's lives, particularly those in Eggers' family. The book made me sick... physically sick. I finished it because I felt like the fact that it was making me sick probably meant there was something to be learned from it... that maybe it was speaking to something I needed to hear and understand. I also felt like it HAD to get better, right? I mean there HAD to be a point where he realizes he just isn't all that and although he has suffered he has a responsibility to bear it slightly better than he has, right? In case you haven't read the book, no, he doesn't ever seem to understand that. He stays pretty consistently narcissistic through the whole thing. Everyone else's tragedy seems to be creative fodder for him.

I know I'm about 8 years behind in reading this book, but I don't think the problem posed by this book --and discussed in Berry's essay-- has gone away. In fact, it's probably gotten worse. In fact, the fact that I and tons of other people have blogs where we talk all about our OWN emotional and personal life is a SURE sign that it's gotten worse.

Ah the irony. A blog post about self-obsession in writing.

Ok so in defense of blogging, I've talked to a few people about this now, and a couple of points came up.

1) Dave Eggers has written some really decent stuff since Heartbreaking... stuff that shows an interest in and concern with the outside world... I'm thinking particularly of What is the What but also of his other books, articles, etc. Heartbreaking pandered to our national obsession with people emotionally disrobing and made him famous, and then he turned around and used that fame to write about stuff that was important. You know, like Angelina Jolie. Lol. Ok, sorry that was mean.

2) I LOVE my friends' blogs... my FRIENDS' blogs. and they like/love mine. When random strangers read and comment on my blog, they do it from the standpoint of knowing absolutely nothing about me beyond what they read here, and that's a pretty skewed perspective. Their comments are sometimes really kind, but also occasionally callous and ridiculing and reveal the lack of context... I've started moderating the comments for that reason. But blogging within a community of people whom already know and love each other offers an opportunity to know a side of that person you just wouldn't get in casual conversation. It gives depth to my understanding and admiration of the really gifted writers and thinkers that are in my little world... and THAT has worth to me, because it leads me to honor and respect them as people capable of creating, and in that way living out God's creative image in them.

So... back to my funk. I have found that the best way out of a funk is connecting with and serving other people. If I can be up here on this blog talkin' bout my funk, then that's one step towards connection that I can take without having to muster the energy to get dressed or brush my teeth, and as those of you who have been funkified know, sometimes you don't even have that when you are wrestlin with da funk.

Funk. funk. funk funk funk funk funk. Ok I think I'm done now.

BUT I think another important distinction between Eggers' book and posting your own private thoughts to the internet is an acknowledgement of your responsibility to others. I don't put a lot of details about other folks up here, and neither do my blogging buddies. I also feel responsible to try to uplift whenever I can, per Phillipians 4:8 up there. I'm no Pollyanna and I have no trouble whatsoever with people being negative, but there's a distinct difference between wrestling with one's darkness and being overcome by it. My friends who lost their infant son a couple of years ago still openly struggle with what this has done in their lives, and I find them utterly inspirational in this, because they are fighting with it... like Jacob with the angel, demanding the blessing from the struggle... shouting at it "tell me your name!!"... in other words, what ARE you, and WHY did this happen to me?

So, I'm going to keep blogging, and reading blogs, but Dave Eggers' book still sucks, and Wendell Berry is right... some things ARE sacred. However, he and I might disagree on what those things are.

Peace out.


Mike said...

Another great post, Mofo. Thanks.

I'm so glad to read your considered thoughts about HBWoSG. I think your point about his later work is key-- he now seems so selfless that one wonders if he isn't a complete meglomaniac now (but I doubt that).

My own take on HBWoSG-- which is itself extremely navel gazelly-- is that the book is an embodiment/expression of the extreme narcissism that is an almost unavoidable part of genuine grief. As someone who has cringed to recall what I've said/done/written in the throes of grief, I'm glad that Eggers had the guts to put it all out there.

(btw, did your brother's version of the book include the extensive marginalia? It'll *really* curl your hair.)

Keep writing, Mofo. I'm glad to know-- and read-- you.

Eric said...

How much "navel gazing" to share is indeed a dilemma, given that you could write more freely in a private journal. Fundamentally, a writer fleshes out their own problems in words, clearly within limits of propriety and privacy. Personal roadblocks or funks are never totally personal; it's not just you looking at your navel. If I write about how my favorite grandmother died when I was small and sometimes I'm reminded of that to this day, I think you and I have some common frame of reference, it's just a matter of degree. Thanks for reflecting on your funk. In jazz, funk is's the creative wellspring. When your life is otherwise blocked, you can move forward in the art. And the funk is always at work, even when you aren't creating. --E. Garbin.