WRITING ON THE ETHER: What’s Wrong With Franzen?

Porter Anderson, PorterAnderson.com, Writing on the Ether, Ether for Authors, London on the Ether, JaneFriedman.com, Ed Nawotka, Philip Jones, PublishingPerspectives.com, The Bookseller.com, books, ebooks, author, agent, Amazon, publishing, The FutureBook, CONTEC Conference, Frankfurt Book Fair, Frankfurt Buchmesse, Bowker, WriterUnboxed.com, The Metadata Handbook, Thad McIlroy, Renée Register, Jonathan Franzen, Karl Kraus

Table of Contents

  1. Fish in a Barrel
  2. Firing the Retro-Rockets
  3. “Buy My Book!”

 


The Metadata HandbookThe Metadata Handbook

A Book Publisher’s Guide to Creating and Distributing Metadata for Print and Ebooks, by Renée Register and Thad McIlroy

This is a one-stop guide for publishers—large, small, and independent. An essential resource for 21st century publishing, The Metadata Handbook covers:

  • How metadata for books operates in the real world
  • Metadata fundamentals and the history of metadata for books
  • Metadata standards and best practices
  • Essential metadata elements for print and ebooks
  • The basics of ONIX for Books, including ONIX 3.0
  • The basics of EPUB 3 metadata options

Available in paperback, PDF, EPUB, and Kindle formats at www.themetadatahandbook.com


Fish in a Barrel

Porter Anderson, PorterAnderson.com, Writing on the Ether, Ether for Authors, London on the Ether, JaneFriedman.com, Ed Nawotka, Philip Jones, PublishingPerspectives.com, The Bookseller.com, books, ebooks, author, agent, Amazon, publishing, The FutureBook, CONTEC Conference, Frankfurt Book Fair, Frankfurt Buchmesse, Bowker, WriterUnboxed.com, The Metadata Handbook, Thad McIlroy, Renée Register, Jonathan Franzen, Karl Kraus

Jonathan Franzen

Jonathan Franzen “warns ebooks are corroding values” (The Guardian, Alison Flood) and says “ebooks are damaging society” (The TelegraphAnita Singh).

And now you can follow this link to pre-order his new October 1 release, The Kraus Project: Essays by Karl Kraus—as an ebook.

The author somehow is able find it in his heart to accept your money for that oh-so-impermanent format he has criticized so profusely in the past, the ebook.

And that ebook is purveyed to us from the very mountaintop of the “contemporary technoconsumerism” he newly decries: Amazon.

Let this be a lesson to us all. Even after achieving highest literary honors, you can still lose it when it’s time to say…”buy my book!”

The Kraus Project by Jonathan Franzen

Franzen’s latest in a long line of tirades against all things “modern” is headlined Jonathan Franzen: What’s Wrong With the Modern World.

Did you ask Franzen to tell us what’s wrong the the modern world?

I didn’t, either.

No, the chutzpah native to the creature, it seems, is such that he finds it necessary from time to time to deliver himself of a few incendiary comments about how we’re all going to hell in a Hustle bag.

This time, in his essay at The Guardian,  he wants to tell us that Viennese fin-de-siècle essayist Karl Kraus has “a lot to say to us in our own media-saturated, technology-crazed, apocalypse-haunted historical moment.”

“Technology-crazed.” Crazed. Did I mention melodrama?


I’ll just offer you a few quick excerpts here, leaving you to decide whether to subject yourself to the full and fulsome experience of a complete read.

Having critiqued the inherent mistakes of the old Mac-vs.-PC commercials in terms of how “characters in novels need to have actual desires,” Franzen then arrives at this:

One of the worst things about the Internet is that it tempts everyone to be a sophisticate – to take positions on what is hip and to consider, under pain of being considered unhip, the positions that everyone else is taking.

19 September 2013 Metadata Handbook excerpt 1Funny, I find the Net to be crawling with something other than sophisticates. I must be hanging with the wrong crowd-sorcerers.

Having told us that Kraus “could sound like an elitist, [but]  he wasn’t in the business of denigrating the masses or lowbrow culture,” Franzen then writes:

It’s not clear that Kraus’s shrill, ex cathedra denunciations were the most effective way to change hearts and minds. But I confess to feeling some version of his disappointment when a novelist who I believe ought to have known better, Salman Rushdie, succumbs to Twitter. Or when a politically committed print magazine that I respect, N+1, denigrates print magazines as terminally “male,” celebrates the internet as “female,” and somehow neglects to consider the internet’s accelerating pauperisation of freelance writers.

Those were Kraus’ “shrill, ex cathedra denunciations,” right?

Before Rushdie “succumbed” to Twitter, right? Succumbed.

So Franzen is ready to take on the Krausian burden. Stand by for more shrill, ex cathedra denunciations. Here’s one, or three, or fifteen:

In my own little corner of the world, which is to say American fiction, Jeff Bezos of Amazon may not be the antichrist, but he surely looks like one of the four horsemen. Amazon wants a world in which books are either self-published or published by Amazon itself, with readers dependent on Amazon reviews in choosing books, and with authors responsible for their own promotion. The work of yakkers and tweeters and braggers, and of people with the money to pay somebody to churn out hundreds of five-star reviews for them, will flourish in that world. But what happens to the people who became writers because yakking and tweeting and bragging felt to them like intolerably shallow forms of social engagement? What happens to the people who want to communicate in depth, individual to individual, in the quiet and permanence of the printed word, and who were shaped by their love of writers who wrote when publication still assured some kind of quality control and literary reputations were more than a matter of self-promotional decibel levels?

Consider that “what Amazon wants” business. Franzen now knows what Amazon “wants?” He’s what, in the boardroom? In Bezos’ office closet? 


He’s not only biting the hand that feeds him (and many more authors and their readers) but he’s also chewing the legs off the market that supports him. He sells his books on this Amazon-of-the-Apocalypse, the corporate desires of which he claims to know. And he sells them as ebooks, not just holy print.

Speaking of which, he writes:

So the physical book goes on the endangered-species list, so responsible book reviewers go extinct, so independent bookstores disappear, so literary novelists are conscripted into Jennifer-Weinerish self-promotion, so the Big Six publishers get killed and devoured by Amazon: this looks like an apocalypse only if most of your friends are writers, editors or booksellers.

Jennifer Weiner Twiiter bio Jennifer Weiner-ish self-promotionFor the record, the above-mentioned Jennifer Weinerish One goes right for it in What Jonathan Franzen Misunderstands About Me at The New Republic:

I’m not entirely clear on what Weiner-ish self-promotion includes, or how it might be different than what other writers are doing—which is weird because, as its foremost practitioner, I should know…In 2010, I coined the hashtag Franzenfreude. It was very bad German for a very real problem: When Franzen’s most recent novel, Freedom, was published, newspapers and magazines devoted thousands of words to the book and its author, while giving other literary books far less attention, and, in some cases, ignoring commercial works completely. Perhaps Franzen’s recent name-check was payback for when I implied that he was the face of white male literary privilege, or for pointing out that he’s the kind of writer who goes on Facebook only to announce that he won’t be doing Facebook, with the implication that he doesn’t have to do Facebook, because the media does his status updates for him.

And “shrill, ex cathedra denunciations,” did Franzen say?

While torching for print, he’s burning up a lot of people’s patience, and with a tone that gets awfully close to “poor me”:

Maybe nobody will care about printed books 50 years from now, but I do. When I read a book, I’m handling a specific object in a specific time and place. The fact that when I take the book off the shelf it still says the same thing — that’s reassuring.

Back to Table of Contents

Firing the Retro-Rockets

Franzen boomerangs back to us right at the end of this diatribe, but not before getting to thermonuclear warheads. He calls the Nook “a superior e-reader” and mentions “Chinese-made ultra-low-cost porch furniture at Home Depot.” As I said, it’s a long piece.

19 September 2013 Metadata Handbook excerpt 2And in a sudden realization, perhaps, that the ground is coming up awfully fast below him, Franzen writes:

Whether I like it or not, the world being created by the infernal machine of technoconsumerism is still a world made by human beings.

Ah. And? And now we read what I suppose I’d like to have seen him lead with. Ahead of the shrill, ex-cathedra denunciations, not after:

Maybe apocalypse is, paradoxically, always individual, always personal. I have a brief tenure on Earth, bracketed by infinities of nothingness, and during the first part of this tenure I form[ed] an attachment to a particular set of human values that are shaped inevitably by my social circumstances. If I’d been born in 1159, when the world was steadier, I might well have felt, at 53, that the next generation would share my values and appreciate the same things I appreciated; no apocalypse pending. But I was born in 1959, when TV was something you watched only during prime time, and people wrote letters and put them in the mail, and every magazine and newspaper had a robust books section, and venerable publishers made long-term investments in young writers, and New Criticism reigned in English departments, and the Amazon basin was intact, and antibiotics were used only to treat serious infections, not pumped into healthy cows.

That sets up what I think is the most important couple of lines in his 5,600-word essay. Franzen is still talking about the world he was born into in 1959:

It wasn’t necessarily a better world (we had bomb shelters and segregated swimming pools), but it was the only world I knew to try to find my place in as a writer.

Feel him coming down?

And so today, 53 years later, Kraus’s signal complaint – that the nexus of technology and media has made people relentlessly focused on the present and forgetful of the past – can’t help ringing true to me.

19 September 2013 Metadata Handbook excerpt 3Now, at last, more feeling than fight, anxiety over accusation:

Kraus was the first great instance of a writer fully experiencing how modernity, whose essence is the accelerating rate of change, in itself creates the conditions for personal apocalypse…As long as modernity lasts, all days will feel to someone like the last days of humanity.

Okay. This we get.

I’m reminded of Paola Antonelli’s exhibition at MoMA, Design and the Elastic Mind—how much sheer change, she asked, can we embrace? Are our minds stretchy enough to keep accommodating what Franzen now is calling this “accelerating rate of change?”

This was also one of the key inquiries of Anne Bogart’s poignant evocation of Marshall McLuhan in The Medium. (Bogart’s A Rite with Bill T. Jones has its New York premiere, October 3-5, at BAM.)

So…what has happened here? What’s wrong with the not-at-all-modern, 54-year-old Jonathan Franzen?

Back to Table of Contents

“Buy My Book!”

agent, author, books, digital, ebooks, Jane Friedman, Porter Anderson, publisher, publishing, Writing on the Ether, Tools of Change, O'Reilly Media, author platform, blog, blogging, journalism, TOC, #TOCcon, Author (R)evolution Day, #ARDay, Publishing Perspectives, Ether for Authors, Ed Nawotka, The Bookseller, FutureBook, Philip Jones, Sam Missingham, Foyles, #FutureFoyles, London Book Fair, #LBF13

Dennis Abrams

The Kraus Project is essays, in the original German and in Franzen’s translations, with Franzen’s commentary in notes. As a Publishers Weekly review has it, “Several footnotes extend for pages, turning Kraus into background music for scholarly speculation and ruminations”  from Franzen.

 

Publishing Perspectives’ Dennis Abrams has excerpted some of Franzen’s Guardian essay in Franzen Says Amazon Presages the Apocalypse

 

Porter Anderson, PorterAnderson.com, Writing on the Ether, Ether for Authors, London on the Ether, JaneFriedman.com, Ed Nawotka, Philip Jones, PublishingPerspectives.com, The Bookseller.com, books, ebooks, author, agent, Amazon, publishing, The FutureBook, CONTEC Conference, Frankfurt Book Fair, Frankfurt Buchmesse, Bowker, WriterUnboxed.com, The Metadata Handbook, Thad McIlroy, Renée Register, Jonathan Franzen, Karl Kraus

Edward Nawotka

In a comment, Edward Nawotka, Publishing Perspectives’ editor in chief, writes:

Kraus was writing in the midst of the Austro-Hungarian empire, which looked invincible at the time, but came to a demise during his lifetime. Franzen would do well to consider this when talking about Amazon. Empires come and go, come and go — and not infrequently the ones that look unstoppable fall the fastest.

Porter Anderson, PorterAnderson.com, Writing on the Ether, Ether for Authors, London on the Ether, JaneFriedman.com, Ed Nawotka, Philip Jones, PublishingPerspectives.com, The Bookseller.com, books, ebooks, author, agent, Amazon, publishing, The FutureBook, CONTEC Conference, Frankfurt Book Fair, Frankfurt Buchmesse, Bowker, WriterUnboxed.com, The Metadata Handbook, Thad McIlroy, Renée Register, Jonathan Franzen, Karl Kraus

Jennifer Schuessler

Jennifer Schuessler at the New York Times, in Jonathan Franzen Assails the Internet (Again), writes:

Jonathan Franzen, the sometime critic of Oprah Winfrey, Facebook likes, non-birdwatchers and overly difficult novels, is at it again.

She rather charitably refers to Franzen’s aria as a “curtain raiser” on the new book and writes:

Mr. Franzen may despise the ephemeral social-media slipstream that conveniently blasted news of his book out into the world. But how much is timeless dead-tree literary discourse really paying attention to him or other literary novelists of his generation?

Less kind, but maybe more fun: the HusdonHongo.com workup of a little test for you. You’re presented with a series of comments and asked to decide whether each is something said by Franzen or “randomly chosen YouTube comments condemning saggy pants.”

Frazen Gripe vs. Saggy Pants from HudsonHongo.com

 

For example, you’re asked to choose whether Franzen or a YouTube comment about saggy pants gave us this: “(The Internet/Pants sagging) is the antithesis of the imagination. It leaves nothing to the imagination.”

That’s how crazily Franzen has nipped on over to the cliff’s edge of public opinion. Is he unaware that he’s on the verge of making himself a laughingstock on some issues with which we could use some serious help? He’s the one in need of help now.

The pile-on of criticism, by those whose pants are sagging and otherwise, is probably earned. Those shrill, ex cathedra denunciations in the essay, you know; they may not work as well today as they did for Kraus in Vienna.

Porter Anderson, PorterAnderson.com, Writing on the Ether, Ether for Authors, London on the Ether, JaneFriedman.com, Ed Nawotka, Philip Jones, PublishingPerspectives.com, The Bookseller.com, books, ebooks, author, agent, Amazon, publishing, The FutureBook, CONTEC Conference, Frankfurt Book Fair, Frankfurt Buchmesse, Bowker, WriterUnboxed.com, The Metadata Handbook, Thad McIlroy, Renée Register, Jonathan Franzen, Karl Kraus

Maria Bustillos

A bit of a rescue effort, and a good-hearted one at that, lies in the writings of Maria Bustillos at the New Yorker in Jonathan Franzen, Come Join Us! 

She writes:

Franzen is a nostalgist, and he wants to preserve the traditional values and practices of the book world at all costs, and can therefore come off sounding pompous about “high culture.” Plus, he is, as he admits in the essay, a little off when he characterizes certain matters of contemporary coolness.

Bustillos can’t stop running into the obvious contradictions, either. She concedes, “Comparing Windows Vista to Vienna before the First World War is something of a stretch.” And: “He may be a dork, but he’s absolutely and preëminently and kind of magnificently our dork.” (To which I want to say, “Speak for your own dorks,” Maria, but I respect what she’s trying to do.)

Somehow, she manages to say that Franzen is off-track, and that even his writings are “endearingly weird,” but that he’s “the only American novelist of my generation (that I know of) who writes with absolute clarity, conviction, and meaning about the world I live in every day.” We may not all live in quite so “endearingly weird” a world.

19 September 2013 Metadata Handbook excerpt 4I’m still with Bustillos, however, firmly. For one thing, she makes an excellent point being joked about online by many: Franzen isn’t hearing this debate.

I believe that Franzen gets into these scraps because his detractors haven’t the slightest fear that he will reply. He won’t: he has no Twitter handle, no Tumblr, no online persona at all.

And most importantly, she ends by calling on Franzen to jump onto that ivory elevator and head downstairs. Bustillos wants him to “come online and talk with everybody.” She writes:

Yes, there are many bad things about the Internet, but serious criticism is alive and well there…There are thousands upon thousands of passionate constituencies online—political, social, literary—many of them eager for the participation of as many principled, serious artists as care to come out and talk. Come on in, Mr. Franzen! The water’s fine.

Holding your breath? I’ll bet Bustillos isn’t either. But it’s a generous gesture she’s making and it’s the stance that wears best and most healthily on any good community—brushed aside by Franzen or not. I’ve stopped to ask myself whether I’d be comfortable if Franzen read this Ether: yes. Bezos is said to have kept an empty chair at the table in some meetings to represent the all-important customer. We can do the same for Franzen. Mindfulness is not a bad thing here.

And can we love this author again? After yet another time-eating, noisy blowout about his attitude? It’s up to each reader.

Still a talented fellow, no question. But Franzen has become high-maintenance in a way that’s damaging his own reputation.

If anything, we end up looking at an example of what appears to be a disconnected author, at a time in which we stress an author’s reader connection and development of community engagement.

This is a writer who’s afraid, you’ll remember, that “the Big Six publishers [will] get killed and devoured by Amazon.”

Rather than reading Franzen riffing on Kraus?—I’d love to read Kraus’ take on Franzen.

And how about you? The gracious Bustillos writes, “The whole thing struck me as eminently silly in the first place.” Is the Franzen fracas simply silly? Or is it more serious? What does it tell us about writing today?

Back to Table of Contents


The Metadata HandbookThe Metadata Handbook

A Book Publisher’s Guide to Creating and Distributing Metadata for Print and Ebooks, by Renée Register and Thad McIlroy

This is a one-stop guide for publishers—large, small, and independent. An essential resource for 21st century publishing, The Metadata Handbook covers:

  • How metadata for books operates in the real world
  • Metadata fundamentals and the history of metadata for books
  • Metadata standards and best practices
  • Essential metadata elements for print and ebooks
  • The basics of ONIX for Books, including ONIX 3.0
  • The basics of EPUB 3 metadata options

Available in paperback, PDF, EPUB, and Kindle formats at www.themetadatahandbook.com


Main image: iStockphoto – erzetic | In Karl Kraus’ Vienna

Posted in Writing on the Ether and tagged , , , , .

Porter Anderson / @Porter_Anderson

Porter Anderson (@Porter_Anderson) is a journalist and consultant in publishing. He's The Bookseller's (London) Associate Editor in charge of The FutureBook. He's a featured writer with Thought Catalog (New York), which carries his reports, commentary, and frequent Music for Writers interviews with composers and musicians. And he's a regular contributor of "Provocations in Publishing" with Writer Unboxed. Through his consultancy, Porter Anderson Media, Porter covers, programs, and speaks at publishing conferences and other events in Europe and the US, and works with various players in publishing, such as Library Journal's SELF-e, Frankfurt Book Fair's Business Club, and authors. You can follow his editorial output at Porter Anderson Media, and via this RSS link.

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56 Comments on "WRITING ON THE ETHER: What’s Wrong With Franzen?"

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Darrelyn Saloom

Seems Franzen is using the internet quite well to promote his perennial bad mood. I saw the headline yesterday: “Franzen Says Amazon Presages the Apocalypse” and had to laugh.

Another great post, Porter. Try NOT to presage the Apocalypse.

Porter Anderson

@darrelynsaloom:disqus

Doing my best here, Darrelyn, not to be presaging the Apocalypse, LOL. Hard enough for me to think as far as lunch. 🙂

Seriously, thanks, I fear Mr. Franzen has indeed probably triggered more laughter than he intended — or even knows. Which might be merciful.

Cheers!

-p.

On Twitter: @ Porter_Anderson

JosephRatliff

Franzen is getting publicity for his book, that’s for sure.

As for his views on e-books… ummm… no.

Porter Anderson

@JosephRatliff:disqus

Yeah. Pretty well said there, Joseph. Ummmm…no.

Just wondering if we’ll see a big turnaround from this guy some day, it could be quite interesting if he found his mature years mellowing him and realizing that some contact with the community of his readers and colleagues might be, actually, interesting. 🙂

-p.

On Twitter: @ Porter_Anderson

JosephRatliff
Well, the main essay written by Jonathan Franzen comes off as a marketing piece for his new book, to me. Think about this… He writes a controversial essay, taking a similar stance as Kraus against media… and all of the attention that controversy gets, sells books. I suppose that’s one way to do it. I’m watching his videos on Big Think right now: http://bigthink.com/users/jonathanfranzen And he comes across as awkward, maybe sites like Twitter and the online media environment move too fast for him, I’m not sure. In the substance of his essay, he comes across as paranoid, not right… Read more »
Porter Anderson

Yes, and mind you I might be fooled by what you’re rightly terming awkwardness into thinking I see earnestness. (Sad, isn’t it, that I tend to think the earnest of the world will be awkward, lol.)

Jamie Chavez

These are very insightful observations—awkward, paranoid. Seriously, to write as well as he does, he has to have spent more time at that than at, you know, developing people skills. Bottom line, just a geeky guy who doesn’t deal with change very well. Who does? I resist it, too, but I know when I’m beat. 🙂

JosephRatliff

I don’t question Franzen’s prose at all, it belongs in the “Writer’s Hall of Fame” for sure.

I think the fact he doesn’t “deal with change very well,” as you put it, contributes to his awkward nature.

Victoria_Noe
I guess what strikes me most about Franzen is his willingness to be a hypocrite. Nostalgic for 1959? Fine: sell only print books in bookstores. Stay off the internet. Don’t watch cable TV. Stick with your landline. Shake your head at anyone who doesn’t agree with you. Speak longingly of the Good Old Days. Feel morally superior to the rest of the world. But to loudly decry the decline of civilization – while participating in its decline by selling ebooks on The Evil Amazon – strikes me as more than a mid-life crisis. It’s hypocrisy. I thought he lost his… Read more »
Porter Anderson
@Victoria_Noe:disqus And thank heaven you and I are too young to remember 1959, Viki — there were even plate-spinners still in business on the variety shows, I’m told. And color TV was catching on. To watch plate spinners. 🙂 Nick Ruffilo was asking me if I think Franzen is “just crazy” or “crazy like a fox” (my phrase, not Nick’s) by triggering all this visibility for his work with these diatribes. I had to tell him that I think the diatribes — and the stances — are earnest. I’m sure he’s aware that notoriety can mean sales, too, but I… Read more »
Jane Friedman

First time I’ve seen mention of Huis Clos in a comment thread. Well done, sir.

Porter Anderson

Ha, many thanks. If I could figure out who might produce it, it would almost be worth trying to get that trio into a small screenplay adapted from the original script, wouldn’t it? The Bezos-Franzen-Snooki Sartre. We could set back the existentialists by 50 years, at least. 🙂

Jamie Chavez

I’m swooning here, y’all. 🙂

Richard Lyonn

Anti-social writer runs successful viral social media campaign.

Film at 11. (And daily thereafter, until the first print run earns out.)

Porter Anderson

@richardlyonn:disqus

And it won’t take long for that run to earn out at the rate he’s getting talked up this time, Richard. 🙂

Thanks for Etherizing with us. 🙂

-p.

On Twitter: @ Porter_Anderson

ClaudiaHallChristian

You, Porter, are awesome. If there was such as thing as awesome-sauce, I’m fairly certain you would be an ingredient in it! Thanks for the laugh.

As for Frazen, I don’t experience the world as he does.

Porter Anderson
@ClaudiaHallChristian:disqus Ha! Claudia, you are too nice .. I’ve just been warning Nick Ruffilo that I’ll likely fall into village idiocy any time now, so don’t imbibe in too much of this special sauce here. Sauced may be as close as I get (and the sobriety is killing me at the moment). No, I don’t get the world as our friend Franzen does, either, and I can’t say that i’m sorry. He reminds me of an actress I once worked with (this was during my Equity days, 18th Century, been a while) whose specialty was playing elderly women extremely well.… Read more »
ClaudiaHallChristian
Sobriety is awesome-sauce except it only works one… moment… at… a… time. I personally believe there was a time when change didn’t happen so quickly but, to my mind, that was about 300 years ago before the British hoisted their citizens upon the world. Look at the Kurds in Syria/Iraq/Iran or Afghanistan/Pakistan Durand Line. They’re still struggling with lines in the sand created by the Brits. What change do you accept? What change to do we spurn and denying? Recently, they found a new strain of human they’re calling Denisovans. So now there are three – Neandrethal, Denisovans, Modern Humans.… Read more »
Porter Anderson
I remember covering the landing of Homo Erectus on the Isle of Man. And we owned that story, damn it. 🙂 You’re totally correct about the idea of a time when change was so slow. What Paola Antonelli’s show addressed was the fact that nothing in human biology has evolved our minds anywhere near as far beyond that 300-years-ago level of readiness to handle the dazzling speed of change hitting us now. And in Anne Bogart’s The Medium, it’s completely devastating as McLuhan begins to realize that we who are creating our technology will be, in emotional terms and perhaps… Read more »
Lara Schiffbauer
I love your take on things, and am reminded once again why I hope to never get on your bad side. 🙂 My husband is the same age as Franzen, and remembers things differently about growing up in the 60’s and 70’s. Personally, I like technology and don’t think you can blame it for the state of the world today. Behind every computer is a person who is making a choice to act one way or another, a person who decides what to do with the technology at hand. It’s not that much different from forty/fifty years ago. What is… Read more »
Porter Anderson
@laraschiffbauer:disqus You’re a great, faithful reader, Lara, thanks, way too kind (but I’ll take it! lol) . And you’ve put your finger on what has to be the responsible course: our tech capabilities (and distractions, yes) are ours to control or not, to use well or not. If there’s anybody biblical left around, they might say this is the trial given to our age, the test of whether we can find a way to control these things and their enticements so we don’t get swept away by them but learn to make ourselves better in our enjoyment of instant worldwide… Read more »
Kirk Dougal
Franzen is certainly entitled to his opinion but in many respects he has crossed the line and become your grandfather – shouting at the kids to get off his lawn and saying how much better it was back in his day when he walked uphill to school and everybody worked harder than those damn kids do today. The problem for him now is that even if he does say something interesting/intelligent, fewer and fewer people are paying attention because they have tuned him out, just nodding absentmindedly at the right moments to make it appear that they are listening. Honestly,… Read more »
Porter Anderson

@563cc904030bcc194b8aa766fcc0871b:disqus

Right indeed, and this is one of the most ironic questions of the #Franzenian fray, really, Kirk, the question of whether we would even be aware of his diatribes if they appeared, say, in a print edition of The Guardian and not online. Only thanks to the networked world he rails against are we able to have these intercontinental debates about what he has said. It’s close to something out of O. Henry.

-p.

On Twitter: @ Porter_Anderson

Anne R. Allen

Getting older is tough. Especially when you’ve become “master of your domain”. Because the domain changes. If you don’t change, you’re no longer master. This is Franzen basically saying, “You kids get off my lawn.” It’s embarrassing. But it’s also–as your wise commenters have pointed out–very good Jennifer-Weinerish self-promotion.

Porter Anderson

@annerallen:disqus

Hey, Anne,

That indeed is one of the main topics of today. Nick Ruffilo was chatting with me very early today, wondering if this behavior from Franzen is “just crazy” or “smart crazy” ( to paraphrase ). As I told him, I think the intent here is earnest, but there sure is some good Jennifer-Weinerish self-promotional resulting from it, even if it’s not the intent. I do think this book will a very different sell from the novels, which should make it interesting to see it play on the market.

Thanks again, great to have you!

-p.

On Twitter: @ Porter_Anderson

Anne Hill

I love it when you get on a roll, Porter! Franzen’s piece sounds completely insufferable, and I am grateful to have to read only your quotes of it.

I would happily get off Mr. Franzen’s lawn if he would stop trying to torch the playground. His piece reminds me of another in The Guardian last year, by Ewan Morrison. Barry Eisler did a nice UK radio debate with him, handily demolishing his apocalyptic fervor about authors and social media, as I recall.

Porter Anderson
@anneahill:disqus Hey, Anne, love your “torch the playground” line! 🙂 And yes, Morrison does his provocateur act each year at Edinburgh Festival time — this year it was a huge two-parter about having been to the future and come back, some direly dystopian nonsense, really. I’ve seen Ewan’s pieces for three years and they’re wearing progressively thin. I’d say the key difference is that Morrison, while timed to do this for and/or parallel to the festival, is clearly setting out to provoke. While Franzen certainly is mindful that some people may not like what he says, I think he is,… Read more »
MichaelPeck

Well, I was born in 1964, and my personal memories of Innsbruck, the first Beatles album, Sidney Poitier’s Oscar, and the Warren Commission Report inform who I am today because … oh, wait—no, they don’t. You know why? Because I was a baby, and I don’t recall a damn thing.

Porter Anderson

@MichaelPeck:disqus

And that may be what qualifies today as bliss, Michael, LOL.

Thanks for the funny input, much appreciated! 🙂

-p.

On Twitter: @ Porter_Anderson

Michael Peck

Thank YOU, sir—you are too kind.

Mary DeEditor

Yes, I read the whole thing — Frazen’s essay, when it first came out in the Guardian. And I read all of Maria Bustillos’ essay. I’ll take Ms. Bustillos, thanks.

Porter Anderson

@1e180204584c9d875417c18ff1e61309:disqus

Ha! I hear you, Mary. Thanks for the input and for being here at the Ether, good to have you –

-p.

On Twitter: @ Porter_Anderson

KA Semenova
For me, the issue with Franzen, at bottom, is a kind of pronoun problem. He critiques in an (implicit) second person: You. It’s about us. We’re the problem; we need to be fixed. And since he doesn’t really understand us (=internet culture), his analysis falls flat, which perhaps makes the psychological posture, let’s call it, stand out in such relief. As any family therapist will say, the way to “fight fair,” is to use “I” statements: “I feel,” “I think.” And as Anderson points out here, once Franzen does that, when he finally shifts to first person and says how… Read more »
Porter Anderson
@kasemenova:disqus “Breathtaking arrogance,” good phrase, KA, thanks for it and for your note. I think you’re right that the appearance, at least, is that much of Franzen’s anger is directed at us, his readers. I find the pronoun structure working on me exactly as you describe, with the softening of his more personal perspective (the “I” section) as he reaches the end. It’s a strange lexicon, as you say — not only roughing up Rushdie but using the verb “succumb” for Rushdie’s adoption of a Twitter handle. The implication is the the online world is like alcoholism or tuberculosis, a… Read more »
Lexa Cain

I always felt Franzen was hugely overrated. Although mine may not be the popular opinion, Franzen seems to dislike popular opinions anyway. (I’m not a Franzen fan, but I’m a big fan of this blog — thanks for all the insightful and entertaining news!)

Porter Anderson
@LexaCain:disqus Hey, Lexa, Thanks for much for the kind words, and I feel sure you’re not alone in your appraisal of Franzen and his latest essay work. At the least, it’s a strange case of someone seeming to be very out of step with his world — and these days, when it’s so easy to be a part of the world, that’s just not common. In and of itself, his aloof, disdainful regard (and almost outdated fixations, as on the Amazon reviews issue) is a surprise to us. Good of you to be here, always great to have you, thanks… Read more »
Jamie Chavez

The Corrections knocked my socks of and I loved Freedom (I even blogged about it), so I am a Franzen fan. (I am a fan of good writing, full stop.) But lordy, lordy, he is a cranky ol’ curmudgeon, isn’t he! I’ve had some good laughs in the last couple years at some of his old-fart pronouncements … but as you point out, he’s on the cliff’s edge, getting ready to step off into irrelevancy. Shame, really.

I seriously love this post. Thanks for writing it so I didn’t have to. 🙂

Porter Anderson

@jamiechavez:disqus

LOL Glad to have saved you the trouble, Jamie, thanks much for the good comments. It is a shame. Almost a “noble mind o’erthrown,” apparently, by his peculiar level of distress at how things are going. I fear the very thought of space travel might kill the guy, lol. .
-p.
On Twitter: @ Porter_Anderson

GrigoryRyzhakov
Love this Franzen frenzy, Porter. I don’t agree with his stance on self-publishing, Twitter or ebooks. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get through the first pages his Freedom, not my cup of tea, so I can’t judge him as a writer. I did manage to read his Guardian essay, well, brevity is clearly not his forte. He has points to back up his opinions, yet his conservatism looks as a product of narrowmindedness and even comes across as hypocritical, which is, I think, probably unintentional. Just imagine you are Franzen, a successful Big6 -published literator. You don’t need to use the social… Read more »
Lexa Cain

I enjoyed your comment and agree.

GrigoryRyzhakov

cheers, Lexa 🙂

Porter Anderson
@GrigoryRyzhakov:disqus Hey, Grisha, Thanks for the good comment, as ever. I think you’re getting at a major aspect of the situation in that Franzen is simply well enough placed and protected by his success that he doesn’t need or want to relate to authors in other positions in the industry, or care about what is self-published. (I’d guess he thinks that whole concept is attached to a feeble and temporary aberration among some craftspeople, not artists.) Of course, such a posture would be fine if he didn’t take it upon himself from time to time to lay into the world… Read more »
GrigoryRyzhakov

I agree with that, Porter, he is quite serious about it. I might even go as far as to say his sense of humor could be on holidays, permanently
😉 Melodrama it is .

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Anthony St. Clair

Best selling male ivory tower regardless, the Franzen is a get-off-my-lawn whining troll. It’s a shame this troll’s stature gets him fed, instead of us getting to use the best practice of attention starvation.

Porter Anderson

@anthonystclair:disqus

Thanks for the input, Anthony, good to have you on the Ether!

-p.

On Twitter: @ Porter_Anderson

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[…] And then Porter Anderson weighed in with this summation and compilation of many of the different voices that joined the discussion. Writing on the Ether: What’s Wrong With Franzen […]

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[…] instance, his recent account of Franzenmania is not just smart and informative, it’s also hilarious. And the best part is that Porter […]

dynaboot

Thanks the article!

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[…] WRITING ON THE ETHER | What’s Wrong With Franzen? | JANEFRIEDMAN.COM […]

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[…] the slight, frowning upon “Jennifer Weiner-ish self-promotion” in an essay published in the Guardian in 2013, Weiner cannily recast Franzen’s dig as a badge of honor, changing her Twitter bio, for a time, […]

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[…] the slight, frowning upon “Jennifer Weiner-ish self-promotion” in an essay published in the Guardian in 2013, Weiner cannily recast Franzen’s dig as a badge of honor, changing her Twitter bio, for a time, […]

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