Tuesday, March 10, 2009


But sometimes when I go back, I find myself unable to really expound on a topic. So then this happens:

Spurgeon’s Tower of Isolation and Intentionally Long Essay Titles

The Ant of the Self is one of a new breed of “high” literature concerning the typical minority experience, written, ironically enough, by a very atypical minority. Fortunately, the story lacks the usual pretention towards “understanding” the average minority and instead acknowledges the unusual experience of the author, ZZ Packer. Yes, why is it that modern authors feel the need to squeeze meaning into every line? But it is the status quo. Apparently, writing throwaway fiction is no longer considered an art. I mourn the dozens (Thousands? Millions?) of unpublished authors who go about peddling their trashy romances, predictable mysteries, boring Sci-Fi’s but cannot find a home for these rough, uncut literary gems. Why, oh society? Why do you ignore those in need of a voice? Instead you invite pretention and desecration as a viable alternative to the true works of fiction. But I digress. The story is written with the purpose of demonstrating the isolation that one (likely her, from a biographical standpoint) feels when you don’t quite fit in to any particular portion of society. The author does this through the character of Spurgeon in his approaches to the situations with his father, the Million Man March and the small child he sees at the end of the novel are written.
Without fail, Spurgeon assumes the worst of his father, from his assumption that his father would never pay him back to the assumption that he had mugged someone for money at the end of the novel. Though these assumptions are rarely contradicted, they serve to provide a window into Spurgeon’s perspective of his father. He is perpetually at odds with his dad, constantly correcting him, as in “You mean stockbroker. A stockbroker advises about stocks. Not an accountant,” (77) or insulting him, as in “He’s so stupid, he’s brilliant; so outside of the realm of any rationality…” (82) It’s through this sort of verbal conflict, as well as the ubiquitous analysis of his father’s every movement that Packer creates to the world of isolation that Spurgeon inhabits. Indeed, Spurgeon feels just as isolated from his mother, as it was “…clear that the only man of this house was Jesus.” (85) Spurgeon also subconsciously judges his father’s actions, adding connotations and seeing emotions or intentions that may or may not be real from beginning: “…as if trying to get them [words] through my thick skull,” to end “…as if he’s congratulating me.”He spends a great deal of time focusing on the differences between himself and his father, looking to distance himself intentionally from the undesirable aspects of his father. Just as publishers intentionally distance themselves from authors they don’t approve of. If your name isn’t bigger than the title on a book, they don’t care. Look what happened to Kafka! He died before he was really published! If only they had cared, he might still be alive even today!
Later at the Million Man March, Spurgeon typifies the black men at the march as somewhat menacing as in “…wearing stern looks and prison muscles.”(91) He is constantly worried that one member or another of the crowd would hurt him exemplified by “One man looks like he wants to beat the crap out of me.” (90). He designates the whites outside the picket as simply being aloof, or interestingly enough, also scared of the blacks as shown by “Quite a few whites also stop to look as if to see what this thing is all about, and their nervous, hard smiles fit into two categories: the ‘Don’t mug me!’ smile, or the ‘Gee, aren’t black folks something!’ smile.” (88-89) This emphasizes the disconnect Spurgeon feels with his own race as well as the races of others. As he so dramatically explained to members of the march, he’s not interested in the black nation or other issues beyond “debate purposes.” Just as major publishers aren’t interested in the short fiction works of names they haven’t heard of. They spend their days counting all the money they’ve made of the latest James Patterson novel, or counting revenues from the latest Evanovich tripe, but do they think of the little guy? No. Not once. After all, the little guy isn’t making them money. But fiction is about so much more than that. It’s art! Printed art, word for word!
At the end of the story, Spurgeon is dead tired, beat from his father and the trek to the train station. He witnesses a boy with his father at five in the morning, and immediately begins to construct a negative, depressing story about the boy and his father: “…kid in the hot sun for hours…cold night for longer.” (102) When he’s proven wrong at the end, he realizes his folly and how disconnected he really is. His isolation comes crashing down on him like a tidal wave when he realizes how unhappy he is, contrasted by the kid’s happiness, stating that the kid was “the happiest I’ve seen anyone, ever.” (103) Despite this, he simply sits through the pain of his realization and lets it pass. Just as society has let so many great works of fiction pass, simply slip through their fingers like so many diamonds hidden within snow.
Packer worked hard to create a feeling of isolation. As the book jacket states, her characters are on the periphery of society, unable to move to the center for one reason or another. Spurgeon is clearly unable or unwilling to accept a place in one or another society that he belongs to. He refuses to be black, he refuses to be white, he refuses to be his father, and he refuses to bend; choosing instead to remain in his tower of moral rectitude rather than meet the world at a level plain. Even at the end, after his life changing fight, he continues to think badly of the station attendant, the man with the child, and the little old white lady talking to herself. The way he approaches the world around him makes this evident. But weep not for Spurgeon, for he shall not weep for himself. Weep not for the unpublished novelists of this world, for they shall not weep for themselves. John Kennedy Toole might still be alive today, if publishers cared. They said his novel “isn’t really about anything.” How wrong they were.

This is why I get 'c's.

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