From April 30 to May 6, 100 writers from 25 countries will be in New York for a festival sponsored by the PEN American Center. As part of the festival, A. O. Scott, a critic for The New York Times, will talk with the writers Martin Amis, Margaret Atwood and E. L. Doctorow at a Times Talk event on May 2, co-sponsored by the Consulate General of Canada in New York. We asked those three writers — Ms. Atwood from Canada, Mr. Amis from Britain and Mr. Doctorow from the United States — to consider the question of America and its role in global political culture. (This was a note located next to the articles from these three writers in the Sunday Review of the NYT on May 29, 2012.)
I find it an interesting concept to have writers talk about our role in global political culture and these authors had fun with this topic. I don’t know if you got to see any of the things they wrote about America, but perhaps I can give you a little taste.
Margaret Atwood is Canadian. She wrote an article called “Hello Martians, Let Moby Dick Explain.” She begins,
LAST night the Martians touched down in the backyard. They were oval and bright pink, with two antlike antennae topped by eyes fringed with sea-anemone lashes. They said they’d come to study America.
“Why ask me?” I said. “America is farther south.”
“You are an observer,” they said. “Please tell us: Does America have a different ‘flavor’ from that of other countries? Is it the center of the cultural world? How does it look to outsiders?”
“America has always been different from Europe,” I said, “having begun as a utopian religious community. Some have seen it as a dream world where you can be what you choose, others as a mirage that lures, exploits and disappoints. Some see it as a land of spiritual potential, others as a place of crass and vulgar materialism. Some see it as a mecca for creative entrepreneurs, others as a corporate oligarchy where the big eat the small and inventions helpful to the world are stifled. Some see it as the home of freedom of expression, others as a land of timorous conformity and mob-opinion rule.”
They ask for marshmallows.
Here’s the link if you would like to read more:
E. L. Doctorow wrote an article called “Unexceptionalism – A Primer”. Here are some excerpts:
TO achieve unexceptionalism, the political ideal that would render the United States indistinguishable from the impoverished, traditionally undemocratic, brutal or catatonic countries of the world, do the following:
If you’re a justice of the Supreme Court, ignore the first sacrament of a democracy and suspend the counting of ballots in a presidential election. Appoint the candidate of your choice as president.
If you’re the newly anointed president, react to a terrorist attack by invading a nonterrorist country. Despite the loss or disablement of untold numbers of lives, manage your war so that its results will be indeterminate.
Using the state of war as justification, order secret surveillance of American citizens, data mine their phone calls and e-mail, make business, medical and public library records available to government agencies, perform illegal warrantless searches of homes and offices.
Take to torturing terrorism suspects, here or abroad, in violation of the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution, which prohibits the infliction of cruel and unusual punishment. Unilaterally abrogate the Convention Against Torture as well as the Geneva Conventions regarding the treatment of prisoners of war. Commit to indeterminate detention without trial those you decide are enemies. For good measure, trust that legislative supporters will eventually apply this policy as well to American citizens.
Suspend progressive taxation so that the wealthiest pay less proportionately than the middle class. See to it that the wealth of the country accumulates to a small fraction of the population so that the gap between rich and poor widens exponentially.
By cutting taxes and raising wartime expenditures, deplete the national treasury so that Congress and state and municipal legislatures cut back on domestic services, ensuring that there will be less money for the education of the young, for government health programs, for the care of veterans, for the maintenance of roads and bridges, for free public libraries, and so forth.
Deregulate the banking industry so as to create a severe recession in which enormous numbers of people lose their homes and jobs.
Before you leave office add to the Supreme Court justices like the ones who awarded you the presidency.
There are more phases. If you would like to read the rest of this article here is the link:
Marin Amis wrote an article called Marty and Nick Jr. Go to America. Here’s a little bit of that one.
Nevertheless, those of us who believe in civil equality are suddenly in need of reassurance. I refer of course to the case of Trayvon Martin. Leave aside, for the now that masterpiece of legislation, Stand Your Ground (which pits the word of a killer against that of his eternally wordless victim), and answer this question. Is it possible, in 2012, to confess to the pursuit and murder of an unarmed white 17-year-old without automatically getting arrested? Ease my troubled mind, and tell me yes.
Here’s the link for Martin’s article:
I wonder what else they will come up with at that conference?
On April 30, 2012 Stephen King wrote an article that would fit right in with the theme of the aforementioned conference. His language is real graphic and might not be acceptable to those who like to keep it clean, but the article is straightforward, has the taint of truth, and leaves us with a real clear picture of how Mr. King feels. Here is his title and subtitle which will give you a good idea of where he is going.
Tax Me, for F@%&’s Sake!
The iconic writer scolds the superrich (including himself – and Mitt Romney) for not giving back, and warns of a Kingsian apocalyptic scenario if inequality is not addressed in America.
Here’s the link in case you want to read what Stephen King has to say on this topic:
I realize that this may not be the most popular blog post I have ever written, but I definitely enjoyed reading all of these articles. They do not meet the quick and easy measure however. I hope you enjoy them too.