Monday, November 5, 2007

The Pagan Kennedy (et al) Guide to CONQUERING ALL MEDIA (plus 9/11 debate reminder)


Tonight at 6:30, Pagan Kennedy reads at the Mid-Manhattan Library (40th and Fifth) from her book The First Man-Made Man (which was winner of the prestigious Book Selection of the Month for April 2007), about the first woman to become a man through surgery.

As I’ve alluded to before, Pagan has written nine books (ranging from pop culture analysis to novels to history), articles for numerous (especially Boston-based) publications, and in the early days, ’zines (which were sort of like blogs but made from dead trees because Pagan hates the Earth — I jest) — all of which should make those of us who have yet to finish writing one book question why we bother even getting up in the morning, but I will instead look upon her as an inspiration. Or as another, more business-oriented, writer friend of mine, Charis Warchal, once eloquently put it: “Bitch can write.” Indeed. Indeed. (Those troubled by the gender implications of that formulation should come join tonight’s discussion about sex changes and cultural norms.)

I know serious writers are supposed to be awed by quality, not sheer output — and Pagan’s got both — but now’s as good a time as any for me to confess that I’m somewhat envious of and awed by people who crank out a ton of stuff, and I don’t just mean a classy, highbrow book every two years or so, as in Pagan’s case, but even unabashed hacks who pour forth highly-redundant novels. Take Michael Moorcock, the British “New Wave” sci-fi novelist, who was a big influence on various things I like, from The Adventures of Luther Arkwright to Grant Morrison to Buckaroo Banzai — yet whose own stuff often reads like he whipped it off at the rate of twenty pages a day while on speed after reading some Conan stories and listening to Pink Floyd.

Yet instead of dismissing him, I find myself admiring the audacity of the tricks he comes up with for making even redundant stuff look like “I meant to do that.” In particular, he uses the device of a multiverse — multiple similar universes — to explain the great similarity of many of his protagonists (the Eternal Champion!), turning a potential weakness into a strength (he even dares to compare this hacky practice to Renaissance Italian Commedia dell’arte, with its recurring characters — the cheeky bastard!), and (fittingly) he inspires imitators in the process. The result is that he has dozens and dozens of novels, sometimes reprinted with character names altered to make them fit together better continuity-wise, often kept in print through the efforts of obscure, impoverished little publishing companies — but kept in print, one way or another, bless him (spreading a bit of left-anarchist philosophy in the process, too, which just makes it seem all the more like a subversive, underground plot, as befits the Fifth of November, especially coming from a Brit).

And from William Hazlitt (one of several awe-inspiring writers of old, ranging madly over numerous topics in their careers, about whom I wrote encyclopedia entries for a Facts on File project a few years ago) to Gersh Kuntzman to Christopher Hitchens, I have to admire the people who keep churning it out, often in widely varying forms and media (witness Gersh’s play about SUVs, complete with singing crash test dummy). You only live once, and the ultimate deadline looms ever closer.

Let me also add, without deviating from my mission to be a neutral debate host, that even when I am diametrically opposed to his political positions, I have to admire Sander Hicks for making them known via newspapers, TV broadcasts, plays, bootstrapped publishing companies, and even his punk (?) music performances — so come see him debate Karol Sheinin this Wednesday about 9/11 even if, say, you think one or both of them is an offense against reason. (I’ll be there to make everything OK, as I always do.)

None of this should be taken to mean that Pagan is a hack, by the way — far from it — but that, too, you can see for yourselves this week — tonight in fact, so come by the Mid-Manhattan Library (40th and Fifth) at 6:30.

P.S. Speaking of inspired hackwork, I notice that my Earthlink start page, due to a fortunate typo, contained a news item this morning with the following delightful headline:

Teary Goodbye for Space Station Astronautaaaa

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