Thursday, October 5, 2017

Klosterf*ck

Intentionally upside down, btw.
But What If We're Wrong? (2016) by Chuck Klosterman: Chuck Klosterman started his public life as an iconoclastic music critic and reporter before branching out into memoirs, novels, and non-music-related essays. He's still best at music, sub-category rock, though. Here, he tries to branch out into futurism (seriously) and cultural criticism (yes, seriously). The results are fun and awful.

Klosterman's central point would be better suited to a book of essays by various experts on the fields he tackles. The overall question in the book is, what will be proven wrong in the future based on how we've been wrong in the past about the future, and what things will survive? 

Impressively enough, Klosterman attempts to answer this question in relation to various fields of human endeavour without once referring to any major predictive (right or usually wrong) written works of science fiction or, for that matter, very many futurists. His construction of how we were wrong in the past is mostly a collection of general assertions, I'm assuming because specific examples would require research time that Chuck clearly had no intention of spending on this book. Or any book, now that I think of it.

When Klosterman stays on music (and, to be fair, sports) , the book's flaws are minimized. Even then, Klosterman's vagueness and indecision about what it is exactly that he's assessing -- popularity or critical 'goodness'? rightness or longevity? -- causes problems. 

To wit: because the general population only 'knows' a handful of classical composers now, Klosterman believes the population will only know of one rock musician a few hundred years from now. Or maybe more. A problem develops in Klosterman's reasoning in this section when he consults an expert on classical music, who sub-divides the classical composers the general public 'knows' into centuries and movements. OK, BUT, the general public doesn't remember any of these composers by century or movement. It just knows classical music as the names of a handful of composers.

OK, BUT, the general public really also knows classical music by familiar pieces and snippets of pieces used in popular works -- ads, movies, and Warner Brothers cartoons. Klosterman doesn't assess the music this way, however. And in treating rock music as if it were one of those classical-music subsets -- 19th-century classical, or Baroque, or whatever -- he's reduced himself to thinking about what one rock musician will still be known by name in 500 years rather than assessing a handful AND a second assemblage of pieces and snippets. So the argument doesn't really hold together.

And this is the best part of the book.

When Klosterman rambles into The World's Most-Remembered Writer and Great American Novels, the results are dire and ill-researched and absolutely blind to genre (Klosterman may have been born a rock critic, but he's a snob when it comes to literature even though he admits to have never finished a work by several major American authors, and even though much of his argument suggests that he may have never finished reading a novel by anybody since he was in high school). 

When he ventures into science, diligently reporting that Neil DeGrasse Tyson seems to be really pissy with him, one wonders the Tyson didn't punch him. In this section, Klosterman sets up a false dichotomy between what Tyson's talking about and what another scientist is talking about. I'll leave it to you to figure that one out. 

Later in the book, Klosterman  notes that he's not going to go on at length about global warming. So he does for three pages instead, glibly and infuriatingly. At one point, Klosterman's discussion of what he thinks will happen with global warming suggests that Klosterman, raised in North Dakota, remains unaware of the Canadian province due North of North Dakota and what its principal crops are.

So it goes. Klosterman reveals in the acknowledgements section that he was unaware hedgehogs weren't native to North America until the book had already been typeset, thus making his anecdote about watching a hedgehog in his yard in Illinois (or maybe Brooklyn) seem a bit... unlikely. Maybe it was a woodchuck, Klosterman notes. OK. This all ties into Klosterman's recurring riff on the old saying that the hedgehog knows one big thing and the fox many small things. Or maybe the woodchuck knows one large thing. Maybe Klosterman needs better editors and fact-checkers. Maybe the hedgehog doesn't know anything at all.

Klosterman also hilariously uses the term "third rail" as if it were a synonym for "happy medium" during his discussion of global warming. What? Does Chuck Klosterman actually know anything? Did anyone copy-edit or just plan edit this book? Should someone tell Chuck to go back to music and the occasional sports piece? Do repeated references to Citizen Kane imply that the Citizen Kane Film 101 class was the only class Klosterman attended in college?  Only recommended for Klosterman completists.

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