23 March 2012

Guttural Flutterings, or Glutterings

Are you, like, serious? So, okay. I have, like, twenty articles or whatever that I can read for free on The New York Times. (No thanks to the friggin' paywall!) And I'm trying to make it count, right? Then all of a sudden, on this sidebar or whatever, there's, like, a recommended piece, or a "Most E-mailed" thingie, published under the science section, about how young women talk. It's irresistibly entitled, "They're, Like, Way Ahead of the Linguistic Currrrve," and I'm like, ooh, that sounds super interestaaang. So, you know, while I don't really read a lot of science stuff, if I have one article left to read, this will be it, right? I mean, this has to be it. Because it has to do with language, and I'm a writer? Or ... yeah.

So, anyway. I click, naturally. I read about how "girls and women in their teens and 20s deserve credit for pioneering vocal trends and popular slang," about how embellishments like "like," like "bitchin," like "uptalk" (which is when you end your sentence with a question mark, even though you're not really asking a question?), like what they call this "guttural fluttering of the vocal cords"—or "vocal fry"—are actually marks of linguistic innovation. To support this, Mr. Douglas Quenqua, the reporter, cites, like, a bunch of speech experts, and goes on to say that young women, from Valley Girls to the Kardashians, "serve as incubators of vocal trends for the culture at large .... As Paris is to fashion, the thinking goes, so are young women to linguistic innovation." 

First of all, whoa. Zomygod. This must be, like, a major breakthrough. University researchers are researching on this in universities, and NYT reporters are reporting on this in the NYT? Seriously. It's just the sort of thing I look forward to every Sunday afternoon whenever I get an E-mail with a roundup of the articles I'm likely to be interested in (and which other peeps are paying for to be able to read more of than the non-paying peeps). Aaand, here's Krugman with a brief note on macroeconomics and ethics! Here's Michiko Kakutani talking about the new Penelope Lively! Here's A.O. Scott, King of the Throwaway Line, with his review of Lars von Trier's Melancholia! Finally, here's Quenqua, on, um—on female college students and their guttural flutterings.

So I'm actually surprised that the NYT hasn't gone out on a limb to herald a new era in portmanteau-making. Seriously. Isn't now the best time to declare words like "chillaxing," "awkweird," "relationshit," and "adorkable" as official words? Official—as in, good enough for a dictionary? Are their ahead-of-the-curve-going gutturally fluttering—gluttering!—utterers not incubators, too, in a way, of a revolution? It's the revolution, of course, of why say anything better if you can say everything much worse?

Or maybe this portmanteau story is already headed to my E-mail, like, this coming Sunday. Along with the note that I'll soon only have ten free articles a month. Instead of twenty. What the fudge, man! Like, who does that?

15 March 2012

The Master of Petersburg

There is something overwhelmingly important he wants to say that the boy will now never be able to hear. If you are blessed with the power to write, he wants to say, bear in mind the source of that power. You write because your childhood was lonely, because you were not loved. (Yet that is not the full story, he also wants to say—you were loved, you would have been loved, it was your choice to be unloved. What confusion! An ape on a harmonium would do better!) We do not write out of plenty, he wants to say—we write out of anguish, out of lack. Surely in your heart you must know that!

Talk about déjà vu. I didn't know I'd already read the first several chapters of J.M. Coetzee's The Master of Petersburg—until a recent quick look through the notes I'd saved in my E-mail indicated that I, in fact, had had my hands on a copy four years before I bought another one. It must have been lost in the fire that destroyed our house a couple of years ago, or else it must have been a borrowed copy, since returned to its owner. In any event, it was a book that I started but had not, for some reason or another, finished reading. 

However, if it was the case before that a growing collection of Dostoevsky created the need to read The Master of Petersburg, which I am sure it was, this time it's the other way around. Reading Coetzee, reading this particular Coetzee novel, this beautiful and very powerful imagination of Dostoevsky's return to pre-revolutionary Russia after having been summoned from Germany by the mysterious death of his stepson, makes me want to go out and grab a copy of the Dostoevsky novel that I hadn't read: Demons. Where the former ends is where the latter begins.