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- J.D. Salinger (1, 47)
November 10, 2013 12:34 PM   Subscribe

Everything Jonathan Franzen Currently Hates
posted by Sebmojo (110 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
Christ, dude is wicked protective of his lawn.
posted by From Bklyn at 12:45 PM on November 10, 2013 [22 favorites]


Franzen's pompous irascibility and his utterly unearned and inaccurate self-image as some kind of last bastion of intellectual orthopraxy make me want to introduce colonies of extra-ambitious Maine Coon cats into all his favorite "birding" locales, then tweet about it.
posted by Sokka shot first at 12:45 PM on November 10, 2013 [51 favorites]


That's what Jonathan Franzen hates!
So carefully! carefully! with the plates!
posted by ricochet biscuit at 12:51 PM on November 10, 2013 [36 favorites]


Damn. I like this guy.

Not sure if I'm sold on his fiction, but I like this guy.
posted by jason's_planet at 12:53 PM on November 10, 2013 [5 favorites]


Hey, most of the things on this list are things I hate too! Most of them are perfectly reasonable dislikes and loathings. I do wish I knew more about what he likes, though, besides a specific model of laptop and the austere beauty of Windows.
posted by JHarris at 12:54 PM on November 10, 2013 [8 favorites]


"...all telephone handsets not connected to the cradle by means of a curly wire."
posted by griphus at 12:54 PM on November 10, 2013 [8 favorites]


I can't wait for the day when the response to something like this is "Jonathan Who?!" Won't be long now.
posted by chavenet at 12:59 PM on November 10, 2013 [10 favorites]


For now we'll have to settle for "Jonathan, Why?"
posted by griphus at 1:00 PM on November 10, 2013 [10 favorites]


Love that picture capturing him in mid-diatribe scare-quoting. Perfection.
posted by Celsius1414 at 1:00 PM on November 10, 2013 [6 favorites]


I do wish I knew more about what he likes, though

Warblers
Jeff Tweedy
The upper middle class
Narcissism
Swarthmore
Karl Kraus
Publicity
Self-congratulation
posted by RogerB at 1:00 PM on November 10, 2013 [29 favorites]


Either that or mid-Nixon-impression I-am-not-a-crooking.
posted by Celsius1414 at 1:01 PM on November 10, 2013


I cannot stop laughing at his critique of new versions of Windows. Help.
posted by stoneandstar at 1:02 PM on November 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


I mean, I hate them too, but...
posted by stoneandstar at 1:02 PM on November 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


- “Smart-ass adolescents … undermining substance with irony”

Gosh, sorry grand dad. We'll be quiet and behaved; do continue your scolding lectures of such depth and substance.
posted by naju at 1:02 PM on November 10, 2013 [9 favorites]


I do wish I knew more about what he likes, though, besides a specific model of laptop and the austere beauty of Windows.

Jonathan Franzen seems high on the list.

Like most "Great Haters," he's fascinated by the things he claims to despise, to the point that he's effectively committed to them.
posted by kewb at 1:03 PM on November 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


In honor of Franzen’s self-conscious haterade (and his disdain for Internet listicles), here’s a listicle of virtually everything he finds fault with in his annotations.

And, in fact, this listicle sucks. It was clearly made on the quick and framed to generate maximum clicks. What are some of the things that we are invited to laugh at Franzen for disliking?

Fox News

Today’s cable-TV news anchors, who bring the identical tone of urgent wonderment to whatever story they happen to be following.

Conservative critics like Dinesh D’Souza who “directly apply the crude label ‘PC’ to work like Alice Walker’s.

The business models of Facebook and Twitter, “one part pyramid scheme, one part wishful thinking, and one part repugnant panoptical surveillance.

The transformation of Canada’s boreal forest into a toxic lake of tar-sand by-products, the leveling of Asia’s remaining forests for Chinese-made ultra-low-cost porch furniture at Home Depot, the damming of the Amazon and the endgame clear-cutting of its forests for beef and mineral production, the whole mind-set of ‘Screw the consequences, we want to buy a lot of crap and we want to buy it cheap, with overnight free shipping,’ and the direct connection between this American mind-set and the new Chinese prosperity that … funds the slaughter of millions of Pacific sharks for the luxury of their fins and tens of thousands of African elephants for their ivory.


This listicle was written was written by a person. A person named Boris Kachka. Since Kachka seems to find this list funny, it appears he doesn't agree with Franzen on these things, or more likely just doesn't care to bother engaging with anything. Count me on the side of Franzen rather than Kachka's lazy apathy.
posted by Tsuga at 1:03 PM on November 10, 2013 [22 favorites]


I think it's quite possible to agree that Franzen has some legitimate loathings while also noticing that he seems to have rather a lot of loathings, many of which are merely idiosyncratic. Maybe neither he nor Kachka are all that interesting or important.
posted by kewb at 1:05 PM on November 10, 2013 [5 favorites]


Since Kachka seems to find this list funny, it appears he doesn't agree with Franzen on these things

Huh? This is a complete non sequitur. It's very possible to believe Franzen is a tool completely independently of agreeing or disagreeing with any of his positions, I assure you. In fact the superficiality of his performance of cultural politics as a like-dislike shtick is a considerable part of the reason he's a tool.
posted by RogerB at 1:09 PM on November 10, 2013 [12 favorites]


Mr. Franzen also hates:

-The sky
-The feeling of sandpaper on skin
-Faux antique carousals with piped in organ music
-the sea and everything in it
-Pumpkin Spice Chai Lattes
-The moment when you can't remember the color of her eyes
-the film on cooling soup
-The Great Monkey God K'Ctraloth And His Ten Thousand Golden Tails
-Mondays
posted by The Whelk at 1:11 PM on November 10, 2013 [39 favorites]


On the other hand:

Writers who “report listening to Beethoven or Arcade Fire while at work. How do they pay attention to two things at once?” (1, 53)

To quote noted philosopher (and mefite) Adam Savage, "Well, there's your problem!"
posted by Celsius1414 at 1:12 PM on November 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


Pretty spot on! And I would say a majority of the people who find fault with his semi-tongue-in-cheek complaints must be getting hit too close to home! Now get back to photographing your food and posting all your Machu Picchu shots on Instagram.
posted by ReeMonster at 1:15 PM on November 10, 2013 [7 favorites]


What's "like-dislike shtick"? Franzen likes some things and dislikes some things. Me too. Don't you? The article is just LOL at this guy's sincerity.
posted by Tsuga at 1:15 PM on November 10, 2013 [4 favorites]


I like his fiction quite a bit. His essays are fun to read too, in small doses. But the non-stop complaining about everything new gets a bit tiresome after a while, no matter how much I agree with him about most of it.

Sadly, we just can't dis-invent Wii and Twitter no matter how much we want to.
posted by freakazoid at 1:15 PM on November 10, 2013


I find fault with his tedious complaining because he's not saying anything everyone else hasn't thought, but he takes it to new levels of self-absorption and pettiness. If they're semi-tongue-in-cheek he needs a sense of humor first.
posted by stoneandstar at 1:21 PM on November 10, 2013 [4 favorites]


I've tried and failed more than once to penetrate his fiction without falling asleep or tossing aside the book in frustration, but the fact that he and I hate some of the same things makes me hate him a bit less. Not a lot less, though.
posted by jalexei at 1:23 PM on November 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Now get back to photographing your food and posting all your Machu Picchu shots on Instagram.

That's the thing, though. Franzen's rants are his version of food photography. It's as narcissistic as anything on Instagram. I mean, more power to him, but it's hard to take him seriously at this point.
posted by Celsius1414 at 1:24 PM on November 10, 2013 [7 favorites]


On the other hand:

Writers who “report listening to Beethoven or Arcade Fire while at work. How do they pay attention to two things at once?” (1, 53)

To quote noted philosopher (and mefite) Adam Savage, "Well, there's your problem!"


Except here's the quote in context:

"For somebody who claims not to be musical, Kraus knows an awful lot about music. But his resistance to music while working is a point of identification with me. I'm always amazed when writers report listening to Beethoven or Arcade Fire while at work. How do they pay attention to two things at once?"

Which seems pretty innocuous. I enjoy listening to music while working, my girlfriend finds it too distracting. No hating here, just amazement. I wonder how many other things on the list were taken out of context?
posted by Tsuga at 1:24 PM on November 10, 2013 [13 favorites]


Franzen likes some things and dislikes some things. Me too. Don't you?

Have you actually read any of Franzen's writing, either his fiction or his essays, at all, or even followed the several cultural-politics controversies that he's seemingly intentionally provoked with his high-profile curmudgeon act in the last couple of years? Because it seems like maybe you're missing some background here, both about who he is and about why people might mock him. Here, take a look at some of the previous threads about his cultural proclamations: 1 2 3
posted by RogerB at 1:27 PM on November 10, 2013


What's "like-dislike shtick"? Franzen likes some things and dislikes some things. Me too. Don't you? The article is just LOL at this guy's sincerity.

The difference is my complaining about my Facebook friends who post the latest POLITICAL OUTRAGE OF THE WEEK or Abused Dog In My Town That No One Lives In doesn't merit a spot on the New York Times as Important Cultural Commentary and read as "What's the deal with airline peanuts?" only it's a serious lament about a semi-absurd topic. Twitter is banal? Twitter was NAMED Twitter because it's banal.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 1:27 PM on November 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


Now get back to photographing your food and posting all your Machu Picchu shots on Instagram.

A D    H O M I N E M    : )    : )    : )

Anyway, what gets to me is the humorlessness, the uncharitableness, the presumption to know another's reasons for doing anything. He complains about snark, but this sort of assumed superiority is snark's sneering heart. It belies a lack of empathy, and that I cannot abide.

His drive-by dismissals are at least as easy and lazy and shallow as the tech-culture ephemera he claims to loathe, and it's the hypocrisy of that which rankles so.
posted by Sokka shot first at 1:29 PM on November 10, 2013 [8 favorites]


"I hate Jonathan Franzen so much. I hate that guy.” -Lynda Barry (via)
posted by TheGoodBlood at 1:31 PM on November 10, 2013 [9 favorites]


Twitter is banal? Twitter was NAMED Twitter because it's banal.

Ha! Thank you for this - I'll be using it at parties.
posted by jalexei at 1:32 PM on November 10, 2013 [4 favorites]


One can only truly hate Jonathan Franzen, once Chuck Klosterman says it's OK to do so.

In McSweeney's.
posted by timsteil at 1:34 PM on November 10, 2013 [4 favorites]


#franzenhates
posted by Artw at 1:34 PM on November 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


I dunno, I dislike almost all that stuff too... I guess I vaguely knew that Franzen was known for hating things... That can be funny or insightful or annoying, depending... But anyway, I mostly condone his taste...

Except for the J. D. Salinger thing...

Back off of J. D. Salinger, man.
posted by Fists O'Fury at 1:41 PM on November 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


Yeah, man, my ability to tolerate even the sound of his name is curving downward at an astonishing rate. And I actually liked his snobby take on literature.
posted by nevercalm at 1:43 PM on November 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Have you actually read any of Franzen's writing, either his fiction or his essays, at all, or even followed the several cultural-politics controversies that he's seemingly intentionally provoked with his high-profile curmudgeon act in the last couple of years? Because it seems like maybe you're missing some background here, both about who he is and about why people might mock him. Here, take a look at some of the previous threads about his cultural proclamations: 1 2 3

Yes, I've read lots of his stuff, and lots of stuff written about him, and those threads. And I would probably agree with some of the points of a well-thought-out critique of him. But this listicle is just obnoxious crap.
posted by Tsuga at 1:43 PM on November 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


Ha, this reminds me of the opinions that a well-loved but obnoxious and intelligent friend might pose: you agree with a good few completely and appreciate their wisdom, sympathize but perhaps don't agree with more, and are amused by the rest because of the fierce indifference to how they will be received. Or, "no, you're not wrong, you're just an asshole."

More things I imagine he hates:

-The professionalization of gossip, complaint, and low-brow hermeneutics that the internet has potentiated
-The unjustifiably high price of lamb shanks since the 2008 economic collapse
-The problem of lacking sufficient time to explore and find fault with everything
-The stultifying banality of class-agnostic modern identity politics
-Butchers who can no longer be bothered to show even a modicum of respect for long-time customers who merely want to know if there are other lamb shanks behind the counter
-The inability of haptic screen technology to accommodate the hands of digital non-natives
-The tendency of the young intellectual elite to abandon their country, and never return with the intellectual or perspectival fruits of life abroad
-Seth Rogen
-The wildly atavistic devolution of masculinity that people like Seth Rogen represent
-Women who cannot appreciate the vivid sublimity of perfectly-cooked lamb shanks nor, even less defensibly, a playfully erudite disquisition on the origins of lamb
posted by clockzero at 1:46 PM on November 10, 2013 [30 favorites]


Franzen? I thought Jeff Daniels' character on "The Newsroom" was named McAvoy or something.
posted by bleep-blop at 1:47 PM on November 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


He complains about snark, but this sort of assumed superiority is snark's sneering heart. It belies a lack of empathy, and that I cannot abide.

That is not accurate. Some snark, the best snark in fact, comes from reacting to others' failure to show empathy.
posted by JHarris at 1:48 PM on November 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


- Hemingway: “would he actually have had anything to say if he’d been forced to stay at home?” (1, 20)

It's almost like the art isn't what you say but how you say it.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 2:05 PM on November 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


"I hate Jonathan Franzen so much. I hate that guy.” -Lynda Barry

from that article-
To her, turning down Oprah Winfrey revealed a disdain for viewers who look to Winfrey for advice. “When I saw him, I felt sick.” But then, she said, she realized there’s no difference between what she viewed as Franzen’s dismissal of lowbrow readers and her dismissal of highbrow Franzen. “It’s just I’m doing it from below, and he’s doing it from above.”
Hey, she's just like metafilter, but with more self-awareness.

If it weren't for ressentiments, I sometimes think, we'd have no sentiments at all.

Hey, don't get me wrong- I hate probably all the stuff Franzen does, and I ain't too fond of him either, plus I'm tired of people hating on him. It's like a Cantorian infinity of dislikes!
posted by hap_hazard at 2:18 PM on November 10, 2013 [7 favorites]


He sounds like a pretentious, grown-up version of this.
posted by 4ster at 2:21 PM on November 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


He only recently switched from AOL? Man, that is a real stick-in-the-mud curmudgeon! He should get Andy Rooney's old spot on 60 Minutes. ("Restart? Why should I want to restart? I want to turn the damn thing off!")
posted by CCBC at 2:32 PM on November 10, 2013 [4 favorites]


It's a shame because he has a lot of potential as a writer. He creates amazing set-ups, and then seems to simply disdain the hard work of bringing the story to a fitting conclusion. It happens in the unintentionally comical ending of Dissident Gardens, and in the frankly atrocious second half of The Fortress of Solitude. He has gifts, but he is almost criminally lazy with them. The cranky, arbitrary hatred of things is certainly not a new thing for famous novelists, but man you better be able to back that shit up and do the hard work of actually finishing your stories.
posted by drjimmy11 at 2:36 PM on November 10, 2013


Which is to say, if he honestly sees himself as "highbrow," he has a LOT of intellectual heavy lifting to do. You're either telling stories that mean something to people, or you're filling pages with empty "high-tone" signifiers like a second-rate "Frasier" script.
posted by drjimmy11 at 2:38 PM on November 10, 2013 [4 favorites]


no that's Lethem, the likeable Jonathan writer
posted by BitterOldPunk at 2:48 PM on November 10, 2013 [5 favorites]


Lethem: the Jonathan it's OK to like
posted by RogerB at 2:58 PM on November 10, 2013 [10 favorites]


i keep on confusing him with the hockey player for the Red Wings, know nothing about him, except that a lot of folks here loathe him, but this list is hy-larious!

Guys, you really need to read this list with the voice of Grampa Simpson or Professor Farnsworth in your head.
posted by bitteroldman at 2:59 PM on November 10, 2013


Lethem: the Jonathan it's OK to like

highly over-rated though.

I can think of one short story that blew me away. Everything else, just not that essential.

conclusion reached upon finishing Fortress of Solitude and realizing he'd been doing a Don DeLillo Underworld, except not as good, and I didn't even like Underworld that much. Tell stories, people, not riffs.
posted by philip-random at 3:04 PM on November 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


Get a load of this guy.
posted by turbid dahlia at 3:04 PM on November 10, 2013


Ha! Thank you for this - I'll be using it at parties.

Seriously though:

Dorsey has explained the origin of the "Twitter" title: ...we came across the word 'twitter', and it was just perfect. The definition was 'a short burst of inconsequential information,' and 'chirps from birds'. And that's exactly what the product was.[20]


It's like if Instagram was named LunchPics.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 3:09 PM on November 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


Buh. I don't see the point in going on and on about hating Jonathan Franzen. He's writing a particular sort of novel that melds one kind of ambitious narrative model with generally engaging prose, relatable characters, etc. He's a crank about things he doesn't like, but he's smart enough about not liking those things that he often gets to a point despite his crankiness. Generally speaking, he's one of the good guys, and while I enjoy sticking pins into pompous people every now and then this thread and its condemnations are way more unpleasant reads than anything Jonathan Franzen has ever written.
posted by Rory Marinich at 3:22 PM on November 10, 2013 [11 favorites]


highly over-rated though.

Maybe, I guess? But my sense is that Lethem's reputation and the quality of his work are much nearer in sync than the other Jonathans (that is, people mostly acknowledge both that he has a ton of talent and that his books are flawed in certain ways), but his public persona is so much smarter and more self-aware that it's not even a fair fight. Anyhow, Chronic City is a shitload of fun and people should read it more.
posted by RogerB at 3:25 PM on November 10, 2013


Hemingway: “would he actually have had anything to say if he’d been forced to stay at home?” (1, 20)

I mean probably true of all writers unless you write, as Franzen has, about family.

There's a lot of shit I hate that he hates. I don't get the Franzen hate. Except for that Freedom isn't a very good book, and it got a lot of praise. But The Corrections is great. Some of his essays are great. The Second City sucked but that book with the sort of competing love affairs that followed it was pretty good. Just let the man hate.
posted by angrycat at 3:43 PM on November 10, 2013


Anybody who likes Lenovo Ultrabooks can't be ALL bad. (And yes, I continued using XP until a year after 7 was introduced, missing Vista entirely - that's not curmudgeonly, that's sensible). Of course there are authors still alive today who've written better novels than Franzen's with clunky Underwood typewriters...

But yet, I agree with almost half of his "hates", with another large portion I can disagree with respectfully and just enough of them that he explains in a thoroughly assholish manner to endanger the credibility of his rantings. Still, better than Thomas Friedman's "passion".

-written on a Lenovo T400
posted by oneswellfoop at 3:44 PM on November 10, 2013


agreed Letham is overrated. Thank you once again metafilter for justifying my snobbery.
posted by angrycat at 3:48 PM on November 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


who is that other Jonathan Brooklyn Writer who annoys me. He got an HBO show recently? Is is married/ dating that woman who did a sort of Ur-Sex in the City thing in City Paper like in the nineties?
posted by angrycat at 3:50 PM on November 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Ames? Wait there is another ones.

Damnit people I'm going by J. last name when I write from now on. Too many Jonathans.
posted by The Whelk at 3:51 PM on November 10, 2013


> his utterly unearned and inaccurate self-image as some kind of last bastion of intellectual orthopraxy

Hey now, what about mine?
posted by jfuller at 3:55 PM on November 10, 2013


So I was just out doing stuff and driving home and suddenly was like

OH SHIT I CONFUSED JONATHAN NOVELISTS ON MEFI! and rushed back in to correct myself.

True story. Didn't Lethem recently hate some stuff too, though?
posted by drjimmy11 at 4:00 PM on November 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


Twitter is banal? Twitter was NAMED Twitter because it's banal.

It’s sort of like the apparently large percentage of people who don’t seem to realize that the name "Tinsel Town" is an insult.
posted by bongo_x at 4:04 PM on November 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


In my defense I think my comment can still basically stand if you just sub out my critiques of Lethem for that part in Freedom where they have a dinner party and everyone is philosophizing and each happen to use the word "freedom" like eight time each, and also that other part where he feels the embarrassing need to prove he knows what the kids are hip with by mentioning Bright Eyes.
posted by drjimmy11 at 4:05 PM on November 10, 2013


But I never got the hate for the Mac guy in the TV commercials. I think you need to have a lot of the "What, you think you’re better than me?" hormone.
posted by bongo_x at 4:06 PM on November 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


apparently large percentage of people who don’t seem to realize that the name "Tinsel Town" is an insult.

No resident of Los Angeles ever says that phrase for any reason, so as far as I know the only purpose it is used for is those cliched, utterly content-less critiques of "phonies" in "Hollywood."
posted by drjimmy11 at 4:07 PM on November 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Jonathan Safran Foer - the Jose Carreras of novelists
posted by timsteil at 4:08 PM on November 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Hemingway: “would he actually have had anything to say if he’d been forced to stay at home?” (1, 20)

I mean probably true of all writers unless you write, as Franzen has, about family.


Yeah, I think this critique of Hemingway is more nakedly arbitrary than almost anything else on this list, actually. I understand the impulse to pick bones with famous practitioners of one's craft, but I think there's quite a bit to be said for having the critical detachment necessary for appreciating things you don't necessarily like or agree with as a way of participating in great traditions.

But on the other hand, sometimes being intimately familiar with (for example) literature and its practice can render the act of experiencing extant work almost excruciating, because you can't just read, you always also see into and through it and thereby notice how everything is being made to work, and that really takes some of the joy out of it.

Jonathan Safran Foer - the Jose Carreras of novelists

Ha. After reading the first two pages of his first novel, I threw it away; a few weeks later, being that I lived in NYC at the time, I really thought I spotted him in the subway and felt a powerful urge to jump him and break his nose while screaming that we didn't survive the holocaust only to be subjected to this crap festival of a novel about it.
posted by clockzero at 4:15 PM on November 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


a few weeks later, being that I lived in NYC at the time, I really thought I spotted him in the subway and felt a powerful urge to jump him

This is like when I spent an entire lunch trying to both engage with my dining companion and give Arron Sorkin The Biggest Stink Eye In The World from across the room.
posted by The Whelk at 4:22 PM on November 10, 2013


All I know is that reading the comments on Ars Technica posts about Apple is going to be a lot more fun now that I can imagine that half of them were written by Jonathan Franzen.
posted by Ian A.T. at 4:24 PM on November 10, 2013 [7 favorites]


I really thought I spotted him in the subway

You probably did. A woman I knew some years ago was reading Everything Is Illuminated on the F train, and hating every word of it, only to look up and see Safran Foer sitting across the aisle, eyeing her expectantly. She spent the rest of the ride desperately trying to avoid making eye contact and practically sprinted out at her stop. This has always seemed like a real New York horror story to me.
posted by RogerB at 4:28 PM on November 10, 2013 [31 favorites]


I don't see the point in going on and on about hating Jonathan Franzen.

It's the perfect subject of discussion for a place like Metafilter. Communities need shared beliefs; a broad, loose online community based on mostly-idle chatter needs beliefs that are easy to share, but also easy to disagree with (since otherwise there wouldn't be anything to talk about) without disrupting the community. Franzen is easy to dislike -- his opinions are banal, yet he has a public platform and takes himself very seriously -- but no one really cares that much about him either way, so there's no social cost to disagreement.
posted by twirlip at 4:32 PM on November 10, 2013 [8 favorites]


I have a very complicated intellectual relationship to Krauss, mostly revolving around loving people who loved his writing, and having so little of his writing available in English, and what is being out of print since the early 80s. I think that he is important in how he takes down things like psychoanalysis and worrisome for his (for example) misogyny or anti-Semitic self loathing. I am glad there is more work being translated (i mean this guy wrote an 800 page play, and tens of thousands of newspaper columns, we are never going to get everything translated, and i should eventually breakdown and read German)

Part of what Franzen is doing, is trying to use his heft to get Kraus some play, and using Krausian forms to do so, considering I think Franzen is kind of a terrible writer, or at least not nearly as interesting a writer as other Kraus defenders (Brecht, Benjamin), we sort of get this watered down, bad contextualization of someone who deserves better.
posted by PinkMoose at 4:34 PM on November 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


This has always seemed like a real New York horror story to me.

Not me! I keep hoping to spot Augusten Burroughs at Fairway so I can smack him upside his big trite bald head with a sack of apples.
posted by The Whelk at 4:42 PM on November 10, 2013 [5 favorites]


A woman I knew some years ago was reading Everything Is Illuminated on the F train, and hating every word of it, only to look up and see Safran Foer sitting across the aisle, eyeing her expectantly. She spent the rest of the ride desperately trying to avoid making eye contact and practically sprinted out at her stop. This has always seemed like a real New York horror story to me.

The best part is that the horror cuts both ways: one the one hand, you have the horror of the woman who is stalked by the writer; on the other hand, you have the writer whose self-worth depends on what random stranger reading his book on the subway thinks of his work. I mean, both leave me screaming, frankly.
posted by angrycat at 4:50 PM on November 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


I really did have him mixed up with Safran Foer and thought some of this guy's peeves are kinda insightful or at least well articulated. Now I have all my Jonathans straight - Franzen, Lethem and Safran Foer.
posted by ChuckRamone at 4:59 PM on November 10, 2013


this thread and its condemnations are way more unpleasant reads than anything Jonathan Franzen has ever written

I would have taken issue with this assessment. Then I realized that it was itself a condemnation unpleasant to read.

Now I see your point. Do I have to read Franzen now?
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 5:04 PM on November 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


I would love to eavesdrop on a conversation between Franzen and Lee Siegel.

Franzen's shtick is dull because A) none of his peeves are all that surprising and B) because he's not really a very good hater. Unlike, say, Clive James or Christopher Hitchens, two other writers who worked consciously in the shadow of Kraus, there's no sting, no relish to Franzen's complaints, so he comes off as less of a Jeremiah and more as Oscar the Grouch.
posted by octobersurprise at 5:21 PM on November 10, 2013


The front page of the New York Post.

That's going way too far, rat bastard New Yorker imposter.
posted by thinkpiece at 5:27 PM on November 10, 2013


"Jonathan Who?!" Won't be long now.

Is this the guy that played the captain on the second start trek series?
posted by sammyo at 5:30 PM on November 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm changing my name to Unquie B. Goodwriters
posted by The Whelk at 5:30 PM on November 10, 2013


I'm changing my name to

I'm going with Jonathon Novelist. Then I won't have to answer that annoying, "What do you do?" question any more.
posted by philip-random at 5:53 PM on November 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


And the return to the medieval guild system is complete.
posted by The Whelk at 6:07 PM on November 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


Reviewers take note: "Journeyman novelist" is now a useful description.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 6:15 PM on November 10, 2013


This list convinced me that my dislike for Franzen stems more from clickbait than from the man himself.

He still has a weird, pre-computers way of thinking/talking about media, for instance how TV pops in his essays, and that plus other little signals mean that for all we're both white guys who read books he is not really talking to me although he probably thinks he is, but hey at least he's not writing listicles.
posted by postcommunism at 6:59 PM on November 10, 2013


I glaze over in boredom and pretension every time I hear the word "Franzen," and dear god, I can't find anything he does to be interesting.... but I do have to give him a begrudging thumbs up for being against social networking and saying it's stupid and not giving a shit. Everyone these days (especially writers) seems to be required to worship Facebook and Twitter and are told that they won't have a career without them, but he somehow manages it. All right for him.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:39 PM on November 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


Because he started his career decades earlier with lots of connections* I thinks.

*the kind made by SOCIAL MEDIA
posted by The Whelk at 7:41 PM on November 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


I hate this guy, always moaning about "Modern love" and protesting secretaries working in the government center. Stop And Shop--is that even a real store? And why does he think lesbians are better dancers than other people? Blow your nose, adenoid-man!
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:52 PM on November 10, 2013 [4 favorites]


But you have to admit he was great as Mork's kid.
posted by escabeche at 8:35 PM on November 10, 2013 [4 favorites]


I tried to achieve literary notoriety with a long and articulate litany of my dislikes written and rehearsed to be vented in luscious pornographic detail at parties and interviews and all I got was this stack of unpublished manuscripts and fewer invitations to parties and interviews.
posted by sonascope at 4:28 AM on November 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


Having tried like heck to make it through The Corrections before giving up when I realized it had no new ideas, I find it odd that Franzen takes a shot at Updike. The novel really fits within the genre of "middle-aged white guy's postwar Great American Novel" codified by the Rabbit books.

It's a pile of MFA-novelist clichés, from the distant and flawed Midwestern patriarch suffering at twilight to the mother unimpressed by her children to the de rigeur parodies of academics as silly, venal fools.

And the take on novelistic form and structure is so shopworn at this point that Franzen's complaints about Pynchon and computers strike me as the words of a guy who doesn't get technology and is upset that he might have to. Read someone like W.G. Sebald or even David Markson, or, hell, go back to the high modernist novel and you will find experiments and ideas that Franzen couldn't work up in a million years of frustrated introspection.

Franzen's a bore.
posted by kewb at 4:43 AM on November 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


Franzen is easy to dislike -- his opinions are banal

What I find problematic, in part, is that Franzen is a longform writer whose approach involves a lot of searching up and down along an idea to expose its nuances and subtlety. He'll bring up a lot of tangents, not to meander, but to make the shape of what he's trying to say a lot more clear. I have the opposite views as he does on social media, for instance, but at the same time I appreciate how insightful he is as to its nature and function: it refines my understanding of what I get out of it, by pointing out to me all the ways in which it varies from the approach Franzen himself most values. And a part of that is that he's clearly aware that his opinions are not the norm; I don't detect an arrogant "last intelligent man on earth" vibe from him so much as it always seems like he's nervous that perhaps his way of doing things is no longer relevant. Which, well, many of his critics are quick to jump on him and say "You are absolutely correct."

But it's easy to take a writer who's attempting to sort out his own ideas, pick upon a couple of the points they hit upon as they're shaping things up, and basically reduce them to a stereotype because of it, and that's what I find highly unpleasant about some of the media response to Franzen. Articles like this aren't actually providing a critique of Franzen and his outlook—they're excerpting him in a manner that makes him look like a part of the media circus that he's constantly trying to get out from under. I mean, Franzen's not exactly going for easy popular appeal with The Kraus Project: translated obscure German satire is not what the kids are going in for these days. Clearly Franzen loves this guy and thinks that his critiques of technology and culture are somewhat valid, and spent a lot of time grappling with his work, which is all-but-dismissed by an approach to Franzen that's like, "Lol! Jonathan Franzen just hates everything!"

The irony, of course, is that Franzen is acutely aware of this dynamic, which is why the Vulture article includes among its many snippets this particular hate:
“The tyranny of niceness, in contemporary fiction, [which] is enforced by terror of the Internet and its ninth-grade social dynamics … To attempt a harsh critique of the electronic system that reduces writers to these bromides is to risk having it become common ‘knowledge’ that you’re a hater, a loner, not one of us.”
...which is harder to trivialize and dismiss when that's exactly the response he and his work gets. I mean, he's not rambling on about hating Twitter here; a lot of the points he makes about technology are interesting (and I love his critique of the modern Windows aesthetic, which applies equally to how Google's been ruining their web designs as of late), and he clearly has a sense of humor about this all. Even in the things he's less completely sophisticated about, such as the fake rock bands he invents in Freedom, have a kind of broad slapsticky quality to them that completely betrays this notion that the guy is a fuddy-duddy crank. I think it's got to be the way that high school students miss how hilarious Herman Melville is: they come to an author so convinced that they're in for a pretentious, boring, bad time that everything they read strikes them as contrived and overbearing rather than as, well, really quite funny. I don't have my copy of Freedom on hand anymore, or else I'd quote passages, but there was that one passage where he recites a bunch of "yuppie" questions to the point where it gets kind of suffocating, and critics simultaneously attacked him for being too concerned with displaying his environmental sensitivity and for mocking people who were displaying environmental sensitivity, rather than noticing that the recitation is a) deliberately suffocating b) pointing out that worrying about very real issues can sometimes lead to absurdity and exhausting c) really freaking funny.

I mean, I'm not even an enormous Jonathan Franzen fan. I read this and was absolutely coming in to make a couple of critiques of the guy and his relationship with social media—to point out, for instance, that the loss for professional critics that be bemoans might be made up for in how the Internet gives voice to disenfranchised groups that had no easy way of broadcasting their message before, and how the traditional estates that he values are in fact deeply problematic of their own. I have my own litany of Franzen critiques, as I have with most authors who dare to write multiple lengthy essays where they attempt to express their discomfort with society. But I couldn't bring myself to get into a groove with those, because the criticisms fired at him in this thread are so damned self-congratulatory and so disrespectful of the guy's actual work. MetaFilter likes to get its hate on, sure, but when the target is an intelligent, passionate dude who believes in expressing difficult ideas with some amount of subtlety I've got to feel a little sad.
posted by Rory Marinich at 4:58 AM on November 11, 2013 [13 favorites]


Salieri was a pretty ok composer too.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 5:02 AM on November 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah, one of the major problems with the whole Mozart/Salieri thing popularized by Amadeus is that first off, great composers draw from the many composers around them and can't be considered geniuses in isolation, and second off, the qualities that make a work of art "timeless" or memorable over centuries are not necessarily the qualities by which we ought to be upholding all art. Mozart's wonderful, but Salieri freaking taught Beethoven, Liszt, and Schubert, so it's not like the world exactly left him behind.
posted by Rory Marinich at 5:06 AM on November 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


Rory, what you're describing in Franzen's writing isn't writing, it's drafting. Even so, I'd like him a lot better if he weren't so safe, so conventional in his insights and his work. His novels don't offer much in terms of ideas or technique, form or content, to me; they fit within a very narrow, critically-approved range of style and substance and don't stray beyond it.

Maybe the deeper problem is simply that Franzen offers a subtler, more sophisticated version of a dominant cultural perspective that's already visibly fading. There's something uncomfortably constricted about his vision; the ideas he shapes with such nuance don't have much scope or cultural inclusivity, and he seems above all else uninterested in improving those features.

He wants to be a Great American Novelist in a time when the Great National Novel doesn't really make very much sense as an ambition. More than that, he seems to have bought into the whole "anxiety of influence" thing: the writers he takes shots at are the very architects of the tradition within which he works, which he never ventures outside of, a tradition in which searching examinations of middle--to-upper class experience purport to tell "the American story" in its entirety.
posted by kewb at 5:35 AM on November 11, 2013 [4 favorites]


"Johnathan Franzen makes me want to kill a lot of rare birds. On the other hand, I am a crazy person."
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 6:30 AM on November 11, 2013


And a part of that is that he's clearly aware that his opinions are not the norm

You see, this is the funny part—I don't think Jonathan Franzen has an opinion that isn't within "the norm," broadly speaking, among educated urban Westerners. Anywhere from a few to a lot of participants right here on metafilter have endorsed every peeve on that list. And there's nothing wrong with that; he needn't suddenly start advocating cannibalism. But often I get the feeling that he thinks that his opinions are outside the norm and therein lies the comedy. That he doesn't seem to really relish these bun fights—his attitude often seems less arrogant than defensive—only makes him (sadly, maybe) better copy.

I am looking forward to reading his Kraus translation and now I want to read his memoir, of which I was unaware, also. And it should be said: big points to Franzen for not casting himself as H.L. Mencken like every other hack who fancies himself a cultural curmudgeon.
posted by octobersurprise at 7:05 AM on November 11, 2013 [4 favorites]


I read a nonfiction collection of his years ago that was excellent, especially a well-researched piece about urban postal delivery from 1994. But it included one attack on anti-smoking policies that was outside the norm, even for the time (arguing that little-to-nothing the government had ever done in re to smoking cessation had worked, which went against harder-than-hard evidence). I wish I could write the way he does in those essays, sometimes. It seemed like it was easy for him.

I should probably note here that I enjoyed "The Corrections," although I disliked "Freedom. It went down easy, as far as the writing went, but the characters were nearly All Assholes All the Time, and the book left a bitter aftertaste. The cat stuff was bizarre too. They seemed like they were written by different people, in some ways, disregarding the writing style.
posted by raysmj at 8:33 AM on November 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


Pfft. Smart-ass adolescents … undermining substance with irony.

No, really, I'm totally not being ironic here.

Man, it's like a t.v. camera loop.
posted by Smedleyman at 10:45 AM on November 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


-The professionalization of gossip, complaint, and low-brow hermeneutics that the internet has potentiated

As an aspiring hermenaut, I find this comment offensive, and dislike it intensely.

Also:
Day-old baguettes
A sock with a hole at the big toe.
Time-Warner cable's online TV listings
Several other things built in Flash
Logging in via Facebook
That musty smell
When my chapstick goes through the wash & dryer
70% of people who don't come to a complete goddam stop any more
Having to ask for green sauce. Put it on the menu. No one will die!
Hipsters in the street, oblivious to cars, phone-in-face.
All smartphones, except mine
iCal 5.0.3
That old guy on ESPN who calls it "The Paint-ED Area."
the 6 highly-visible grand pianos in my neighborhood, which no one ever plays.
Any car more expensive than mine
Ties that don't have the tuck-in flap for the thin part in the back
All this unpleasantness
posted by Devils Rancher at 10:54 AM on November 11, 2013 [4 favorites]


Oh, I just realized he's ranting about cheap Chinese manufacturing and its destruction of the environment ... which he typed on his Lenovo Ultrabook.
posted by ChuckRamone at 11:03 AM on November 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


Good gravy, he is ripping off Sei Shonagon without the dry humor of the original 10th century diarist. From her Pillow Book you get the list of hateful things.

This lawn that everyone needs to get off of is very old.
posted by jadepearl at 11:15 AM on November 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


this thread is observing a strange, yet predictable flow.

unrestricted flow of comments that disparage Mr. Franzen and his work ...

Counterpoint from Rory M which diverts things somewhat, leads to a smattering of similar comments ...

more unrestricted disparaging ...

Another counterpoint from Rory M ...

and so on ...
posted by philip-random at 11:25 AM on November 11, 2013


As an aspiring hermenaut

Huh. I had completely forgotten about that time Mark Dery showed up.
posted by octobersurprise at 12:13 PM on November 11, 2013


Nothing about cats? Disappointing.
posted by jpe at 3:01 PM on November 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


Everything Left 4 Dead's Francis Currently Hates
posted by radwolf76 at 1:58 AM on November 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Puff Daddy's work with Ma$e is relatively fun too.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:58 AM on November 12, 2013


I really just think Johnathan Franzen is a terrible novelist, having read The Corrections and Freedom (which I hated more than I thought I could hate a readable book partially set in my hometown area). Freedom especially was so punishing of women that I really am unable to be convinced that he's not just a petty, self-important man who would benefit from a chill pill and a day or two of careful self-reflection. His "sense of humor" about himself feels so forced to me, it's basically self-deprecation at it's most nakedly paranoid. Gahh, Franzen.
posted by stoneandstar at 6:34 PM on November 13, 2013


Also, I think that he should become significantly more knowledgeable about the things he would seek to critique. The way he usually complains, it just comes off as sour grapes. He could spend a second or two understanding why other people like them, maybe. Like, legitimately understanding, and not chalking it up to their soda-addled Mac-loving Twitterbrains, or whatever. I prefer critiques of things that actually exist.
posted by stoneandstar at 6:36 PM on November 13, 2013


From his novels I got the feeling he was someone who has never successfully told a joke.
posted by The Whelk at 7:43 PM on November 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


He was quite cheery and engaging at the one appearance he did for the latest book. Santa Cruz for the win, though it's about 36 degrees.
posted by ambient2 at 9:25 PM on December 9, 2013


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