Sunday, September 26, 2010

Blog 9: Romantics vs. Rationalists

Webb tackles the concept of 'new journalism' that I struggle with the most: addressing the subjective thoughts inside a person's head while still factually reporting what is happening outside of that head.  I have difficulty reconciling such a questionable, 'factual' reporting ground and still calling the pieces truthful journalism.

The scale provided by Webb asserts that a person cannot be purely realist or purely romantic; instead, they have a bit of both.  Where is an audience to assimilate, though?  At what point must a writer share with an audience that a work is mostly romantic or mostly realist, when both works appear on the same page?  Or are we expected to discern for ourselves when each piece comes in the same package with the same wrapper?  Or believe that they are the same and not try to make differentiations?  Most of the pieces we have read proclaim to be factual reporting; Hersey and Capote both believe their writing to be pure truth without any conjectures.

Yet their writing is categorized with Wolfe's, who believes that reality is internal.  Instead of arguing about names and constraints, shouldn't we find categories and subcategories for this literature?  If Capote, Hersey, Herr and Boswell wrote with the belief that truth is external and must be made apparent by external factors, should they be grouped with Wolfe and LeBlanc, who create a world based on their opinion of the truth around them, including their perception of someone else's perceptions and feelings?

Also, is there a degree that must be reached for one to admit their writing is primarily romantic or mostly realistic?  Should we classify these writings in different sections, set apart by percentages of truthfulness?  This is not to say that the merit of writing should be judged according to the amount of truth that is found in the pages.  Each writing is remarkable and noteworthy in its own right.  I just feel that if there were other categories of writing rather than "journalism" and the still-not-widely-accepted/liked "new journalism" we could stop quibbling about specifics and worry about the writing and what makes each so impressive.

Capote and Hersey claim to be cut from a different cloth than Wolfe or Whitman because of their reportage but none of these writers were even present for the things they wrote about.  Wolfe's writing even has the chance to be more accurate because he has footage and video of the events he writes about; Hersey and Capote have people's thoughts and memories.  Defoe purported that his writing was factual and yet audiences today see too many irreconcilable differences in facts and his work.

Boswell works with Webb's idea well.  He writes in a factual style, was present for the encounters he reproduced, and when he makes a claim that is subjective, does not try to pass it off as anything but that.  The audience is able to see when he is making a statement based on what he saw versus reporting what he saw.  In this way, he shows the audience both the subjective feelings of human beings that Webb refers to and the factual side, ie, these people met, at this time and place to discuss this issue...

Question: If you were to rename and classify new journalism with many different subcategories, what would you name it and how would you break the writings apart?  What litmus test would you use to say where each piece of writing should go and why?

Monday, September 20, 2010

Blog 7: In Cold Blood

As Dick and Perry begin to confess their crimes and statements are made (the tapes or scripts presumably where Capote got his dialogue), the dialogue takes on a much bigger role.  There is much less vague referencing than in the first parts; the characters interact and the specific dialogue makes the scenes more intense.  Dick and Perry's exchanges/confessions about the murder and each of their feelings about what happened make the story more brutal and horrifying.

The scene by scene construction is especially evident in the retelling of the murder scene.  Over and over, the audience is readmitted to the site where the family is killed.  Each time, the reader sees the house as the characters see it: as home to the Clutters, as a scene of violence and horror to the girls, as a murder site for the men and detectives, as a scene of despair and hatred and conniving evil to the murderers.  Each time Capote describes the house and rooms, he reformats the appearance to show what stuck out to each character and what they felt (which could support the fiction aspect of this novel if the characters didn't tell him how they felt).

This could also tie into status details.  What each character noted in the scene makes obvious what most appealed to each character.  The murderers rarely note the blood or any detail that might tell of the violence and brutality of their crime.  Instead, Perry says he "aimed the gun.  The room just exploded.  Went blue.  Just blazed up.  Jesus, I'll never understand why they didn't hear the noise twenty miles around" (244).  Instead of worrying about blood and mess, Perry worried about how loud they were and getting caught.  More status details are mentioned in reference to the men's families.  The way each is described and how they relate to their families proves another interesting piece of status detail.  Perry's disgust with his father and sister is contrasted with the admiration that Dick feels towards his parents.  Yet Perry is the one that gets sappy over the moonlight and cries about nothing in particular, then admits to robbing an old woman and not feeling bad about it! (192-93).  The relation of these attributes makes the story more intriguing and twisted.

The structure of the narrative is novelistic.  Capote has two different stories running on two planes; while he tells each one horizontally, in an almost chronological way, they run towards each other like train tracks, eventually intersecting.  In that sense, Capote had to make each travel vertically so that they could reach each other.  There were several points that caught my attention in the novel as reportage.  "Part flu.  But mostly sheer excitement," he later informed a journalist" (216).  "And Dick, awake in a cell on the floor below, was (he later recalled) equally eager to converse with Perry... (227).  I feel that with this wording, Capote is trying to add fact to his writing but that makes me question the validity of the rest of his statements.  I have written in the book at certain points, 'how does he know?' and 'how would he know this?'  Especially on page 200, Capote somehow diverts into some theorizing of his own, "Envy was constantly with him; the Enemy was anyone who was someone he wanted to be or who had anything he wanted to have."  How could Capote deduce this?

Question: What aspects of Capote's writing make you question the truthfulness of his reports, if any?  Does anyone else struggle with some but not all of this being entirely truthful (and not sure which is which)?  At what points do you want to know if that's what 'really happened' or are there points that you feel must be fabricated?  Why?

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Blog 8

At first, I thought that Wolfe would epitomize the type of writing that Breslin talks about.  Wolfe's content can't be too hard to follow, right?  But as I looked back over the readings, I realized Wolfe was the most complicated of the four.  Capote was simple- simply put, simply stated, generally simple to understand.  Breslin and Greene are just as simple as Capote.  They are a little less rigid and more conversational and personal than Capote but still don't really put airs on their writing; when they say something, they say it.  But of these writers, I feel that Greene's writing most portrays what Breslin meant.  This has to do partly with the words he uses but also subject matter.

Breslin writes about death and honor and an emotional time historically that some younger audiences may not understand or be able to relate to.  Capote writes simply but about gruesome death and more intense matter.  Greene writes about a hero, his hero, the chance he gets to meet him, and finds that he is just a man as well.  I think that this is a situation that most people can understand.  His narrative takes on a nostalgic, almost child-like quality with his admiration for Connery.  Even when Connery admits being afraid of needles, I still get the feeling that that doesn't diminish the respect Greene has for him.  The naive reverie that Greene writes about happens to most people and we are able to associate with him as he draws us into that experience- both with his simplistic language and subject matter.

After a second look at Wolfe's writing, subject and style aside, I realized the words he used were not as well known and required a little more leg work to understand what he meant.  "There was no more reason for them to remain in isolation while the ovoid eyes of La Honda suppurated" (172).  There is a much more simple way to put this statement, and the same for this: "The befuddled citizens could only see the outward manifestations of the incredible stuff going on inside their skulls" (176).

Wolfe's subject (a bunch of hippies on a road trip, constantly abusing and using drugs) tricked me into thinking the reading would be simple- the language/vocab would be simple, even if the narrative was harder to follow.  (If it was a bunch of drug-induced memories then how could that really make sense to anyone else?)  But Wolfe keeps the narrative flowing and relative to his readers by making the story (mostly) logical and entertaining.

In a way, Wolfe's writing with elevated vocabulary in such an altered mental state works best.  He keeps the reader guessing and second guessing with the way he weaves the tale and the words- I think I understand what he means but there's always a little bit of me that wonders if that was really the point and if I truly understand.  But in the experiences that Wolfe describes, is there really a way to KNOW?  Can drugged-out people writing about being drugged out KNOW?  By continually second guessing if I really understand what I'm reading, I almost feel connected to the drugs; there's no way to really KNOW, and as long as I'm still flowing and following and trying, I'm getting what I need.

Question: Did anyone else in class have this experience with Wolfe?  I feel that a lot of my feelings in this post were very generalized, especially with Wolfe's writing.  Did anyone else feel that they were following a wild goose throughout the reading, and you do think that's the intended purpose?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Blog 6: Whitman and Herr

A large part of the feelings of war are presented in the way that Whitman writes, not necessarily what he says.  The broken sentences with dashes and ellipses make the reader feel as if there are bombs falling near them, as if they are ducking for cover or having to drop their voices to avoid being detected.  Also, his points of narration without interruption harbor these feelings as well.  These points of calm are broken just enough with emphatic statements that we as readers feel our safety net has been disturbed and our privacy invaded.  Whitman also employs form to relate to his readers a feeling of chaos.  "Then the camps of the wounded--O heavens, what scene is this?--is this indeed humanity-these butchers' shambles?  There are several of them.  There they lie, in the largest, in an open space in the woods, from 200 to 300 poor fellows--the groans and screams--the odor of blood, mixed with the fresh scent of the night, the grass, the trees--that slaughter-house!"  By using dashes and especially exclamation points (that reporters are often encouraged not to use because they make writing appear too dramatic), Whitman makes us feel that we are witness to this scene, a scene that could've been constructed because it doesn't really convey particular facts (not who, when, where, or even how many [200-300 is a pretty big estimation]).

Herr is able to use this same kind of writing, but often without the exclamation points except to emphasize what someone says.  He rarely adds them in his own musings.  In a way, Herr's understatement of emotions makes his writing more real to his readers because at first, I'm sure we all believe 'we can handle it.'  He thinks he is capable of doing things around the bases and should be regarded with at least a common decency by the men around him.  Yet he is (at first) surprised and then understands that these men are here fighting, not just for their country or someone else's country or freedom; they are clawing and beating against death that follows them.  When he is able to get on the chopper and leave these fields, they are not; that is their duty. 

Herr also uses quotes (Whitman does not).  He is able to point to facts and people and distinct conversations, making it clear that he was present on the field.  Part of his strength here is not identifying the soldiers he spoke to.  In the same way that soldiers are unidentifiable in the field of wounded and dead, Herr has chosen not to identify these men.

I do think that Whitman and Herr use organic style.  They both exemplify the horror they felt (or would have felt, because Whitman wasn't present) by witnessing such massacres and feats of humanity.  If this had been written about an afternoon of merry-go-round watching, the exclamations and conversations would have been much different and dictated another attitude and tone.  If the subject had been children, there would have been much more circular conversation, music playing in the background, and light humor- all implied through the description of the scene and wording.  Instead, readers smell the blood and are forced to sidestep fallen comrades as they read through Whitman and must hush their voices and keep their pleasures at bay while crawling through the jungle with Herr.

Is Whitman's style and writing less powerful because he does not use quotes?  Would we believe him more if he did?  If we know he wasn't there, would we want him to fabricate quotes to add power?

Monday, September 13, 2010

Paper proposal

Goal: To compare and contrast the movie renditions of two gonzo writers Lester Bangs and Hunter S. Thompson.  I will research the background history of the two men, the subjects of their writing and what made them so memorable, their styles, and what set them apart from others that drew producers to their stories.  With all of this information, I would like to compare and contrast the movie(s) done about them and whether or not people believe that these movies ‘captured the capture’ of what the authors tried to portray in their writing.

A portion of this will be subjective; not everyone will agree on the film renditions of the authors or how well each was portrayed.  In this case, I will try to give a fair selection of reviews so both positive and negative sides are stated.


Carroll, E. Jean.  Hunter: The strange and savage life of Hunter S. Thompson.  Plume: New York, 1993. 
After reading only the first chapter of this book, I see that Carroll has attempted to write a biographical type of book about Thompson in gonzo style; her style is satirical and entertaining, not sparing information but fixating on what some may consider the rude or obscene.  Throughout the book, Carroll includes statements from friends and family members, giving the reader a better idea of Thompson, where he came from and how he developed.  Also, Carroll’s style will help to reinforce the gonzo tradition.

DeRogatis, Jim.  Let it Blurt: The Life and Times of Lester Bangs, America’s Greatest Rock Critic.  Broadway Books, New York: 2000. 
This book provides background information about Bangs, his childhood, adolescent years and adulthood.  DeRogatis includes extensive notes and appendixes that will further aid my research by reassuring the thoroughness of his.  The book also includes a section of selected lyrics that will give insight into his writing as well.

Hirst, Dr. Martin.  “What is Gonzo? The etymology of an Urban Legend.”  School of Journalism and Communication Publications, Queensland, Australia: 2004.
This journal/publication explores the beginning of gonzo journalism and its frontrunners, especially Hunter S. Thompson, but more importantly, it examines the beginning of the new style of writing itself- where it came from, how it originated, even how the name was founded and introduced.

Kramer, Michael J.  “Can’t Forget the Motor Ciry”: Creem Magazine, Rock Music, Detroit Identity, Mass Consumerism and Counter Culture.””  Michigan Historical Review.  28.2, 42-77.  JSTOR.
Kramer writes about the magazine Creem and how Bangs contributed to its pages and content.  Because Creem formed the base from which Bangs jumped to go on to his career and why he was featured in the movie “Almost Famous”, I think this is an important source and viewpoint to include in research.

MacFarlane, Scott.  The Hippie Narrative: A Literary Perspective on the Counter Culture. MacFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, North Carolina: 2007. 
Thompson has not been selected for this book because of his hippie qualities or tendencies; instead, he is noted for gonzo journalism.  The new journalism movement was one of the ways that society was breaking free from prior constraints and hippies see Hunter’s writing as a continuation of that form.  Hunter’s writing also jives with some hippie standards because of his drug use; he not only used many drugs but wrote about them as a first person experience.

Thompson, Hunter S.  Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Other American Stories.  Random House, Inc., New York: 1996.  
Only by reading Thompson’s writing can one get a true feeling of gonzo writing and the methods used to bring gonzo to life.  His original work will serve as a template on which to base my own opinions; I want to be able to critique how well the movie producers matched Thompson’s writing to the work they put on the screen.  Also, reading original work gives a better understanding of the man himself.

Thompson, Hunter S.  Fear and Loathing in America: The Brutal Odyssey of an Outlaw Journalist (1968-1976).  Simon and Schuster: New York, 2000. 
This collection of letters will be able to provide more insight into Thompson’s thoughts and feelings, rather than relying on what others believed he thought or felt.  This also includes extensive letters to political powers which will provide background information about Thompson’s thoughts and musings about the government.

Torrey, Beef and Kevin Simonson, ed.  Conversations with Hunter S. Thompson.  University Press of Mississippi, Jackson: 2008.
This source will be useful because it places Thompson in the genre of gonzo; not only does the book include conversations with and about Thompson and others that played a critical role in his development but also gives background and definition to the literary invention of gonzo and how that development fits with the larger creation of new journalism.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Blog 5 Rachel Sale
Rachel Sale

Journalistic objectivity is the idea that a reporter/journalist/editor should not have any bias for or against any person or cause about which an article is written.  A reporter must leave all these things aside and report the facts.  No introspections should be made; nothing should be added to the story that can't be accounted for.  For example, a reporter shouldn't say that a crowd burst into applause at the conclusion of a speech.  This assumes that the audience was excited about the speech, and infers that they agree with the cause.  Instead, a reporter could say that applause followed the speech, or that people applauded.  The phrase "burst into applause" makes this a subjective statement.

"On the Periodical Essayists" celebrates Montaigne's form of writing; he wrote to please himself and as an outlet for his opinion.  The conveyance of information (true or otherwise) was put on the back burner so that he could say what he wanted.  But according to the uncertainty principle, maybe this makes finding Montaigne's position easier.  We are able to see that he speaks of his own mind and is not motivated by anything else so we don't have to guess if there are other motivations.  We see his personal opinion under his words and don't have to search through adjectives or the lack thereof, trying to find where his convictions truly lie.

Hutchins Hapgood seems to be introducing and championing the marriage of reporting and literature like it is his novel idea.  Yet this marriage comes under fire when Hapgood suggests "taking only what fits into the picture and in rejecting what is untypical and superfluous" (425).  This is asking for trouble not only in the literary world but also in the reporting world.  To take a person's story and turn it around and twist it into something that the author believes acceptable or better really makes it a work of pure fiction because of what is left out.  Hapgood adds to this fictitious air when he says that "if enough of an artist, [I] could reproduce [the lives/stories] with the right accent and with a selection judicious enough to picture at once the character of the man and the character of his class environment" (425).  This kind of writing sounds much more like a novel and less like any reporting.

Yet the advice that Stead gave to a beginner (Steed), about removing "every superfluous word, above all, adjectives" (p. 6).  is exactly how I feel journalism should be.  A reporter that lets one adjective creep into his writing has posted his position about an issue and readers can decide for themselves how every statement that follows is for or against that issue.  Also, Stead's assertion that editors have the final say about whether or not the writer has 'something to say' is correct.  The internet has shaken this value of newsworthiness to its core; anyone with at least a dial-up connection can transmit their thoughts and feelings (or lack thereof) over the internet, regardless of the content.

A journalist that attempts to become a fly on the wall can even have some affect on the proceedings of a story and history.  A reporter might deter a mugger from attacking someone merely because that person is not alone.  A fly on the wall is still visible and people may act differently because there is someone around that they are not familiar with or not used to.  A television show on Food Network about a brother and sister sharing a restaurant portrayed the sister as a tyrant and a bitch.  But I think she played a role for the camera; she didn't want the public to think that she didn't run a tight ship or that she would overlook mistakes.  I believe she wanted people to know that she was serious about her job and her tenacity made her appear rabid.

A disrupter almost seems like a better alternative because readers know that interviewees are being as honest as possible with the given circumstances.  Instead of trying to pass a story off as not having any interference, readers are aware that there is some change due to the disruption but the story is not being presented as if there were no interruptions (as a fly on the wall story would be).

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Blog 4: Elements-- Rachel Sale

Rachel Sale

Boswell's recollections of Johnson, particularly the exchanges at dinner, makes me wonder how Boswell could have remembered every statement and also to wonder how much he planted there himself.  Boswell takes the liberty of giving introspections that Johnson makes about Wilkes.  These are included but become more of a 'he said, she said' remembrance.  For example, Johnson believes that Wilkes is "acquiesced" during a particular conversation (33).  Who is Johnson to say that Wilkes is truly put at ease?  Wilkes may just have been unwilling to say any more and push the subject farther.

Daniel Defoe's writing about Jonathan Wild also causes eyebrow raising.  The lengthy, detailed conversations documented in AOF can hardly be taken at face value because of their detail.  Defoe must have taken that conversation from someone else's vantage point and written all he was told that the witness remembered.  I doubt he was standing there transcribing the entire conversation word for word.  The line of fact and fiction seems to be skewed here; this write-up of Wild doesn't seem to want to report any thing newsworthy so much as it wants to make Wild a kind of legendary figure.  More is added to his noteworthiness than to factual reporting, which makes him a sort of Robin Hood character.

Dickens' use of Pangloss is another reason for concern.  The information presented appears factual and conceivable but when taken into account that there is a composite character, I start to wonder if there is any angle that Dickens exaggerated.  Where the sailors really suffering that much?  Did Pangloss and other crew men really turn a blind eye?  The information is believable, but is it truthful?  The use of a composite character seemed to be less of a problem in Dickens' day than it is today.

What raises all these accounts to literature and brings them past the level of reporting is the way the information is reported.  Not only does the relation of 'facts' have a little bit of embellishment but also there is no inverted pyramid and the main idea/fact doesn't come out and announce itself.  The reader must run through hedges before getting to the front door.

One extra element that I would cite is the relation of 'facts' from a character to the narrator and the attention of that character.  Readers of Wuthering Heights can run into trouble if they do not question the narrator's voice.  The narrator is biased and therefore unreliable.  Being skeptical of the related information becomes pertinent to understanding a story and getting the most objective facts.  In the same way that readers must question the source of their information, readers should also look at the source for potential biases or reasons for them to skew information.

Questions for class mates on Tuesday: Could the literary content eventually outweigh the fact portion of writing?  If the audience is aware that some things may be made up, can these writings still be considered newsworthy?  Or does this make the writing more fit for novels and short stories?  How much of the information must be embellished for the story to become novel?

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Blog 3: Sublimity Rachel Sale

Rachel Sale

Mitchell's short story Up in the Old Hotel was quite a momentum builder, only to be a let down in the end. I was fixated, as was Louie, as to what could possibly be on those top floors of the hotel.  I was extremely disappointed that there was not only anything up there, but Louie was not willing to go any farther than the 4th floor.  Mitchell's use of the floors as time made the story line a bit more complex.  Often the audience thinks of time as being on the same horizontal plane; Mitchell made the floors the barrier between times and the past was above the present and closer to heaven.  Maybe this was a reference to the ancestors that had already passed away and as Louie pulled himself into the past he pulled himself closer to his (death in the) future?

Louie's reaction to the top floors was also a let down to me as a reader.  For someone that appeared anxious to begin on a journey to the top floors (while still not taking advantage of any opportunity), he was very quick to state that he didn't want to see any more; he had seen enough and wanted to go no farther.  I feel that it was a sense of disappointment that cause Louie to react the way he did.  He had wanted for so long to see what was above his restaurant that when he got there and there was nothing, no significant ties to his past or really to anyone else's, he wanted to maintain some kind of illusion about what could remain on the floors above.

In the tornado story, the AP writer works with the subjectivity.  Even the titles hint that Bragg got more literature use and ways of looking at the story than the other author(s).  The AP writers even mentioned the devastation that took place in other areas of the country.  Bragg focused on the issues in Piedmont and came across with a story that told not just of a destruction to one family, but the damage that the tornado inflicted on the church, its people and even reaching into the community.

Bragg writes and expounds on the viewpoints of several people but puts the most hurt and aching heart into the perspective of the pastor and his wife that lost their daughter.  Through their story, he is able to look extrospectively at the rest of the people and the loss that they must have encountered.  Several people's tales and perspectives are given but Bragg makes the pain and damage the focal point for church goers, townspeople, pastors and farmers alike.