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The angst of Buzz BissingerBY: Dan Rottenberg 05.15.2012
With his new introspective book, Father’s Day, Buzz Bissinger has entered the Janet Malcolm sweepstakes for sweeping generalizations. But why should he have all the fun?
You too can play this game:
Buzz Bissinger, the happy go-lucky author of such classics as A Prayer For the City and Friday Night Lights, has just come out with Father’s Day, an unflinching and deeply personal book that plumbs, as the New York Times critic informs me, “Mr. Bissinger’s own roiling anxiety, his depression, his narcissism and his professional insecurity, not to mention what he sees as his failings as a man, as a father, as a son and as a writer.” (I haven’t read Father’s Day myself. For the full Times review, click here.)
Wait! You could at least finish reading this column before you rush off to the bookstore.
The good news about Father’s Day is that Bissinger has apparently conducted extensive research into the psyches of writers. Remarkably, he concludes that all writers’ psyches closely resemble his own!
“All writers silently soak up despair for our own advantage,” he informs us. “Like dogs rolling in the guts of dead animals, the stink of others makes us giddy. We deny it but we lie in denying it.”
And of course he’s right (even if he’s ungrammatical). Bissinger acknowledges what self-deluded writers like Louisa May Alcott and me refuse to admit: that one of the reasons we can’t string beautiful sentences together is that we’re too busy cleaning the guts of dead animals off our desks after we’ve rolled around in them.
Here comes Janet
The even better news is that Bissinger has entered the Janet Malcolm sweepstakes.
Malcolm, of course, is the New Yorker writer who famously declared, “Every journalist who is not too stupid or too full of himself to notice what is going on knows that what he does is morally indefensible. He is a kind of confidence man, preying on people’s vanity, ignorance or loneliness, gaining their trust and betraying them without remorse.”
The beauty of that passage is two-fold: (a) its sweeping generalization and (b) its reflexive kicker, stipulating that anyone who disagrees with her statement is by definition stupid or full of himself. Bissinger employs much the same rhetorical device: Anyone who denies the truth of his words must obviously be a liar.
We deny it, but...
But why leave this field to Janet Malcolm or Buzz Bissinger? You too can play this game. Let me take a crack at it.
— All good writers are miserable. And if you’re not miserable, you’re not a good writer.
— Happy writers are all alike; every unhappy writer is unhappy in his or her own way. We deny it but we lie in denying it.
— All writers dress funny. We deny it but we lie in denying it.
— Every writer who is not too stupid or too full of himself to notice what is going on knows that when he rolls around in the guts of dead animals, he should take a bath afterwards.
— Every writer who is stupid enough to roll around in the guts of dead animals needs an agent.
— Every writer who is too stupid and full of himself to think he doesn’t need an agent, needs an agent.
— Every journalist who is not too stupid or too full of himself to notice what is gong on knows that it takes about two hours to drive from Philadelphia to New York, even with E-Z Pass, except when there’s really heavy traffic on a Sunday night, in which case it may take two and a half hours or even three.
— Journalists are what’s left of the people who aren’t bright enough to be lawyers, strong enough to be actors, and don’t have hands steady enough to be surgeons. We deny it but we lie in denying it.
— Every surgeon who is not too stupid or too full of himself to notice what is going on knows that deep down, he’s an axe murderer.
— Every con man who is not too stupid or too full of himself to notice what is going on knows that what he does is morally indefensible. He is a kind of confidence man, preying on people’s vanity, ignorance or loneliness, gaining their trust and betraying them without remorse. Come to think of it, he is a confidence man.
— All women want to kill their mothers and marry their fathers. They deny it, but they lie in denying it.
— All Italian restaurants in Philadelphia are really run by Albanians. They deny it, but they lie in denying it.
— All writers attract attention by making sweeping generalizations. We deny it, but we lie in denying it.
OK, it’s your turn.♦
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