The oddity of intelligence: Another Heather Mallick gem

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I can feel the excited, giggly fan-girl within me when I type titles such as the one I graced this post with, coming out of the little room I have sequestered it in. It happens, every once in awhile, that something makes her come out with a vengeance – especially when I read something like the latest Viewpoint from Heather Mallick.

David Sedaris and the weirdness of everyday life

Posted on on December 19th 2008

(…) It has come to this. I will pay 50 bucks to sit in a chair for 90 minutes and see a small man in a pool of light on a distant stage talk intelligently about the weirdness of daily life.

I enjoy this; it also causes me pain that intelligent people are now oddities, like bearded ladies in travelling carnivals.

Simultaneous pain and pleasure is what distinguishes a Sedaris audience. I have never before had the sensation of being in a hall where everyone shared my sensibility, that I could be friends with all of them. (…)

After Sedaris read The Santaland Diaries on National Public Radio, people said what they always say about Sedaris — “I just heard that thing again and it still cracks me up” — and now he is a writer and big breadwinner who lives anywhere but the Carolinas where he grew up.

Sedaris is regularly described as an “irreverent” and “wicked” master of observational humour. He is not. In his six books, he simply investigates strangeness and it quickly becomes clear that everyone is strange. (…)

Sedaris quoted Saunders to the audience. “Humour is what happens when we’re told the truth quicker and more directly than we’re used to. The comic is the truth stripped of the habitual, the cushioning, the easy consolation.”

Shut out by the mainstream, good writers like him have snuck in the side door. It is now a Sedaris-welcoming world.

This is a fine thing. The cultural megaphone that Saunders refers to in the title of his latest book is no longer held solely by who he calls the brain-dead but by smart people, young-ish writers and performers.

I try hard to convince writing students that it’s better to use the megaphone truthfully, the way writers like Sedaris do. For one thing, it’s funnier. It worries me that they seem unconvinced.

Why do I like her articles, even if I don’t always agree with her opinion or her choice of words? Because they are well thought out and intelligently presented without attempting to ‘dumb it down’; this is something, like Heather Mallick herself points out, that is unfortunately on its way to extinction. In an era of celibrity-obsessions and fleeting, superficial pleasures, it’s almost shameful to be intelligent. I sometimes am very tempted to make myself a fake cover of Twilight just to hide the titles of the books I am really reading – what can I say, some of the glares I get in the bus are lethal!

But I do have to agree with Mallick that it’s kind of scary how young people today are more interested in mooning over a fictional character that doesn’t exist (Edward Cullen, anyone?), in reading everything they can about their favorite celibrities, however bad their influence might be and however purely commercial their products are (Briney Spears, anyone?) and yet when it comes to reading ‘serious’ books, they develop a sudden case of literatinitis. I wonder if we’ll ever come up with a cure to that.

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