Stop That Girl!

Day 7: Tuesday

Good morning Zak,

Ever since Friedrich Nietzsche told us that “God is dead,” it seems like a lot of people have taken this to mean that many other things must be dead too.  While that logic may be air-tight, it’s possible we’ve taken the conclusion too far.  I mean, Zak, it’s become almost an obsession for some of us: people have since written that the Author is dead and that Schoenberg in particular is dead; bloggers have blogged that Blogging is dead; more recently Facebook has taken this thing to its ultimate consequence and topped us all… everyone is dead.  I’m not sure why we’re suddenly so into this trend.  Some people are even making comedy podcasts about death.

“The death of the author means the birth of the reader.”  Ronald Barthes

Emily Mandel wants to know why so many books suddenly have the word “girl” in the title.  She’s noticed this happening a lot, and often when the book is written by a man, guess what becomes of the girl in question by the end… she is dead.  Authors all over the English-speaking world are making these decisions, sometimes independently.

But the tropes and symbols that make up the stories we tell are often bigger than any of us; it was only a matter of time before the Girl from these English books leapt free of the imaginations that bore her and set out to explore the world on her own.  Recently I was passing a movie theater here in Italy when I happened to noticed The Girl on the Train, or really La Ragazza del Treno.  Not sure exactly what she was up to back here in the old country.

They say that humans are social creatures.  I guess that’s true enough.  We certainly like to latch on to trends and things.  Maybe that’s why so many authors on the internet came together to participate in the Free Style Writing Challenge (FSWC).

“Come up and be dead!  Come up and be dead!”  Charles Dickens

Zak, I admit, I am happy to hear about the “good weather” you had on your visit (however narrowly you might define that concept). But while I’m on the topic of your last entry, I must opine with no disrespect to your professor that this “rational actor” business is irrational nonsense.

By the way Zak, this is a word cloud representing the frequencies of individual words in the poetry of Cino da Pistoia.

word cloud

Death: the poetry of Cino

The odd thing about the FSWC is that it’s not just a gimmick; when people are pressed for time, their writing doesn’t devolve automatically into irrational nonsense.  It turns out that as people rely on the formulaic idioms and story-telling tropes that come most naturally to them under pressure, they often end up putting out some surprisingly structured work, sometimes even better structured than normal writing.  In general, the results are exquisite and many times very moving.  Consider for example this fine piece about trains, romance, and poop.

It’s a strange and wonderful world we live in, Zak.  If anyone reading this has happened to see the Girl recently, I’d appreciate them letting me know.  I’ve been looking all over for her, trying to catch up for quite a while now…

Until tomorrow,

Tim

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