Friday, May 18, 2007

News and Notes: Whither English Majors?; Philip K. Dick; Don DeLillo's Latest

Favorite college degree? According to a report in the 5/21 issue of The New Yorker, "The biggest undergraduate major by far in the United States today is business. Twenty-two per cent of bachelor's degrees are awarded in that field. Eight per cent are awarded in education, five per cent in the health professions. By contrast, fewer than four per cent of college graduates major in English, and only two per cent major in history. There are more bachelor's degrees awarded every year in Parks, Recreation, Leisure and Fitness Studies than in all foreign languages and literatures combined." Scary stuff, kids.

Philip K. Dick, whose work was adapted to the big screen in Blade Runner, Total Recall, Minority Report and several lesser films, is being toasted anew. That's because of the inclusion of four Dick novels in the Library of America series, in a volume featuring an introduction by Jonathan Lethem. Several writers have celebrated the occasion of Dick's ascendancy to such prestigious environs, including Newsday film critic Gene Seymour, with an insightful essay in the May 28 issue of The Nation. It reads, in part, "The wide open spaces between technological possibility and human limitation have provided fertile ground for inspired imaginative speculation going back almost 200 years to Frankenstein. It feels safe to say that no one has moved through those spaces with as much loony abandon and frenzied inventiveness as Philip Kindred Dick." Charles McGrath also opines about Dick in a piece titled "A Prince of Pulp, Legit at Last," in the May 6 issue of the New York Times. McGrath writes, "All his life the science fiction writer Philip K. Dick yearned for what he called the mainstream. He wanted to be a serious literary writer, not a sci-fi hack whose audience consisted, he once said, of 'trolls and wackos.' But Mr. Dick, who popped as many as 1,000 amphetamine pills a week, was also more than a little paranoid. In the early ’70s, when he had finally achieved some standing among academic critics and literary theorists — most notably the Polish writer Stanislaw Lem — he narced on them all, writing a letter to the F.B.I. in which he claimed they were K.G.B. agents trying to take over American science fiction."

Philip K. Dick's The Man in the High Castle was one of several great American novels that I studied in a grad English class at USF several years ago. The syllabus also included White Noise, by Don DeLillo, whose new 9/11-themed novel, Falling Man, is picking up decidedly mixed reviews.

Speaking of the paperback edition of Cormac McCarthy's brilliant, bleak post-apocalyptic tale of horror & true father-son love The Road (and weren't we?) ... the Coen brothers are making an adaptation of McCarthy's No Country for Old Men. According to the Internet Movie Database, the release date is 11/21 and the cast includes James Brolin, Josh Brolin, Woody Harrelson, Tess Harper, Tommy Lee Jones and Stephen Root. According to a reviewer for Ain't It Cool News, "This film has one of the creepiest and most original villains to come along in a long, long time. Chigurh, played by Javier Bardem, is one of those guys that, if you look at cross-eyed, may just shoot you with a silenced shotgun in the middle of a crowded city street during the day and still get away with it. His limited movement and his propensity for using this device that makes locks blow off like projectile bullets make him incredibly threatening and innovative. He can take any normal, everyday situation like paying for gas over at a gas station and make it very suspenseful. The scariest thing about him is that he has no motivation for what he does, he just does it. He’s sort of a cross between Two Face and The Joker in that regard. The cat and mouse game he plays with Brolin too is one of the most tense and effective I have seen in a while. When you see the Hotel Eagle sequence, you will see why. I especially love the whole yin and yang thing the Coens do with both characters. They are both hunters but each are out for different prey. If Javier Bardem doesn’t get an Oscar nomination for his role, I will be seriously disappointed. The film is also one of the most violent I have seen in a long time especially after seeing such gorefests like Grindhouse and Pan’s Labyrinth. After any time a character is hurt by violence, the film lingers on the wound as the character cleans it up. You feel their pain but not in a Bill Clinton or Oprah sort of way. This is very reminiscent of A History of Violence but here it comes off as a lot more realistic and disturbing here. If there is one problem besides the ending of the film, it is Tommy Lee Jones’ character. He feels integral to the plot but nothing happens with his character. It was a great performance but I thought it would amount to something greater towards the end. The ending suffers from what I call New Century Spielberg Syndrome. Have a terrific film for the first 2/3rds and have it all fall apart at the end."