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Literary Blog

Rants and Hypertextual Deception

A few days ago, the graphic novelist Frank Miller lost patience with the Occupy Movement supported by a thousand of his literary peers. Writing on his blog, Miller called the occupiers

nothing but a pack of louts, thieves, and rapists, an unruly mob, fed by Woodstock-era nostalgia and putrid false righteousness. These clowns can do nothing but harm America.

Absorbed with their “self-pity” and “narcissism,” the Occupy Movement had ignored the real threat to America — the “ruthless enemy” that fights under the names al-Qaeda and “Islamicism.”

The outrage was immediate and explosive. The Guardian reported that his “rant” had alienated Miller’s fans. The New York Observer agreed that the “vitriolic rant” was “not well-received.”

Nearly everybody agreed that Miller had written a rant. Richard Metzger of Dangerous Minds said it was an “idiotic, reactionary rant.” Miller was bidding to “become the Al Capp of his generation,” he added, by venting his “cranky, bitter, reactionary ‘opinions’ (if you can call them that).” (The political opponents of the literary left do not really have “opinions,” I guess. They must only have superstitions or irritable mental gestures or something.) It was a “strange rant,” it was a “bilious rant,” it was a “ridiculous rant.” Ah, the refreshing diversity of opinion on the literary left!

Miller’s readers threatened a boycott. The Guardian was quick to tut-tut that Miller’s politics (love of freedom, commitment to justice, aversion to anarchy, hatred for totalitarianism) added up to “mixed messages.” The comic-book writer Mark Millar warned against the “cyber-mob mentality” that was engulfing any discussion of Miller and his work, but few people seemed to be listening.

Meanwhile, another writer with a wide and enthusiastic following had delivered a controversial political judgment a few days earlier and almost no one had noticed. China Miéville, the British fantasy novelist who writes self-described “weird fiction,” posted on his blog a deadpan reaction to the release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit after five years in Hamas captivity:

     Gilad Schalit is showing signs of malnutrition. What have his captors done to him? Such shocking revelations must mean fresh scrutiny of those who have held him.
     How could it not? What kind of power, after all, would deliberately starve even the youngest captives, according to chillingly cynical calorifico-political calculation, as a matter of publicly stated policy?

I have reproduced Miéville’s entire post, including each of his hypertext links, so that you don’t have to click over to his blog. By a sly use of hypertext, Miéville is able to imply, without bothering to say outright, that the state of Israel has the deliberate policy of starving the children of Gaza. You might think that such a monstrous charge might deserve a full explanation and defense. You would be wrong. Miéville resorts to hypertext to do the hard work of argument. He wants to leave the impression, unsubstantiated but unshakable, that the Jewish state is exactly the same as the Islamic terrorists of Hamas, and Gilad Shalit got nothing less than what he deserved.

I won’t hold my breath for the outrage or threats of boycott. This much might be said, however. To “rant” is to display moral courage; it is to risk being held publicly accountable for direct and unsparing statement. China Miéville is a literary coward who hides behind hypertextual cleverness to avoid taking ownership of his political opinions. Susan Sontag once lamented that the camera can lie. To the artist’s bag of lying devices can now be added hypertext.

Give me an honest rant any day.



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