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Arriving late to the Franzenfreude party

Posted by Christopher Shea  September 15, 2010 11:40 AM

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Megan O'Rourke's essay in Slate about the Franzen brouhaha is fine, though she arrives quite late to the party, but it's also a little bit unsporting.

Why, for example, begin the essay with a reference to "the tempest everyone is now calling, illogically, 'Franzenfreude'"? The original Jennifer Weiner-concocted hashtag "Franzenfreude" is precisely what turned what might have been one-off lament into a meme worthy of coverage by Slate.

True, the coinage has by now been "corrected" by hundreds of Twitterers and counting. (The play on "schadenfreude" doesn't work as German.) But sue me if I find the original coinage witty and the later corrections tedious. If anything the debate is now ostentatiously not called Franzenfreude.

More significantly, there's the sentence at the top of O'Rourke's essay that declares how her commentary will differ from the many, many that have preceded it:

I'm interested less in arguments about the relative merits of Franzen's latest novel, "Freedom"--I'm halfway through and find it artful and engaging--and more in the deeper question raised by the debate: Namely, why women are so infrequently heralded as great novelists.

But that's not a "deeper question." Despite Weiner's occasional jabs at Franzen, that's precisely the debate that's been going on for weeks now. Or one of them, anyway,

Indeed, the O'Rourke essay seems to enact some of what Weiner is complaining about, which, after all, has to do with genre and the literary status of "popular" novelists as much as gender. Here we have the elite metropolitan literary critic and poet--albeit a woman--stepping in to explain the "deeper meaning" of the arguments raised, weeks ago, by Jodi Picoult and Weiner, as if they had failed to, or were unable to, explain themselves.

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