Politicians as purveyors of short fiction.

A new interview is up at TMN this morning – Robert Birnbaum talking to David Mitchell. Here’s an excerpt:

DM: In a way, dominant novelists are actually political—politicians.
RB: Give me an example.
DM: I wasn’t clear enough. I mean, novelists are in the business of creating fictional narratives. Politicians also are in the business of creating narratives and then convincing the largest group of people that these narratives—not the other guy’s—are true.
RB: The difference, I think, is that the novelist strives for coherence and plausibility in storytelling. Politicians and political zealots and other hucksters construct a series of informational bits and images—a montage that may not or does not depend on a logical sequence to be convincing.
DM: Quite true.
RB: You wouldn’t normally mistake them as functioning narratives, except perhaps as the internal ramblings of an insane mind.
DM: [laughs] The story has to work when you read it—if you take them week by week by week they don’t have to be consistent over a long period of time.

Obama: a writers’ new deal?

Mark Pinsky writes himself into a job with the Obama administration, arguing for WPA 2.0 to include a little love for our country’s hapless writers.  The likelihood of this happening is about the same as the chance we’ll see a black president in our lifetime.  What’s that you say?

The Federal Writers Project operated from 1935-1939 under the leadership of Henry Alsberg, a journalist and theater director. In addition to providing employment to more than 6,000 out-of-work reporters, photographers, editors, critics, writers, and creative craftsmen and -women, the FWP produced some lasting contributions to American history, culture, and literature…

Gifted FWP alumni who went on to distinguished literary careers in literature include John Steinbeck, John Cheever, Nelson Algren, Saul Bellow, and African Americans Zora Neale Hurston, Ralph Ellison, and Richard Wright. The recent death of Studs Terkel– a FWP veteran who went on to use the skills he developed in the program to chronicle the working- and middle-classes on his long-running radio show and in his Pulitzer Prize-winning books–is a reminder of how valuable this kind of experience can be…

This time, the FWP could begin by documenting the ground-level impact of the Great Recession; chronicling the transition to a green economy; or capturing the experiences of the thousands of immigrants who are changing the American complexion. Like the original FWP, the new version would focus in particular on those segments of society largely ignored by commercial and even public media. At the same time, the multimedia fruits of this research would be open-sourced to all media, as well as to academics. As an example, oral history as a discipline has made great strides in the past 70 years, and with the development of video techniques, the forum of the Internet could make these multi-media interviews widely available to schools and scholars, as well as to average Americans.


That giant sucking sound you hear is the sound that’s made when a terrible feeling of shame – being ashamed of your country, for eight long years – is suddenly, throughly removed.  I’d forgotten what this was like.

The hard work begins now.

Or tomorrow.  Right now I’m just going to feel good for a while.

Break soil in case of emergency.

I’m glad it’s gorgeous weather here today.  Because if it was raining, I’d be glued to the computer, looking for signs of which way the election is going to go.  Instead, I’m channeling my nervousness into putting the garden to bed for the year.


Nothing like a pitchfork to distract one from momentous elections.  Think of me tonight when I am stuck inside a tax seminar for small business owners, cut off from election results.  Meanwhile, the next distraction: the dishwasher.