Thursday, February 14, 2008

WHAT UNCLE SAM REALLY WANTS: POSSIBLE SIDE EFFECTS



I'm reading two books right now, Noam Chomsky's WHAT UNCLE SAM REALLY WANTS and Augusten Burroughs' POSSIBLE SIDE EFFECTS. It's taken me upwards of six hours to get to page 78 in the Chomsky book, while I've hit page 40 in about an hour in Burroughs book. The Chomsky book has text that appears simple, but is so chock full of information that it overloads the brain. It's hard to get through a single paragraph without losing my train of thought. The Burroughs book is the opposite. You could probably read this book while simultaneously watching a movie and conducting a telephone interview with CNN. Burroughs writes in a very simple, easily-digesteted way; the equivalent of literary soup--no chewing required. Chomsky's writing, on the other hand, is so dense it's nearly inedible; I know that my eyes are reading lots of things that never actually find their way to my mind. (And the text in the Chomsky book is taken from his speeches, specifically for the purpose of making his ideas more accessible.)

Basically, Chomsky's book tries to portray the world as ravaged by U.S. violence. He goes on and on describing how U.S. involvement in Vietnam, Korea, Central America (especially El Salvador and Nicaragua), the Middle East, Eastern Europe, and South America (especially Brazil) has amounted to overt terrorism. He claims that the United States has been engaged in brutalizing the rest of the world since its initial rise to super-power status, in World War 2. He says the U.S. destroyed post-WW2 social movements in Italy and Greece, murdered the leaders of those movements and much of the civilian populace, and re-instated the very same fascists it had helped depose during the war--all of this for the sake of keeping the rich elite in power and holding everyone else under thumb. It almost sounds like far-out fiction, but Chomsky is a scholar who relentlessly protects his statements with an armor of facts. (Even so, I think his portrayal of the situation is simplified; by focusing exclusively on the atrocities committed it gives the idea of the world outside of US borders as a veritable hell on earth, which it isn't).

Burroughs' book, on the other hand, seems to be mostly aimed at getting people to love him. It reads like a desperate cry for affection and acceptance, chock full of endearing quirkiness and self-deprecating humor. Every story is about him and his life, the wacky situations he finds himself in. He comes across like a middle-aged, love-hungry, stay-at-home housewife. And despite the abundent quirkiness, it's not really that funny. It is just amusing enough to keep you turning the pages, and because it demands so little of your mind, turning those pages is just as easy as not turning them. This is true escape writing, an easy way to plug your mind in somewhere else when you don't want to pay attention to the world around you.

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