Friday, February 19, 2010

Good news from the culture wars.

One of the few images of the man reputed to be B. Traven.

A little further internet searching has turned up a few books in print by B. Traven. I found a short biography of Ret Marut, the man most people believe was the real "B. Traven" here.

I also found a great little short story by Traven. It gives a nice feel for what Traven was all about. Traven's books are widely available in Spanish. In Mexico he is known and loved as a true friend to Los Indios. You can read the story here.

Traven was a pseudonym. He didn't want to be pointed out as the great author. He sincerely wanted to be a worker among workers and a bit of the salt of the earth. He knew he was an artist, but he saw that there are artists everywhere and he just wanted to make his art.

Now, the other day, I was walking past The Borders Book store at China Basin, across from the ballpark in San Francisco. It has to be the worst big city bookstore in the world. Its only a half hour walk from City Lights Books, one of the best bookstores in the English speaking world. Borders seems to be mostly a gift shop, but they do have displays of currently popular books. In the window they had a huge display of the works of Ayn Rand.

Rand was the polar opposite of Traven. She wanted her face on the cover of every book. She appeared in every media outlet that would let her in front of a camera. She thought she was a genius. One of the few geniuses in the world and set apart from everyone else.

Traven wrote simple, poetic prose about the lives of ordinary people. Rand wrote turgid, adjective laden woofing about the suffering of billionaires. I suppose it's only right that Rand should be given a prominent display in the worst bookstore in San Francisco.


Happy Hour...Somewhere said...

I am surprised that San Francisco allows Rand anywhere in their city...even if it is the worst book store. Billionaires in SF I would think would be slightly ashamed of their wealth. I don't think Rand would have given a damn.

I will have to read the story tonight when I have time to really read.

I am curious though. Why are you juxtaposing Rand and Traven? Your beef seems to be the way they thought of themselves. One seemingly humble about his brilliance and one not giving a damn if anyone thought they were brilliant or not. Since I own many books by Rand that are decades old and none of them have her face on them, so not sure if that means all the new editions have it, which I agree is pretty crass.

Yes, her prose style can get pretty purple but they are more philosophical economic texts.

Jon said...

I once worked, for two days, for a limo service that had the contract to ferry the Getty family around. I was told that Gordon Getty is, in fact, sort of embarrassed about his money. We do have plenty of billionaires in San Francisco. LA money is a bigger but San Francisco is where the old money is in California. San Franciscans seem to like their billionaires just fine so long as they share a little and show some class. Gordon Getty is a generous patron of the arts and Fritz Maytag runs a very successful brewery.
The business of sharing a bit was established in the 1934 general strike. The idea that everybody has a say in San Francisco was pretty popular for 50 years after that. Our supposedly liberal Senator, Dianne Feinstein gave the city to the real estate speculators back when she was mayor.
I suppose it's no surprise that the worst book store in the city is just down the street from South Park, the center of what's left of the dot com boom. There's a ton of newly rich software people in that neighborhood and they have no respect for the city's egalitarian tradition, never mind it's artistic and literary tradition. Times must change, I don't understand why they have to get worse.

Anyhow, why do I juxtapose Rand to Traven? Because Traven represents everything I admire in an artist and Rand represents everything I despise. Seems pretty obvious to me. There are people whose art I like even if I dislike their personalities or beliefs. There are people who I find likable even if I don't particularly like their art. I find Traven wholly admirable as a human being and an artist. I find Rand to have almost no redeeming value as a human being and an artist. I am deeply troubled that Traven is being pushed into the margins of American literature, while Rand, an artist who would have been forgotten long ago were it not for the hateful ideologues who value her for propaganda purposes, is being held up as a great American writer.

That last sentence was too long. I am not a great American writer.

Happy Hour...Somewhere said...

I totally empathize with liking the art and not liking the artist...and sometimes the other way around. Too many artists never seem to get their due. And then I look at the bestseller list and cannot figure that out at all. Well, I can, but still.

Jon said...

I had to laugh at myself. I heard an interview with Richard Carpenter of the The Carpenters. I always hated their music. I thought Karen Carpenter's death wasn't so much tragic as pathetic. I listened to the interview and realized that Richard is a bright talented artist. He gave a very good accounting of himself and I actually learned a couple of things listening to him. He talked about his sister and I began to see her as a sympathetic figure. I realized that The Carpenters were decent people. I still don't like their music.

ish said...

Speaking of art and artists I just posted a long (probably too long) blog essay on why I like Maoist art.

I must confess to you Jon that I like about a half dozen Carpenters songs. A lot. Don't hate me.

I'm still trying to remember if I've read any B. Traven. I know he was on a reading list I used to have of great revolutionary fiction along with Howard Fast's Spartacus and some others...

RossK said...

Can see that the artist juxtaposition may be open to some question....

But there is no question that the juxtaposition of those two bookstores is absolutely rock salt-solid....

Hey Jon....I'm having trouble Emailin' you...

Can you send me a quick note to:

pacificgazette at yahoo periode (my kids speak french - ha!) ca


Jon said...

Ian, my point about the Carpenters was that I finally realized that they were perfectly good artists. The fact that I don't like their stuff doesn't take away from that. I've checked out your music blogs. There's not much overlap in our taste. You're still a fine fellow. I follow The Cahokian slavishly.

Ross, I emailed you a while ago, did you get that message? I followed up today. are you sure that address doesn't end with "", rather than just ".ca"? Just asking. I don't want to ruffle any Canadian nationalist feathers.

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