February 7, 2014

Stephen King wants you to "Just know my heart is where it’s always been: in the right place."

So ends his apology for his attention-grabbing Tweet — "Boy, I’m stumped on that one. I don’t like to think it’s true, and there’s an element of palpable bitchery there, but...." — which we were talking about here last night. My post is pretty much only about the instant-classic, unforgettable phrase "Palpable Bitchery."

I pause for a few moments at this point to create a blog called Palpable Bitchery. Feel it, read it.

Now, all I want to say in this new post is: Isn't it funny, the big horror writer, caring so much about our knowledge of his good heart — heart in the right place — when we know that his writerly master mind would — in an instant — take a phrase like heart in the right place and mutate it into some crazy story about hearts in little children turning alien and evil and melting everything within their lovely little communities that he would imagine and describe just so you'd feel awful to see them destroyed?

But Stephen King would like to remind you of the 4 books he wrote — Carrie, Dolores Claiborne, Rose Madder, and Lisey’s Story — that demonstrate that "I have plenty of respect for women, and care about the problems and life-situations they face."  And he has the life story to reinforce this reputation for respecting women: "My single-mom mother faced plenty [of the the problems and life-situations that women face], believe me." Plus, he has "no sympathy whatever for those who abuse children." Can you really write novels about child abusers without inhabiting their innards and seeing it from their point of view? Leave that to the Nabokovs.  This is Stephen King. His evil is pure evil and his good is pure good. "I wrote about such abuse — and its ultimate cost to the victim — in Gerald’s Game." And presumably Gerald['s abuser] is nothing but a monster down to his core. Is there some reason why anyone would read that book?

Here's something Tyler Cowen said in a TED talk:
As a simple rule of thumb, just imagine every time you’re telling a good vs. evil story, you’re basically lowering your IQ by ten points or more. If you just adopt that as a kind of inner mental habit, it’s, in my view, one way to get a lot smarter pretty quickly. You don’t have to read any books. Just imagine yourself pressing a button every time you tell the good vs. evil story, and by pressing that button you’re lowering your IQ by ten points or more.
Consider the palpable foolery of Stephen King. He needs you to know he's a good person. He detected bitchery, and The Grand Bitch Internet struck back. He's cowed. He wants to be loved. And that's why he cannot be a great writer. So give him the love he craves. Apology accepted. You are forgiven, Mr. King, you tiny little man.

It's 4:50 in the morning here in Madison, Wisconsin. Are you feeling the palpable bitchery? It exists, and it is real. And spectacular.

27 comments:

Saint Croix said...

As a simple rule of thumb, just imagine every time you’re telling a good vs. evil story, you’re basically lowering your IQ by ten points or more.

Good vs. evil is a fascinating narrative that runs throughout human history. Really good writers make this struggle internal, not external. What a stupid shortcut! "If I subtract all morality from my art I will avoid the appearance that I am a dummy who believes in moral absolutes."

I think morality--and fights over morality--do cause a tremendous amount of upset. One might even say that this fight over morality is itself a cause of a great deal of conflict, hence leads to immorality. But to just shrug your shoulders, become a nihilist, and pat yourself on the back for avoiding the 10 point drop in your IQ? Ugh!

And good vs. evil is also an exciting narrative. Heroes! Villains! Heroes and villains might be simple-minded, but much of life is simple. If you are incapable of thinking about heroism, or villainy, how will you be a hero? How will you avoid villainy?

Shouting Thomas said...

Watching TED talks lowers your IQ by 25 points, but the viewer never notices because he's entranced by the goofy notion that he's a superior intellect.

The earnest egghead stupidity of TED talks always leaves me laughing. I watch for the laughs.

This post seems pretty bitchy. Palpable butchery is everywhere. I can palpate it.

If you don't make a living putting up with the wave of hysteria produced by the current internet outrage, why put up with it? That would seem to be King's motivation. And, I agree. This probably explains the tsunami of daily apologies. "Call off the dogs, so I can get back to my life," seems to be the motivation.

I used to focus a lot of my blog on producing some sort of nonsense to foster the next current outrage. What a waste of energy. I produce music, not outrages.

The era in which it mattered to be a "great writer" has been over for some time. King has written some good novels that have been transformed into good movies. "Lawnmover Man" was a hoot.

Some things are evil. Feminism is evil.

Shouting Thomas said...

I'm leaving the "palpable butchery" thing in there because it makes sense in an ass backward sort of way.

JoyD said...

"Are you feeling the palpable bitchery?" Yes, I am, spectacularly. I get it. and you know what? I don't need it. I'm leaving this party.

Saint Croix said...

American cinema (created by liberals) is nonetheless filled with heroes and villains. This is why liberals are always complaining about American cinema. And, also, why American cinema is popular throughout the world.

Ordinary people actually like stories of heroes and villains. The urge of Tyler Cowen to avoid the 10-point-IQ drop is an urge to stay above ordinary humanity. It's an urge to be superior. It's a superiority shortcut. One might even say it's an evil urge. Perhaps the urge to avoid morality altogether is itself a cause of evil.

"Nihilists! Fuck me. I mean, say what you want about the tenets of National Socialism, Dude, at least it's an ethos."

Shouting Thomas said...

Does producing this blog really make your life better, Althouse?

Not poking you in the ribs for once...

Yeah, I'm sure it fills up a lot of time and makes it feel like you're really doing something important.

Since I've retired, I've been slowly retrieving the hours I used to spend surfing the net, and repurposed those hours into playing music, gardening, etc. I give the net a couple of hours, then... fuck it.

The advent of word processing convinced every lawyer that a 50 page pleading had to be better than a 5 page pleading, fostering a vast outpouring of boilerplate that nobody wanted to read.

The advent of internet blabbing, likewise, motivated every knucklehead out there to write endless treatises on their peculiar obsessions... read it and weep!

Saint Croix said...

The Shining is kind of a bizarre movie in that Jack Nicholson is our hero. We're following him around. And he goes insane and becomes the bad guy.

Normally you put yourself in the hero's shoes. I think that's why this movie is such an uncomfortable experience. As Nicholson becomes weirder and weirder, you are less and less happy being in his shoes. Finally you disassociate yourself altogether.

I'm not sure if Kubrick expects us to stay with Jack Nicholson throughout the movie or abandon him for his annoying, screaming wife or the weird kid with the talking finger. Did he even think about it?

A protagonist switch is hard to pull off. In Psycho, Hitchcock kills off his protagonist. It's such a freaky event that it's hard to recover your equilibrium. You're like, "man, I got to find a new protagonist to follow." But at least Psycho knows that this is a problem and deals with it. You're immediately given a new hero to follow.

SomeoneHasToSayIt said...


How much does IQ go down every time one calls someone a "tiny little man"?

And if it doesn't at all, then maybe does one's palpable bitchery factor go up by 10?

Saint Croix said...

Consider the palpable foolery of Stephen King. He needs you to know he's a good person.

In his book, Danse Macabre, King talks about a question he is asked all the time. Why do you write horror? And the implicit question here is that King is drawn to evil, that he likes it. He's a dark person. He's evil!

And if I remember right (it's been 30 years since I read the book), King does not actually know why he is drawn to horror.

The urge to document evil, to discuss it or make art about it, is probably a right-wing urge. Liberals are above that evil stuff. So King is always apologizing for his right-wing art, his horror, his popularity. "I'm a good liberal!"

He should point to his Obama bumper sticker.

I think liberals need a "I'm not a racist" T-shirt. But of course they can't wear it, or other liberals would eat them.

Saint Croix said...

Re-reading the Tyler Cowen comment, I was dumbstruck by this line...

You don't have to read a lot of books.

Wow.

To suggest nihilism as a shortcut to intelligence. And then, on top of that, to brag that there is no need to read!

AReasonableMan said...

New Blog Piece On Woody Allen To Settle Everything

Ann Althouse said...

"To suggest nihilism as a shortcut to intelligence. And then, on top of that, to brag that there is no need to read!"

If you are so into reading, why did you read that so badly? I think you pushed the button he was talking about. You decided to use the good-and-evil framework and it made you dumber.

Are you willing to read it without pushing that button?

Cowen isn't saying reading books isn't worth it. He simply offering some advice on how to improve your thinking. Resist imposing the good-and-evil framework on the problem you are trying to understand. There is good and bad to go around and we are all complex characters.

If you would follow that rule, it would be the equivalent of having 10 more IQ points.

He's not saying there aren't other ways to become smarter or that books don't matter.

He's saying I'm giving you something that you can just do and it won't take any time to gain this improvement in your intelligence.

You can still read books! He even writes them.

tim in vermont said...

"If I subtract all morality from my art I will avoid the appearance that I am a dummy who believes in moral absolutes."

Somebody said this about the excessive use of irony in fiction. If you portray everything in your novel as ironic, nobody gets to judge you.

So, yeah, I am all for good vs evil in a narrative, just remember that there is writing, and there is real life.

tim in vermont said...

Oh yeah, and everybody knows that female privilege specifically authorizes the use of the phrase "tiny little man."

What if palpable bitchery is just street slang for calling out female privilege?

David said...

It's the bedrock of liberalism. Feeling that you are morally superior to those who disagree with you.

It's a substitute for an actual moral life.

Ignorance is Bliss said...

Can you really write novels about child abusers without inhabiting their innards and seeing it from their point of view?

From The Daily Mail:

When he was drunk, his anger became focused on his children.
'I wanted to grab them and hit them,' he has admitted. 'Even though I didn't do it, I felt guilty because of my brutal impulses. I wasn't prepared for the realities of fatherhood.'

Saint Croix said...

You decided to use the good-and-evil framework and it made you dumber.

I feel my IQ rising as I avoid the urge to call Althouse a ___________.

Oops, now that I pointed out I have the urge to call Althouse a ___________, my IQ is dropping.

Also, I get beta points for using _________. Oh this score-keeping is exhausting!

jacksonjay said...

Mr. Thomas sez:

Watching TED talks lowers your IQ by 25 points, but the viewer never notices because he's entranced by the goofy notion that he's a superior intellect.

Hmmmm??

The earnest egghead stupidity of TED talks always leaves me laughing. I watch for the laughs.

Hmmmm??

Saint Croix said...

Cowen isn't saying reading books isn't worth it. He simply offering some advice on how to improve your thinking.

No, what he's offering is a shortcut. That's why he says, "one way to get a lot smarter pretty quickly."

In your experience, is that possible? Can you "get a lot smarter pretty quickly"? Imagine a corporation who sells a pill that makes you a lot smarter pretty quickly. Would you buy it?

So we should be dubious about this overnight intelligence enhancer. And then (like he's pitching a product!) he tells his audience, "You don’t have to read any books."

Yes, it's a shortcut, kids. You don't have to think, or work, or exercise your brain. Just adopt nihilism and you avoid getting dumber.

It's an avoidance mechanism.

Let's use the flame war as an example of stupidity, of IQs dropping. It's true, avoiding right-and-wrong can keep you out of flame wars. If you avoid any and all moral pronouncements, you will avoid all flame wars. You will avoid those stupid conflicts.

People get emotionally engaged with being right, and angry with those people who they deem wrong. And this emotional engagement can make us say and do stupid things.

But Cowen's short cut is to avoid the entire issue of right-and-wrong in art, in life. He's not telling his audience how to argue, how to think, how to reason through moral conflicts. He's telling his audience to avoid the whole concept of right-and-wrong. Adopt nihilism and become a smarter person. Overnight!

RecChief said...

I'm getting tired of all this "Respect for __________ (you supply the group)"

What ever happened to having respect for others in general? I suspect it isn't really about respect but deference.

broomhandle said...

I've never understood all the groveling when these people are taken to task for being themselves. A simple "go fuck yourselves" would allow them to keep their integrity and self-respect.

Anonymous said...

You never know. Maybe he wants to love, instead of 'be loved'. In the end, being a 'great writer means absolutely nothing compared to that..

Seeing Red said...

Palpable bitchery?

Can't we get thru the 2014 elections first before Hildebeast is on 24/7?


Otoh, women are running things, what did Maria Schriver say?

William said...

If you have a higher IQ, you're more likely to figure a way to go deeper into the labyrinth than to figure a way out,

Saint Croix said...

His evil is pure evil and his good is pure good.

I haven't read King in decades, but I'm not sure that's an accurate description of his work. Carrie is good, but the horror gets away from her. The Shining features a decent man, and the horror of the house overcomes him. Pet Sematary features good people who have the urge to bring back the dead.

What's interesting too is that his early books actually feature powerful little girls who lash out at evil adults. For instance, Carrie and Firestarter.

Maybe younger Stephen King would take the side of Dylan Farrow. Yes, she's blowing up the world!

So why did he take the side of the old, evil adults and refuse to listen to the child hero? Maybe he likes Woody Allen and his liking him has corrupted his judgment. Or maybe, as he's gotten older, he's not sure who's right and who's wrong. He's not sure he believes in the innocent child who is lashing out.

Stephen King, by the way, writes very well when he gets away from horror. Shawshank Redemption and Stand By Me are both based on Stephen King novellas.

sydney said...

When people write every day, as Steven King does, and as some bloggers do, they are bound to write stupid things every now and then. They are also more likely to write something good now and then.
The Palpable Bitchery blog would be a good place to put those words that are not quite up to par.

Gabriel Hanna said...

presumably Gerald is nothing but a monster down to his core. Is there some reason why anyone would read that book?

Gerald is not the villian, or the abuser, in Gerald's Game. Not to give anything away, but he dies like 5 pages in.

So, yeah, you'd want to read the book in order to find out what's in it, since you can't guess it from it's title and that it somehow involves abuse of a woman.