The Dim-Post

October 28, 2010

Freedom

Filed under: books — danylmc @ 4:02 pm

My definition of ‘a good book’ these days is any book that I look forward to reading more of when I have to put it down, and by this criteria Freedom is a very good book. It’s a social satire and as you’d expect it’s about freedom, specifically the way the idea of freedom has shifted in our society from an emphasis on liberty to an emphasis on selfishness and the idea that we should be able to do whatever we want with no consequences (the people claiming that Paul Henry’s right to free speech was violated when people complained about him being a canonical example). The book is about how humans are highly social, interdependent animals reliant on each other for our happiness, and Franzen shows that if you put animals like that in a culture that celebrates individual freedom to the exclusion of all other virtues then you end up with a society filled with depressed, angry, lonely, frustrated people.

There are variations on this same theme through the book: economics and freedom, psychology and freedom, family and freedom (the central theme of the book is illustrated by the characters who feel free to cheat on their partner with someone more attractive and/or younger and are then devastated when their partner is unfaithful or divorces them).

The book references War and Peace many times, and it does resemble the first third of W&P: the psychological sketch of a specific society at a fixed point in history, the difference being that Tolstoy liked his characters and the people of Russia a whole lot more than Franzen likes the US and the upper-middle class intellectuals he writes about. At least Franzen understands his subjects – the culture, the technology etc – and writes about them with realism as opposed to, say, Updike or Delillo who tend to write like alien anthropologists describing another species after being beamed in from their home planet of literary academia.

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8 Comments »

  1. Sounds like a good read and based on your recommendation I will look for it!

    Comment by DT — October 28, 2010 @ 4:41 pm

  2. “On fuck! A book review?”

    That’ll scare off the trolls. Clever, very clever.

    Comment by Pat — October 28, 2010 @ 4:44 pm

  3. Yes a good read, that’s for sure and cant remember whether I suggested you look for his previous big fat book, “Corrections”, also a very satisfying read…

    Comment by Pdogge — October 28, 2010 @ 5:29 pm

  4. Absolutely loved this book! Not so much satire, as reality I would imagine. He does a wonderful job of fleshing out interesting characters and then letting them loose on one another.

    Not as clever as ‘The Corrections’, but worthwhile.

    Comment by Tim — October 28, 2010 @ 5:47 pm

  5. Reminded me straight away of Lee Kuan Yew.

    “And now in America itself there is widespread crime and violence, children kill each other with guns, neighborhoods are insecure, old people feel forgotten, families are falling apart. And the media attack the integrity and character of your leaders with impunity, drags down all those in authority and blame everyone but themselves.”

    “The sense of cultural supremacy of the Americas will make this adjustment most difficult. Americans believe their ideas are universal—the supremacy of the individual and free, unfettered expression. But they are not—never were.

    http://www.digitalnpq.org/archive/2009_fall_2010_winter/16_yew.html

    Mind you no stoners in Singapore. They won their war. All that order. It sounds the kind of book that David Garrett would endorse.

    Comment by Simon — October 28, 2010 @ 9:53 pm

  6. may i recommend a contrary viewpoint, purely based on his earlier work?: http://exiledonline.com/jonathan-franzen-will-rim-bobos-for-book-of-the-month-fame/

    and how can you not squirm when you’re faced with these thoughts expressed thusly?: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=35jXdhbx_hw&feature=related

    sorry, i just don’t like the guy or the writer

    Comment by dylan — October 28, 2010 @ 10:14 pm

  7. I think Updike understood his subjects and was hyper-realistic in the way he dealt with them. This made him kind of difficult at times. Delillo’s just weird.

    I thought the Corrections was brilliant, but have since read Infinite Jest so have a whole new perspective on shit. Still want to read Freedom though.

    Comment by Guy Smiley — October 29, 2010 @ 6:51 am

  8. Aren’t the only books worth reading written by Ayn Rand?

    Comment by uroskin — October 29, 2010 @ 9:22 am


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