This post should have come out a week ago. I’ve been thinking about it that long. Thinking about a lot of posts, actually, but as you can see I haven’t really gotten around to them. (Where, oh where, is that elusive routine?)
Books. I recently finished Class: a guide through the American status system by Paul Fussell, 1983. Also read Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn, 2001. Two seemingly unrelated books, no? I’ll get to that.
First off, Paul Fussell’s book probably makes a lot of people angry and he admits that much in the very beginning. Twenty years later and Americans still don’t like to think that there are castes here. Some of his observations are still sadly true, other observations are just plain stereotyping. Something I wanted to read more about, but that Fussell only touched on, was the different perceptions of class. What distinguishes one class from another? He summed up the criteria according to what each class judged important –
Class their defining element for determining one’s status
upper taste, style
I think that’s still too general. I think class is judged individually, each person having a very personal idea of status… much like our very personal, highly charged ideas of ethics or morals. For example, when Fussell describes the upper class as never reading, and “never saying anything intelligent or original” (p. 32), I would immediately consider that the lowest of low class no matter how much money was involved.
But then Fussell ends with chapter 9, “The X Way Out.” He describes the X class as the people who are outside the whole heirarchy schemata, unconcerned with status and all that nonsense. Freethinking, traveling, quasi-hippie wonders. This chapter was so unlike the rest of the book, stood out so much, that I had to wonder where it came from. Was this upon an editor’s/publisher’s insistence… add some saving grace? Was this a crumb of optimism thrown out for his U Penn students? An offering of an escape?
Or did Fussell perhaps write this chaper first? Was all the preceeding stuff only there to bring us to the X class? Is this what he had been wanting to say all along? It really makes me suspect that this last chapter was actually the seed for the whole book.
Much like the other book I read – Ella Minnow Pea. A fun read, very fast, finished it in one night. Very damning in its commentary on community apathy – the ostrich syndrome so many of us have, myself included I will admit. This book, too, I believe was written end first. I don’t want to give much away… well, let’s do this. If you haven’t read the book yet, go out and get it, read it, then come back. Stop reading now. If you *have* read the book or just know that you probably won’t then please continue.
So, the premise of the story is that a small island in the Atlantic is completely devoted to the sentence “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.” The shortest sentence that includes all the letters of the alphabet. As the statue celebrating this sentence starts losing letters due to age and poor glue, the island’s government decides that no one can use those letters at risk of flogging or exile. Doesn’t take too long till almost the whole island is deserted, save those people who have no where else they can go and are hanging on to break the government’s one exception — if anyone can find a sentence shorter than “quick brown fox…” that includes all the letters of the alphabet, then all the laws are repealed and order will be restored. So of course, at the last minute, the shorter sentence is found, all the citizens return from exile.
I can only guess that the author started out with this sentence in mind and built a story to suit it. Did he come up with it himself, or were there computers involved as suggested at the end of the story? Either way, the story would have been written backwards. Maybe a lot of good books are written that way. The final image is the first inspiration.