Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Jonathan Franzen's Freedom is an epic map of our imprisonment. - By Judith Shulevitz - Slate Magazine

I don't know if I'll ever bring myself to actually read one of Franzen's books, but this seems worth some time and thought:
What passes for freedom in America, Franzen seems to be implying, is a refusal to accept limits, to acknowledge and shoulder the burdens of one's inheritance. Certainly everyone in the novel comes to rue freedom, their own and others'. Patty notes that "all her choices and all her freedom" bring her nothing but misery and self-pity. Richard, the punk-rocker who was Walter's college roommate and becomes Patty's lover, belatedly attains the freedom that comes with stardom and nearly commits suicide; later, he achieves YouTube notoriety for a rant in which he taunts a generation that associates freedom with iPods: "We're about choosing what WE want to listen to and ignoring everything else," he tells the video camera. "Me me me, buy buy buy, party party party. Sit in your own little world, rocking, with your eyes closed." Walter, whose core political message is that we need limits to growth, sees the discourse on freedom as little more than the Republican insistence on "personal liberties":
"People came to this country for either money or freedom. If you don't have money, you cling to your freedoms all the more angrily. Even if smoking kills you, even if you can't afford to feed your kids, even if your kids are getting shot down by maniacs with assault rifles. You may be poor, but the one thing nobody can take away from you is the freedom to fuck up your life whatever way you want to."