Broccoli rabe with butterbeans, tomatoes, and mozzarella

Broccoli rabe and butter beans

Broccoli rabe and butter beans

I apologize in advance for this. Earlier in the week I was unkind to poor Jack Kerouac, and now I feel another ungenerous rant come along. I do genuinely want The Ordinary to be full of things I love, not complaints about things I don’t like, but I’ve been talking in my head about this for a few days, so it has to come out. How has this happened? Jonathan Franzen has got me so upset. Last week he wrote a long whingey article in the Guardian (admittedly the place for long whingey articles.) What’s Wrong with the Modern World, though ostensibly about the essays of German satirist Karl Kraus, is really about Franzen himself. In a strange turn of events, the day the story came out, before I’d even seen it, I’d spent the morning talking to Franzen in my head about all of the ways I think he’s bad for American literature. I told him all the things I don’t like about his novels, how I find them insincere and soulless, smugly & coldly well-researched and clever. How he likes to know things about people–he fancies himself an expert–but how I’d turn the tables on him and say that I know him, I know men like him, prowling college student centers all over the country in their blazers, with their sad mix of arrogance and insecurity, trying to pick up women by twisting their words and bewildering them, and then saying, “I know you, baby.” And then along comes this article, and Franzen knows Karl Kraus, he relates to him, and he’ll explain him to us, because we’re probably not smart enough to unravel Kraus’ deliberately difficult prose. He tells us that Kraus said, “Psychoanalysis is that disease of the mind for which it believes itself to be the cure,” and then he goes on to psychoanalyze Kraus, to try to understand why he’s so angry. Franzen was angry himself, once, he tells us, and his anger made him cruel to old, poverty-stricken German women, but in a clever and poetic way that was significant for Franzen himself. And we suspect that this entire article is Franzen’s way of publicly stating, decades on, that when he didn’t have sex with “an unbelievably pretty girl in Munich,” it wasn’t a failure on his part but a decision. This is not anger! This is petulance, this is brattishness. And he tells us his anger subsided when he started to become successful as a writer, just as a spoiled child’s does when he finally gets his way. And now his anger is directed to the noise of the modern world, at people who tweet and leave inane comments on facebook and amazon. At the people who self-publish their novels and then brag about them on Amazon in the hopes that anyone will read them. But Franzen’s lengthy whinge in the Guardian ends thus, “The Kraus Project by Jonathan Franzen is published by Harper Collins on 1 October. To pre-order it…” He’s privileged, he doesn’t have to stoop to leaving flattering reviews of his own novel on lowly websites, and he can be disdainful of anybody that does, because he has the Guardian UK for his bragging platform. And, in truth, twitter, facebook, Amazon, I don’t love them, I agree that they’re noisy and distracting, but they’re easy to tune out. They’re easy to ignore. Franzen’s novels are more dangerous because they aren’t easy to ignore. I’ve wasted valuable hours of my life reading 1 1/2 of his novels, and I’ll never get that time back, I’ll never unread them. I read them because I had been told that they were good, that they were fine, they were literature, despite the fact that Oprah was suggesting them to housewives, to Franzen’s dismay. Franzen talks about how things are changing so fast that we have no sense of the past or the future any more. “If I’d been born in 1159, when the world was steadier, I might well have felt, at 53, that the next generation would share my values and appreciate the same things I appreciated; no apocalypse pending. … And so today, 53 years later, Kraus’s signal complaint – that the nexus of technology and media has made people relentlessly focused on the present and forgetful of the past – can’t help ringing true to me.” In 1159, few people made it to 53, and few people would have had any knowledge of the past, of the history of the world, or even their part of it. For them time passing was measured from meal to meal, from dark to dark, in the cycle of the seasons. They must have had dreams of the future, but those dreams would have been darkened by the inevitability of hunger and disease and war, by their own personal apocalypse. Franzen’s anger, in this pitch to sell his new book, lacks any real depth or substance or sense, just as his novels do for me. They lack soul, not in a religious sense, but in the sense of something warm and truthful, human and enduring. Franzen’s novels are painstakingly about his present, but they don’t possess a sense of memory, there’s no life inside, no quick, to persist when the dry words have crumbled to dust.

broccoli rabe and butterbeans

broccoli rabe and butterbeans

Bitter? Me? No, no, it’s broccoli rabe that’s bitter. But tender and delicious. Tender is the key word here, I wanted everything to be tender–the greens, the big juicy butterbeans, the little melting chunks of mozzarella, the cherry tomatoes fresh from the farm. The pine nuts add a little contrasting crunch, and that’s that!

Here’s Billie Holiday with Tenderly
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