Tuesday, December 11, 2018
Lenore From San Fran
Reprinted from 2007.
A Garrison Keillor rerun had a News From Lake Wobegon about Lenore, a libertarian from San Francisco.
One already suspects he knows little about them if he thinks that’s their usual habitat, but I imagine there are a few, and one or two, perhaps, might somehow have moved to a prarie town in Minnesota. The oddity of such a possibility sets in high relief the trouble with storytellers: you can make the characters do whatever you want to illustrate your prejudices. Reality is no restraint.
That is technically true of all fiction, of course, and rather like its definition. But fiction is valued for the true insights it provides, the summing up of many stories in a single story, the distillation of many characters into a single character. Even wild and fantastic stories have as their aim showing how persons might act or should act in an improbable situation. Fantasy and sci-fi might be particularly good at this delineation, as they attempt to show basic human nature in extreme situations. CS Lewis, a fantasy writer, remarked that school stories, for all their appearance of common reality, were in fact founded on the unhealthy fantasies of adolescents, pining to be what they never can.
Keillor, then, has been marvelous at capturing in miniature two larger cultures: small town Minnesota and the arts culture as it is lived by people in America. He can do these skillfully because he knows these cultures – he has lived in them. Norwegian bachelor farmers, beleaguered clergymen, eccentric relatives, and people who dream of living elsewhere were the cast of characters of his childhood; moderately successful wordsmiths and musicians people his adulthood.
When he brings in people from outside these cultures and drops them into either of the two he knows, he deceives himself. He spins their stories as if from their point-of-view, with standard writer’s omniscience about what they think at what motivates them. But he gets them completely wrong. His rant about what Lenore thinks of her students, or her readiness to shoot a suspected intruder because of her own fevered imagination, has no ring of truth about any libertarian I have ever met or read. What it does resemble is the stereotype that liberal Democrats have about libertarians. Keillor thus believes he is entering into the thought process of a person different from himself, but is actually only entering into the thought processes of his audience. His skill in inserting homely details obscures a basic point: he hasn’t the faintest idea what he is talking about.
It is a moment of mutual self-congratulation on the stage, as Garrison and friends reassure themselves that they’ve seen through what those others believe. They know.
Come to think of it, whenever Keillor brings in people from elsewhere – youth evangelists from Georgia, priests from Las Vegas, Republican brothers-in-law, anyone from California or Texas, they are not only cartoons, but quite specifically the precise cartoons that his two cultures believe automatically.
Thanks Gary – I don’t think I would have quite figured out how inaccurate you are about all characters outside of a narrow range if you hadn’t been so magnificently wrong about this one.
Posted by Assistant Village Idiot at 9:25 AM