Monday, June 20, 2011

Radical Change


The biggest loser at the U.S. Open golf championship this weekend had to be Phil Mickelson. For more than a decade Mickelson has made a career out of being the second-best player in the world, a golfer almost-but-not-quite as good as Tiger Woods. He's even won a few major tournaments himself to justify this image. By Friday this stance was shattered.

On the first two days of the tournament, Thursday and Friday, Mickelson played in the same group with young Rory McIlroy, who went on to win big. They weren't on the same level. Afterward McIlroy remarked to the effect that he admired Mickelson's ability to scramble out of trouble after bad shots. Left unsaid was that Mickelson was so often in trouble to begin with, in the world's most difficult tournament. McIlroy made it look easy, seldom making bad shots. A level closer to golf perfection indeed.

Why would we not think that McIlroy has raised the bar not just on Phil, but on Tiger himself? Change is the fundamental law of nature.

For fifteen years Tiger Woods has dominated the golf world by working harder than other golfers-- by having stronger determination, practicing longer, conditioning himself better, to give himself an edge. On the golf course he could always scramble out of trouble and will himself to a win. McIlroy's dominance is an entirely different animal. Or so it appeared next to the supposed "best of the rest" in smiling Phil, who became instantly obsolete compared to the appearance of the New.

I've argued that this is exactly the kind of phenomenon which should occur in the world of literature. The short story is obviously stagnant, trapped in a competent Phil Mickelson-style outdated version of brilliance which appears to the thoughtfully observant to be stodgy and old. I'll read a story by the best of today's literary scribblers-- Mary Gaitskill for instance-- and shake my head at the work's slowness and predictability, despite the writer's evident trained skill.

I don't pretend that I'll be able to write the radical new story to rescue the art. But, I hope to present nascent examples pointing a road down which future radically-different radically-better new talents could go.

(In other words, watch for my first e-book, "Ten Pop Stories," on sale someplace soon.)

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