An Hour with Anthony McCarten (Auckland readers & Writers Festival 2012)
I've never read anything by Anthony MCarten, hardly even heard of him, but the sound of one of his books drew me in. He had a brilliant quote, one which could have gone down well in the session on the future of the novel: "Writing is about working out the music people dance to". Apparently he sells much better in Germany than in New Zealand: he has been compared there to Gunter Grass and he won a youth literature prize in nearby Austria. He's an interesting looking fellow, I could somehow see that he was once someone who desperately wanted to be a rockstar
The first of his two books, Brilliance, is a non-fiction work. It was originally over six hundred pages but he couldn't get anyone to publish it.McCarten says he loved it so much he screwed it up. Oddly enough, doing a stage version led to him finding a 150 page version which has been published:
At the same time, he points the finger at Morgan for subverting Edison's purity, by commercializing his impulse to create. Morgan is a "superstar of usury" but also someone who apparently genuinely believed in the redemptive powers of bankers, and thought they should rule the world! But then he did organise the banks to stop a run in 1907. Wikipedia has a good story:
In the early days of the American Civil War Morgan financed a scheme, known as the "Hall Carbine Affair", that purchased 5,000 dangerously defective carbines being liquidated by the U.S. Government at a cost of $3.50 each. The rifles were later resold to the government as new carbines lacking the safety flaw at a cost of $22. The audacity of the scheme included not only the $92,426 loss by the government and the selling of weapons known to maim their operators to an army in need of firearms, but the guns were also sold prior to ownership, thus the guns were paid for with money from their sale back to the government.He's a complicated fellow: along with a desire to make it unnecessary for Americans to leave the country, he endowed museums and a hospital (although this was apparently so a girlfriend could get an abortion).
McCarten spent a fair amount of time talking about Morgan's nose, not for business but his actual nose, which was purple and deformed, "hugely ugly". He refused to have it repaired, as it served as a useful litmus test for people's opinions of him: he wore his nose with a "mad bravado". The nose apparently saved him millions. Instead of mirrors, he surrounded himself with very attractive young men to serve as a more appropriate reflection.
One inspiration was technology, how we have gone from books as friend replacements to computers, and particularly the consumerisation of technology, how we are told to want things we don't need. He called this a "gigachange" and explores what impact these new toys have on our lives. One suggestion is that teenagers have forsaken sex and flocked to facebook, which is "industrialised friendship". It is not all bad, however: the time kids spend in online gaming environments means they are gaining real skills, in problem solving and co-ordination. Another is that technology allows us to do what we always wanted to do. He also postulated an amusing reverse scenerio, in which Gutenberg invented the iPad in the 15th century and then Apple in the 21st century invented the hardcopy, paper based "iBook".
The session finished on an odd note, with a question from the audience as to why he is so popular in Germany. Rather than answer himself, McCarten passed the question to a group of German journalists - they said it was (a) because McCarten bothered to tour there and (b) they found the book "touching".