Rep­u­ta­tion tar­nished

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - READS - Re­view by LAU­rIE HErtZEL re­view by SANDY CLArKE star2@ thes­tar. com. my

WHAT do we call those who watch the voyeur?

Gay Talese’s new book of non­fic­tion, The Voyeur’s Mo­tel, re­counts the years that an Amer­i­can mo­tel owner, Ger­ald Foos, spent se­cretly ob­serv­ing his pay­ing guests through spe­cial vents in­stalled in the ceil­ings of some of his rooms. Foos was an un­abashed voyeur, and he spied on his guests as they cleaned their toes, used the toi­let, ate fast food, ar­gued and – to his great mas­tur­ba­tory delight – en­gaged in sex­ual re­la­tions. This is, of course, il­le­gal. Over decades, Foos kept metic­u­lous notes, which he wrote in a faux- schol­arly, de­tached tone, grandly re­fer­ring to him­self in the third per­son. He came to think of him­self as some­thing of a so­ci­ol­o­gist ( a “pi­o­neer­ing sex re­searcher”, he wrote), but Foos is not a scholar, and he was never de­tached.

He was deeply in­volved in his spy­ing, of­ten mas­tur­bat­ing while watch­ing. He pre­ferred young, at­trac­tive women en­gaged in straight or les­bian sex. He grew frus­trated when cou­ples didn’t have sex, or had sex with the cov­ers pulled up or the lights turned off. Some­times he would climb down out of the at­tic, go out­side, turn on his car head­lights to shine into the room so he could see bet­ter, and then climb back up to the at­tic.

His ob­ser­va­tions are not schol­arly, but creepy: “The Voyeur couldn’t be­lieve a wo­man could ap­pear so de­li­cious and ath­let­i­cally in good shape de­spite her ap­proach­ing mid­dle years.”

He was never caught, but over time, from his lair in the ceil­ing, Foos chafed at his anonymity. He wanted recog­ni­tion for what he pompously called his “re­search”. And so in 1980 he wrote to Talese, send­ing him pho­to­copies of his jour­nal, but swear­ing him to se­crecy. They cor­re­sponded for years, and Talese went to Colorado where the mo­tel was to meet him, and to take his turn at the peep­hole.

Only re­cently, af­ter re­tir­ing, did Foos al­low Talese to write about him and name him. And so, for what­ever rea­son, Talese did.

The bulk of The Voyeur’s Mo­tel comes from Foos’ jour­nals, long ital­i­cised pas­sages that go on for pages, de­scrib­ing sex acts sala­ciously, in great de­tail. If you think you are get­ting a book writ­ten by Talese, you’re wrong; Talese’s own words serve as lit­tle more than tran­si­tion to lengthy pas­sages of Foos porn.

Talese wres­tles, but briefly, with the taw­dri­ness of it all. “Had I be­come com­plicit in his strange and dis­taste­ful project?” he won­ders. Why, yes, Mr Talese, you had.

I am a great ad­mirer of Talese’s other work, but I read this book with grow­ing dis­com­fort, look­ing for some larger mean­ing, wait­ing for some non­pruri­ent rea­son for pub­lish­ing it. He tries, to­ward the end, to draw larger, pos­si­bly ironic con­clu­sions about con­stant ob­ser­va­tion in to­day’s Big Brother so­ci­ety, but they are half­hearted and not at all con­vinc­ing.

Re­cently, The Wash­ing­ton Post un­cov­ered prop­erty records that showed that Foos did not own the mo­tel for eight of the years cov­ered in the book. This news ap­peared to floor Talese. “The source of my book, Ger­ald Foos, is cer­ti­fi­ably un­re­li­able,” he told the Post. “He’s a dis­hon­ourable man, to­tally dis­hon­ourable. ... I did the best I could on this book, but maybe it wasn’t good enough.”

I’m not sure why it would be a sur­prise to find that a man who built a cat­walk sys­tem so that he could spy on his guests hav­ing sex should turn out to be dis­hon­ourable.

What a sad end­ing to a long and stel­lar ca­reer. In putting this book to­gether, the vastly tal­ented Talese has tar­nished his rep­u­ta­tion and made voyeurs of us all. – Star Tri­bune/ Tri­bune News Ser­vice FOR­MER Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter David Cameron of­ten said that his gov­ern­ment was one that would best serve those who “want to work hard and get on” in life.

For a time in Bri­tish pol­i­tics, there ex­isted the rather un­palat­able and di­vi­sive phrase, “strivers and skivers”, used in an in­sid­i­ous at­tempt to draw a line be­tween those who wanted to con­trib­ute to so­ci­ety and those who were sup­pos­edly less so in­clined.

But if hard work and per­se­ver­ance are traits that in­vari­ably lead to suc­cess, many in the poor­est re­gions of, say, Africa would surely be liv­ing lives of pur­pose, mean­ing, and rel­a­tive abun­dance. This, of course, is far from be­ing the case.

And so we ar­rive at An­gela Duck­worth’s no­tion that grit – the abil­ity to im­merse your­self in your goals and per­se­vere through the set­backs – is the sin­gle trait that can trans­form our lives in the most mean­ing­ful ways if only we can keep go­ing.

Two equa­tions given by Duck­worth point to her be­lief that it’s not so much what you have that counts but what you do with it. Tal­ent × ef­fort = skill. Skill × ef­fort = achieve­ment. The mes­sage pre­sented by the au­thor, il­lus­trated by these equa­tions, is that ef­fort counts twice as much as tal­ent.

Through­out the book, Duck­worth delves into a num­ber of ex­am­ples of high achiev­ers who, thanks to their ca­pac­ity for grit, were able to make a suc­cess of their lives, and in some cases, against the odds.

She be­gins by ex­plor­ing the make- up of those who make the grade at West Point Academy, Amer­ica’s pres­ti­gious mil­i­tary school. Each year, West Point re­ceives around 14,000 ap­pli­ca­tions from hope­fuls look­ing to se­cure a place in it. This list is then whit­tled down to 4,000 who ob­tain the re­quired nom­i­na­tion and, of these, around 2,500 will meet the rig­or­ous stan­dards re­quired to en­rol. Even­tu­ally, 1,200 ap­pli­cants will be en­rolled – and one in five will drop out be­fore grad­u­a­tion. What is it that makes some stick, while others quit?

This sets the tone of a book lit­tered with ex­am­ples of gritty peo­ple such as Duck­worth’s col­league Scott Barry Kauf­man, a “slow learner” as a child, who went on to be­come a recog­nised aca­demic in his field. She also ex­am­ines the de­ter­mi­na­tion of John Irv­ing – au­thor of The World Ac­cord­ing To Garp – who, as a stu­dent, strug­gled with dyslexia and earned a C- in se­condary school English, and is now cel­e­brated as one of the most “mas­ter­ful and pro­lific writ­ers in his­tory”.

In­spir­ing sto­ries aside – and they are in­spir­ing – it’s dif­fi­cult to avoid won­der­ing whether grit truly is the sin­gle most ef­fec­tive trait when it comes to achieve­ment, or a booster trait that’s use­ful in con­junc­tion with other fac­tors. For ex­am­ple, of those who en­rol at West Point, over 80% are male and over two- thirds are white. Con­sid­er­ing where you have to start from to even think of ap­ply­ing to the academy, it’s highly doubt­ful that those who end up drop­ping out risk fall­ing on hard times.

The prob­lem with defin­ing suc­cess is that there are so many vari­ables to con­sider. En­vi­ron­ment, up­bring­ing, tim­ing, resources, op­por­tu­nity, luck ... the list goes on. And sure, grit is likely a sig­nif­i­cant fac­tor – you can’t be a suc­cess or world- class ex­pert by flit­ting from one in­ter­est to an­other, it takes pas­sion, com­mit­ment and dogged de­ter­mi­na­tion. But it does help if you hap­pen to have the right sort of cir­cum­stances in which grit can work its magic. Of course, there will be al­ways be rags- to- riches ex­cep­tions to the rule, but even those ex­cep­tions will have en­coun­tered a timely com­bi­na­tion of con­ducive fac­tors at some point along the road to suc­cess.

Duck­worth’s re­search has, un­sur­pris­ingly, brought her prom­i­nent recog­ni­tion and ac­claim, and her in­sights into what it means to be gritty have even in­spired ed­u­ca­tion poli­cies that place an em­pha­sis on de­vel­op­ing the grit within chil­dren. But sadly, as with many promis­ing ideas, her work has been jumped on as a po­ten­tial panacea for so­cial ills when in­stead it should be the so­cial is­sues them­selves that are ad­dressed if coun­tries truly want their chil­dren to flour­ish.

On a pos­i­tive note, Duck­worth’s book is one that can of­fer a valu­able pick- me- up to those of us who are for­tu­nate to be able to put ef­fort to­wards dis­cov­er­ing our pur­pose and work­ing to achieve it. Forty pages in, I was hooked and I find that her ideas are ap­pli­ca­ble to my own sit­u­a­tion ( I score 3.5 on her “Grit Scale”, which means I’m grit­tier than around 40% Amer­i­cans – much work re­mains to be done, ob­vi­ously!).

Duck­worth’s book cer­tainly makes for a valu­able evening’s read­ing if you’re look­ing to gal­vanise your grit. How­ever, half- way through, I be­gan to feel like I was read­ing the same mes­sage over and over again; which isn’t nec­es­sar­ily a bad thing – we hu­mans need con­stant re­minders of what’s good for us – but it does be­gin to feel like you’re read­ing ve­neer pop- psy­chol­ogy the fur­ther into the book you go.

photo: kier­a­cass. com

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