Review of "Dorkismo" by Maria Bustillos (reprinted by permission from the Journal of Reviews of Books I Didn't Read Until Now Because That's How Lame I Am)
“The balanced mind is a dorky mind, indicative of someone who isn’t scared of looking like an idiot, and who will cheerfully indulge his own eccentricities and those of others in an unprejudiced, inclusive way.” – from the last page of Dorkismo: The Macho of the Dork, by Maria Bustillos (Accidental Books, 2008), which everybody should immediately order from Powell’s or some other independent online bookstore, because there is no such thing as Amazon.
I am three years late to this party, but I have to say this is a wonderful book of the kind that you will probably want to acquire in quantity so you can give away copies to bright young dorky people to encourage them.
The quote above is a pretty good distillation of Maria Bustillos’s project, which is to encourage people to give themselves up to their inner dork, that is to say to surrender to their love and their true enthusiasms about the world around them (especially the culture they’re in) and never to poison themselves with fear and phoniness and pretension.
It consists of brief chapters applying the Dorkismo thesis insightfully to everything from Jane Eyre to George Lucas (not necessarily one application at a time), but despite the episodic structure it’s best to read it in one happy gulp, like I just did, rather than chewing off a chapter at a go.
“The greatest foe to art is luxury, art cannot live in its atmosphere."—William Morris, The Beauty of Life
The connections between aesthetics, work, craftsmanship and politics have been evident from the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution. If we look to England, perhaps the first place in the modern world to suffer the terrible downside of capitalism, immediately we find John Ruskin yipping about the debasement of the working man’s character owing to the rise of the Machines, and lamenting the loss of beauty in the daily life of ordinary people and the ruin of the land. Ruskin thought that a restoration of art, of taste and craftsmanship, could rescue England from the ravages of industrialism.
Unfortunately Ruskin was plumb loco, as well as being a great art historian and social theorist. (Tthough it turns out that he never did burn those erotic drawings of Turner’s, as had been supposed for over a hundred years. He’d just hidden them, is all.) He was at heart a conservative who approached every question, whether of art or of social justice, from an unabashedly elitist, Christian moralistic perspective that is a little bit difficult to square with modern ideas.
His disciple William Morris, a secularist, polymath and expert craftsman of nearly incredible gifts, was another kettle of fish entirely.
Morris is possibly best remembered as one of the founders of England’s Arts and Crafts movement, a principal figure of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, and as founder of the Kelmscott Press. He also designed and produced textiles, wallpapers and tapestries; he was a painter, a medievalist, a poet and novelist, a co-founder of the still-extant Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, and an early and dedicated Socialist and political activist. His novels gave a certain medieval flavor to the nascent genre of fantasy fiction that it still retains, even today; both Tolkien and C.S. Lewis claimed him as an influence. He also managed to translate stuff from Icelandic, somewhere in all that, and to conduct a really terrifying-sounding marriage and love life.
These capsule-biographical details don’t begin to cover what Morris was really up to, though, because all his efforts were based on a single goal, resting on a single set of principles. He sought nothing less than the reform of English society: to reclaim his country from the soul-crushing depredations of the industrial age. He wanted to restore beauty (particularly, the making of beautiful things), human values and a love of nature to the life and surroundings of the English people as a whole. He thought that a return to making and enjoying beautiful things would right social wrongs, would equalize people and ennoble them.
Maria Bustillos, goddess of all she sees or reads about, writing in the Awl about Steve Jobs. Proust was a huge Ruskin fan. He learned enough English to translate Ruskin (with his mother’s help). I am not an art historian and knew nothing about Ruskin; now I know how he relates to Steve Jobs and medieval sci-fi, which is good enough for me.
Words cannot describe how I agree with this man (not the part about tying people up in the basement! The part about The Phantom Menace.) How I admire him and his mush-mouthed, deadpan delivery. Ah, me. Who is Rick Berman?
“[…] written with such delightful exuberance, familiar chattiness and obvious love for all things dork, you just want to eat it up with a spoon. Dorkismo celebrates the dorks among us, and the dork in all of us; and if you’ve never been a dork, you will so wish to be one, after reading this charming book. Maria Bustillos welcomes everyone under the vast and open-hearted dork umbrella.” Christie Mellor, author of The Three-Martini Playdate
“Dorkismo: the Macho of the Dork is pure gold. Don’t just grab it for the David Foster Wallace chapter (good as it is) but for the celebration of everything that is dork.” Nick Maniatis, The Howling Fantods
“I’m a big ol’ dork. Have been since childhood. But never really knew what a badge of honor the title was. Maria Bustillos’s brilliant Dorkismo has convinced me once and for all to stop hiding my dork light under a bushel. The book is by turns serious and hysterical, and all the while engagingly written and with an important point to make: the beauty of the dork is her ability to be herself even in the face of what everyone else thinks – and if we had a little more of that in the world, we’d all be better off. Two dork thumbs, way up.” Kathleen Fitzpatrick, author of The Anxiety of Obsolescence: The American Novel in the Age of Television
“Like the best American intellectuals (e.g., Tony Kushner or Mark Twain), Bustillos is less impressed by how smart she is (very!) than by how entertaining it is to think and say. Dorkismo is an intelligent, passionate and witty celebration of open-hearted goofiness (what Henry Fielding might call "benevolence”). In Bustillos’ world view, the nemesis of “dorkismo” is crippling self-consciousness of the hip variety. If you’ve ever experienced such a thing (I could name my own name), then this book is your ticket to liberation, that is to say, self-acceptance. She wants us to love the things we love, without embarrassment, and get our kicks in joy instead of judgment. I say: Read it!“ Michael Mullen, The Size Queens