At The Valve there's an interesting discussion of J.C. Hallman's essay on launching a school of creative criticism.
Among others, Zak Smith, of Gravity's Rainbow illustration fame, is there in the comments:
If you pick up “The Second Coming” read it and don’t like it, that’s fine. That is an acceptable response to a piece of literature.
If, then, you take a class, learn all about Yeats and meter and symbolism, and then re-read it and then suddenly claim to like it–that’s bad.
That’s posing. That’s like saying you didn’t used . . . continue reading, and add your comments
One of the parts of Issue 17 of TQC that I’m most excited about is our serialization of JC Hallman’s adapted intro to his anthology of lit crit, The Story About the Story. The moment I read it, I knew this was just the kind of statement on good criticism I’d been looking for, and, collectively, me and the other editors were so hyped about what Chris wrote that we dedicated our editorial to a response.
Chris is currently blogging about his book at Tin House’s website, where he’s expanding on why he wanted to . . . continue reading, and add your comments
As far as self-promotion disguised as general-theory-of-the-novel goes, Lev Grossman could learn a thing or two from Jonathan Franzen, Ben Marcus, Tom Wolfe [pdf], and David Foster Wallace [also pdf], because his entry in that genre is distinctly lackluster. Actually, before he learns how to write one of those little exercises, he might want to refresh himself on literary history, aesthetic terminology, and logic. His essay "Good Books Don't Have to Be Hard" in The Wall Street Journal is about the literary equivalent of a Glenn Beck broadcast: "I'm sorry, but I love the novel. And I fear for it."
Here's how he actually begins:
A good story is a dirty secret that we all share. It's what makes guilty pleasures so pleasurable, but it's also what makes them so guilty. A juicy tale reeks of crass commercialism and cheap thrills. We crave such entertainments, but we despise them. Plot makes perverts of us all.
Straw man? Why stop there? Let's create a straw galaxy. A straw galaxy where smart people look down their nose at you if you watch, say, The Wire, or read Roberto Bolaño. "Oh that Don DeLillo," they say, "he's just too plotty for me. Too many, you know, consecutive related events."
In Grossman's straw galaxy, there is, however, A New Hope: "If there's a key to what the 21st-century novel is going to look like, this is it: the ongoing exoneration and rehabilitation of plot." And he sees this Hope from his vantage as a critic and semi-lauded novelist, and offers us a valuable lesson for why it must be so: "There was once a reason for turning away from plot, but that rationale has outlived its usefulness… Where did this conspiracy come from in the first place—the plot against plot? I blame the Modernists." And then he lists a number of Classic Modernist Works, the majority of which are inarguably, unequivocally and extremely self-evidently plot-driven in a classic nineteenth-century sense: "The Age of Innocence,'… 'A Passage to India,'… 'Lady Chatterley's Lover,' 'The Sun Also Rises,' 'A Farewell to Arms'… 'The Professor's House,' 'The Great Gatsby,' 'Arrowsmith' and 'An American Tragedy.'" Oh yes, that Edith Wharton, Patron of the Plot-Slayers.
Continue reading An Advertisement for Himself
When I was in New York last week, I saw Gary Indiana read from his strange, rebarbative, yet oddly compelling new novel The Shanghai Gesture at 192 Books, and in subsequent days I read through the volume of reviews, essays, and articles that he published last year, Utopia's Debris. As I read, I found myself returning again and again to the following collectible line from its early pages:
Our representations of ourselves are even more selective and partial than our portraiture of other people.
It comes from an obituary appreciation . . . continue reading, and add your comments
Levi gets a little disillusioned about professional book reviewing:
Much about my attitude towards the Book Review has changed since that weekend in May 2005 when I began this pursuit. For one thing, I knew none of the editors or critics who wrote for the Book Review back then, whereas by now I have met or corresponded with many of the NYTBR regulars and staffers. I was completely unaware, back then, of the hyperactive and highly competitive internal world inhabited by professional literary critics, too many of whom (I have now learned) are more concerned with impressing their . . . continue reading, and add your comments
I've been reading Harold Bloom's classic work The Anxiety of Influence, and I've come upon an odd quote. It's the kind of thing that sounds so right that I really want to like it, but I'm not entirely sure I understand what it means.
So, I'm throwing it out to the crowd. Anyone want to take a shot at unpacking this?
Cultural belatedness is never acceptable to a major writer, though Borges made a career out of exploiting his secondariness.
Ever since I read William H. Gass's essay in the most recent Review of Contemporary Fiction, I've wondered about a remark he made:
Ford Madox Ford and Joseph Conrad agreed that writing in English, as contrasted with writing in French, was like throwing mud at a wall, but I think that most words are closets crammed with suits shirts socks and dresses, panties hats and gloves, and I see words dressing themselves in the wardrobes of others, first of all picking out this or that sense and then asking: will this skirt go with that blouse? does this . . . continue reading, and add your comments
At The Valve they're discussing whether post-colonial criticism "assumes its conclusions even before it begins."
The responses so far seem to amount to "yeah, so what?" But lots of interesting variants of that. Several, for instance, are making the valid point that this is what all criticism (and in fact all scholarship) does. There's also the point that:
If *all* postcolonial criticism means is to locate effects of imperialism in culture, then we clearly have no conclusions to begin with. We simply have objects of study. I don’t think it’s a controversial idea to be open to possible . . . continue reading, and add your comments
The blogosphere is fun for lots and lots of reasons. But one of the best is that occasionally, by virtue of some monkey-pounding-typewriter law of probability, you will encounter two posts on the same day that are almost perfect complements.
Thus, Wyatt Mason opines (quite correctly):
Criticism that doesn’t read closely isn’t literary criticism. If it’s anything, it’s personal essay—a perfectly admirable category of thing, and a perfectly reasonable form in which a writer can write about reading as an experience—but not literary criticism.
And the the Literary Saloon rages (equally correctly):
We like our reviews to . . . continue reading, and add your comments
In The New York Times, Katie Roiphe offers a good review of Elaine Showalter's new historio-critical volume of women American writers, A Jury of Her Peers.
Roiphe seems concerned that Showalter is a little too caught up in categorizing over critiquing, and she makes some worthwhile points along the way:
As Elizabeth Bishop put it, “art is art and to separate writings, paintings, musical compositions, etc. into two sexes is to emphasize values that are not art.” Showalter handles these rebels by corralling them into special subchapters with titles like “Dissenters.” One of the . . . continue reading, and add your comments