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The End of Oulipo?

The End of Oulipo? My book (co-authored with Lauren Elkin), published by Zero Books. Available everywhere. Order it from Amazon, or find it in bookstores nationwide. The End of Oulipo

Lady Chatterley’s Brother

Lady Chatterley's Brother. The first ebook in the new TQC Long Essays series, Lady Chatterley's Brothercalled “an exciting new project” by Chad Post of Open Letter and Three Percent. Why can't Nicholson Baker write about sex? And why can Javier Marias? We investigate why porn is a dead end, and why seduction paves the way for the sex writing of the future. Read an excerpt.

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Ever wonder what English is missing? Called "a fascinating Life Perecread" by The New Yorker, Translate This Book! brings together over 40 of the top translators, publishers, and authors to tell us what books need to be published in English. Get it on Kindle.

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Ten Memorable Quotes from William Gaddis’ Letters

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Interviews from Conversational Reading

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See this page for interviews with leading authors, translators, publishers, and more.


  • A Treatise on Shelling Beans by Wiesław Myśliwski March 9, 2014
    A man enters a house and asks to buy some beans, but we aren’t given his question, only the response: humble surprise from the narrator and an invitation inside. This modesty, though it remains at the core of the narrator throughout, is quickly overwhelmed when his questions, his welcoming explanations, flow into an effort to tell his whole life story, from […]
  • The Gorgeous Nothings by Emily Dickinson, edited by Marta Werner and Jen Bervin March 9, 2014
    The Gorgeous Nothings, the dedicated work of visual artist Jen Bervin and author Marta Werner, presents in large format the first full-color publication of all fifty-two of Emily Dickinson’s envelope writings. As such, it opens up an aspect of her craft that suggests she was, in the so-called late ecstatic period of her career, experimenting with creating te […]
  • The Mehlis Report by Rabee Jaber March 9, 2014
    The Mehlis Report follows the architect Saman Yarid on his daily perambulations around Lebanon's capital, where his memories of the city's past and his observations of the high-rises that have emerged from the ruins of the nation's civil war dominate the faint plot. But the book transcends Beirut: Jaber writes about what is left behind when pe […]
  • The Fiddler of Driskill Hill by David Middleton March 9, 2014
    Middleton’s sensibility as poet and man is thoroughly Christian, Southern (or rather, Louisianan), and traditional, but he’s no unreconstructed romantic Rebel reliving the Civil War. His manner is meditative and elegiac, not rancorous or redneck. In a rare useful blurb on the back of the book, the North Carolina poet and novelist Fred Chappell describes Midd […]
  • The Fata Morgana Books by Jonathan Littell March 9, 2014
    After The Kindly Ones, the nine hundred-page long Goncourt Prize-winning “autobiography” of a Nazi, fans of the Franco-American writer Jonathan Littell may heave an inward sigh of relief at the sight of The Fata Morgana Books. A slim collection of “studies” (as some of these stories were called in their original French incarnations), The Fata Morgana Books n […]
  • Novelty: A History of the New by Michael North March 9, 2014
    There is no better way to ensure the early demise of a form or a style than to proclaim its newness; fewer epithets are as old as “new.” A well-known work by Italian artist Maurizio Nannucci reads, “All art has been contemporary”—we may wish to amend it, for present purposes, and have it read, “All art has been new.” Yet surely this is something of a truism. […]
  • A Life Among Invented Characters: A Tribute to Mavis Gallant March 9, 2014
    Two things immediately come to mind when remembering Mavis Gallant: her unique sense of humor—stories always told with a wry half-smile—and her near-comical stonewalling when confronted with leading questions about her craft in interviews and with audiences. The first time I was in her simple three-room apartment on rue Jean Ferrandi, a mere three blocks fro […]
  • The Guy Davenport Reader March 9, 2014
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  • [SIC] by Davis Schneiderman March 9, 2014
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    I do tend to generate a lot of pages when I’m drafting something, and I cut as I go. I make strange noises out of my face, on the page, and they are for the most part not worth keeping. Some of the stories don’t take shape until I overwrite and pursue every cursed dead-end I can think of, which clarifies everything I don’t want the story to become. But I don […]

Cracks in the Woodian Edifice

Daniel Miller over at Prospect offers a useful summary of the recent ups and downs of uber-critic James Wood.

It's an entertaining piece, but I think it misses the point when it crowns Wood "king" critic and speculates that his reign is ending.

First of all, I don't know that Wood was ever king of the critics. (In fact, culture being an ongoing exchange of ideas, I'm not even sure the term makes sense for anyone.) Yes, it's true that he managed to draw a lot of attention to his particular dislike for "hysterical realism," but even from the start there were plenty of people that could see the problems with his arguments.

Secondly, an even larger problem with crowning Wood "king" is that his that I still don't know exactly what Wood wants from a book, other than a vague sort of modernist realism. I believe this was what Lauren Elkin was getting at when she wrote "it's a mistake to take him for a literary critic, when he is a fine specimen of a book reviewer."

If you look at previous ascendent literary critics, there's a very clear sense of what their critical vision was. Say the names "Northrop Frye," "Roland Barthes," or "Jacques Derrida," and you'll instantly bring to mind the basic ideas that have become synonymous with each. These critics had original philosophies on literature that they expounded upon at length, and this was what let them dominate for a time.

I don't see this with Wood. In fact, it's telling that the term that has become most synonymous with James Wood doesn't define him as something he's for but as something he's against.

I don't mean this to be criticism of Wood. I do agree that he's a fine book reviewer, and I've never heard him claim to be anything more than that. This is more a criticism of the people, like the author of the Prospect article, who confuse good book reviewing with literary criticism, or, like Cynthia Ozick, who seem to want to wish Wood into being something he's not going to be.

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  1. Respectability Dan Green digs up yet another article from some whiney "professional" critic claiming that blogs have created a "false sense of authority." Of course this...
  2. Burke Slaps Wood Nice. James Wood has another one of those silly articles (in Prospect magazine, London) attacking William Gaddis, Don DeLillo, Gilbert Sorrentino, et al. These articles...
  3. Too Hysterical? I finally got around to reading James Wood’s excellent piece in the third issue of n + 1. In it, Wood lays out the ideals...
  4. James Wood Redux I’m always happy to see a new James Wood essay, except when I’ve already seen it. Reading his piece in Prospect, Realism Rules (still), I...
  5. Criticism Great Prospect article. If the below at all sounds lucid to you, do yourself a favor and click on through. (via Lit Saloon) When looking...

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2 comments to Cracks in the Woodian Edifice

  • For a comprehensive look at why Wood should not be king, it’s hard to beat Edmond Caldwell.

  • Wood has good ideas, but it’s not new. He corrects in some ways Barthes, but it’s more a book reviewer than a theorist. I love the best Wood’s critics because he pays attention to the language, to his beautifulness.
    But it’s not Derrida, Barthes or Frye, that’s absolutely true. And that’s why I like so much his Work: How fiction works is a very little book without any pretentions and it shows an interesting man and his thoughts.

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