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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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Translate This Book!

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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Naked Singularity

Summer Read: A Naked Singularity by Sergio De La Pava

Fans of Gaddis, Pynchon, DeLillo: A group read of the book that went from Xlibris to the University of Chicago Press. Info here. Buy the book here and support this site.

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Life A User's Manual by Georges Perec

Starting March 2011, read the greatest novel from an experimental master. Info here. Buy the book here and support this site.

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Fall Read: The Last Samurai by Helen DeWitt

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Tale of Genji

The Summer of Genji

Two great online lit magazines team up to read a mammoth court drama, the world's first novel.

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A 3-month read of Javier Marias' mammoth book Your Face Tomorrow

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Ten Memorable Quotes from William Gaddis’ Letters

New Books
Here are ten of my favorite moments from these hugely interesting letters.


Interviews from Conversational Reading

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


  • [[there.]] by Lance Olsen December 15, 2014
    Lance Olsen is the author of two recent works, [[there.]] and Theories of Forgetting (FC2). The second presents three narratives in a clearly fictional mode while the first offers day-to-day thoughts on living in another country. We rightly suspect that any artist’s memoir or diary ought to be viewed as written with a prospective public in mind, no matter ho […]
  • Noir and Nihilism in True Detective December 15, 2014
    "It’s just one story. The oldest. . . . Light versus dark." Spanning 8 episodes between January and March of 2014, HBO’s runaway hit True Detective challenged the status quo of contemporary crime drama. The show has been widely celebrated for its philosophy, complexity, and visual aesthetic. Co-starring actors Matthew McConaughey as Rustin "Ru […]
  • The Colonel’s World December 15, 2014
    Mahmoud Dowlatabadi (born 1940) is considered by many the living Iranian novelist, a perennial Nobel Prize candidate. Dowlatabadi wrote The Colonel some thirty years ago, because in his own words he had been “afflicted.” The subject forced him to sit at the desk and write nonstop for two years. “Writing The Colonel I felt a strong sense of indignation and pa […]
  • Mr Gwyn and Three Times at Dawn by Alessandro Baricco December 15, 2014
    Alessandro Baricco’s well-crafted, elegant prose seems as though it should create the impression of distance, or of abstraction; instead, the reader of Mr. Gwyn and Three Times at Dawn becomes wholly implicated and immersed, drawn into a dreamy and idiosyncratic world that blurs the division between reader, character and writer. As readers, we expect that th […]
  • The Walls of Delhi by Uday Prakash December 15, 2014
    "The paan shop leads to the opening of a tunnel, full of the creatures of the city, and the tears and spit of a fakir." In a single opening line, Uday Prakash sets the scene for the politically incisive, yet intimately human stories of The Walls of Delhi (translated brilliantly from the Hindi by Jason Grunebaum). Lest the fakir suggest otherwise, t […]
  • The Man Between: Michael Henry Heim and a Life in Translation December 15, 2014
    In a speech reprinted in the book, Heim makes a self-deprecating joke about whether the life of a translator is worth reading: “What does a translator do? He sits and translates!” The Man Between serves as a book-length retort by laying bare all the things Heim did: these include persuading the academy that translation is a scholarly (in addition to a creati […]
  • The Prabda Yoon Interview December 15, 2014
    Yes, I think people are not comfortable anymore to write in this straightforward, traditional way, especially the younger, more progressive writers. So it’s interesting—you have social commentary, and you also get a little bit of structural experiment. You have themes that are very, very Thai. I’m actually very interested to see what new writers will come up […]
  • The End of Days by Jenny Erpenbeck December 15, 2014
    For Jenny Erpenbeck, no life is lived in an indisputable straight line. Which is why, in her new novel (new in English, though published in 2012 as Aller Tage Abend) she approaches the narrative as a series of potential emotional earthquakes, some which take place, some which might have taken place, all of which reveal something of how political turbulence p […]
  • In the Heart of the Heart of the Country by William H. Gass December 15, 2014
    Once, at a writers symposium, William Howard Gass remarked that to substitute the page for the world is a form of revenge for the recognition that "you are, in terms of the so-called world, an impotent nobody." There is inarguably no contemporary writer of American stock in whose work one might locate a more ambitious war of attrition between innov […]
  • Faces in the Crowd by Valeria Luiselli December 15, 2014
    Luiselli’s first novel, Faces in the Crowd, translated into fluid English by Christina MacSweeney, is the perfect illustration of this attitude toward fiction writing. Narrated in short sections spanning multiple storylines and the better part of one hundred years, it uses "[d]eep excavations" to expose the empty spaces in two lives, those of a you […]

DeLillo the Prophet

Interesting to see that as we approach the ten-year anniversary of 9/11, Don DeLillo is getting name-checked frequently in the commemorative articles. For instance, the New Statesman:

In Mao II, published in 1991, the American novelist Don DeLillo wrote, eccentrically as it was then thought, of how terrorists and bomb-makers had replaced writers and artists as the myth-makers of our age. Their work “involves mid-air explosions and crumbled buildings. This is the new tragic narrative,” DeLillo wrote. “Terror makes the new future possible.”

Certainly when Osama Bin Laden authorised the attacks of 11 September 2001, which were so patiently and meticulously planned, he knew that he and his suicidal operatives had the means to make the new future possible. What would that future hold for us all?

And here’s Michiko Kakutani, notably quoting DeLillo only to to refute him:

Ten years ago Don DeLillo wrote that the attacks of Sept. 11 would change “the way we think and act, moment to moment, week to week, for unknown weeks and months to come, and steely years.” The historian Taylor Branch spoke of a possible “turning point against a generation of cynicism for all of us,” and Roger Rosenblatt argued in Time magazine that “one good thing could come from this horror: it could spell the end of the age of irony.”

They were wrong, of course. We know now that the New Normal was very much like the Old Normal, at least in terms of the country’s arts and entertainment. Blockbuster video stores (yes, that’s how many of us watched movies back then) placed warnings on some films — “in light of the events of Sept. 11, please note that this product contains scenes that may be disturbing to some viewers” — but violent pictures continued to top most-rented lists. Despite rumors of their demise, black humor and satire, too, remained alive and well on “Saturday Night Live” and The Onion, which ran headlines like “Rest of Country Temporarily Feels Deep Affection for New York.”

Ten years later, it is even clearer that 9/11 has not provoked a seismic change in the arts. While there were shifts in the broader culture — like an increasingly toxic polarization in our politics, and an alarming impulse to privilege belief over facts — such developments have had less to do with 9/11 than with the ballooning of partisanship during the Bush and Obama administrations, and with unrelated forces like technology, which gave us the social media revolution of Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, and which magnified the forces of democratization, relativism and subjectivity.

A couple of observations here: insofar as DeLillo is quoted above, he’s absolutely right, and I don’t know why Kakutani thinks she can read it as a commentary on the arts.

The other two quotes work better as such, although I don’t see why everybody hates irony so much. What exactly would you replace it with? (One of the greatest minds of our time tried to answer that question and failed utterly.) And why is irony so bad? If you’ll recall, Wallace in his famous essay on irony, “E Unibus Pluram,” bemoaned it for being co-opted by corporate culture, not as a bad thing in and of itself (in fact, he praised it for being te best tool of rebellion in the 1960s).

And while I think that Kakutani is right that no single great work of art came out of 9/11 (the day itself) in the way that monumental books and movies were set during the Vietnam War, I think she’s absolutely wrong that literature of the era has not been written in the 10 years since. I also don’t know where in the world she gets the misguided notion that “9/11 did not really change daily life for much of the country,” seeing as it has been used to justify everything from war to torture to tax cuts to surveillance. Likewise, her notion of 9/11′s inability to shock is misguided–I still recall the sensation on that day that this was the one moment that we, as a nation, truly felt was an atrocity (and of course a million people quoted Baudrillard to that effect in the wake of the day):

Compelling as such works are, however, none were really game-changing. None possess the vaulting ambition of, say, Francis Ford Coppola’s Vietnam epic “Apocalypse Now,” or the sweep of Mr. DeLillo’s “Underworld,” which captured the entire cold war era. Instead, these 9/11 works feel like blips on the cultural landscape — they neither represent a new paradigm nor suggest that the attacks were a cultural watershed. Perhaps this is because 9/11 did not really change daily life for much of the country. Perhaps it’s because our A.D.D. nation — after the assassinations of J.F.K., R.F.K. and M.L.K. in the ’60s, and decades of violence on 24-hour news — has become increasingly inured to shock.

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More from Conversational Reading:

  1. DeLillo Anyone? It’s no secret that Don DeLillo’s novels have continually been ahead of the curve. With the age of terrorism reaching some level of establishedness, Mao...
  2. Win a Bunch of DeLillo Back in November I mentioned Picador's super-awesome new covers for DeLillo's classics. The books are publishing now, and to celebrate Picador is offering a chance...
  3. DeLillo Talk There’s a nice DeLillo thread on "I Love Books." They’re talking about Underworld in relation to DeLillo’s latest two books (which I’ve heard are not...
  4. The Worst DeLillo? I’ve been going back through DeLillo’s books for an assignment, and the thing that strikes me is that the more and more I look at...
  5. Prophet of Anxiety–Stephan Zweig The Guardian has a nice profile of the Austrian writer Stefan Zweig. The people of this era were naively settled in their optimism and "touching...

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