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.

Available now from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and direct from this site:


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.

For low prices on Las Vegas shows visit LasVegas.ShowTickets.com
  • The Atlantic on Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of PilgrimageThe Atlantic on Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage

    This is the first review I've read of the new Murakami book. My feeling is that Nathaniel Rich, representing The Atlantic's... »
  • Bae Suah on SebaldBae Suah on Sebald

    Bae Suah is one of the more astonishing authors I've discovered lately. So when I saw that an essays of hers on Sebald had been... »
  • The Old School QCThe Old School QC

    Thanks to Michael Orthofer for this blast from the past. In his look back through the days of yore for various literary... »
  • Wallace MarginaliaWallace Marginalia

    The writing on this is horrifyingly bad, but there is some interesting information here about the things David Foster Wallace... »
  • All Hail AugustusAll Hail Augustus

    Daniel Mendelsohn's introduction to the NYRB Classics' reissue of Augustus is now available online as part of the Aug 14 issue... »
  • Anybody?Anybody?

    I don't expect The New York Times to have mastered the minutia of every single topic on earth, but it would be nice if the... »
  • A Million WindowsA Million Windows

    A nice review at Music & Literature of the latest book from Gerald Murnane, A Million Windows. For those of you who have been... »
  • Simon LeysSimon Leys

    Writer Pierre Ryckmans, aka Simon Leys, died earlier this week. So, perhaps the kind memorial messages that are appearing will... »
  • How Benjamin LivedHow Benjamin Lived

    Stuart Jeffries reviews the new biography of Walter Benjamin, Walter Benjamin: A Critical Life, in The Guardian. In the... »
  • Augustus by John WilliamsAugustus by John Williams

    Fans of Stoner-author John Williams (or just fans of great literature), NYRB Classics is soon releasing Williams's final novel,... »

You Say

Group Reads

The Tunnel

Fall Read: The Tunnel by William H. Gass

A group read of the book that either "engenders awe and despair" or "[goads] the reader with obscenity and bigotry," or both. Info here. Buy the book here and support this site.

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.

Life Perec

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.

Last Samurai

Fall Read: The Last Samurai by Helen DeWitt

A group read of one of the '00s most-lauded postmodern novels. Info here. Buy the book here and support this site.

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.

Your Face Tomorrow

Your Face This Spring

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

Shop though these links = Support this site


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.


  • Nostalgia June 15, 2014
    Few habits are as prone to affliction, or as vulnerable to an ordeal, as the bent of a peddler’s consciousness. Placeless, the peddler completes an untold number of transactions; there are ideas to conduct (through language, which can transact a mind) and feelings to certify (through tasks, repeated interminably). […]
  • Why Literary Periods Mattered by Ted Underwood June 15, 2014
    There are some writers who are, and likely always will be, inextricably linked to the “period” with which their work is associated, and in many cases helped to define. Surely Wordsworth and Keats will always be “Romantic” poets, while Faulkner and Woolf will remain modernists, as the term “modern” has been fully appropriated to describe the historical era be […]
  • Trans-Atlantyk by Witold Gombrowicz June 15, 2014
    August 1939. You sail to Buenos Aires on the Chombry as a cultural ambassador of Poland. Why say no to a little holiday on the government’s tab? Soon after arriving you sense that something isn’t right. You emerge from a welcome reception and your ears are “filled with newspaper cries: ‘Polonia, Polonia,’ most irksome indeed.” Before you’ve even had a chance […]
  • Accepting the Disaster by Joshua Mehigan June 15, 2014
    The first collections of most young poets, even the better ones, carry with them a hint of bravado. Flush with recognition, vindicated by the encouraging attentions of at least one editor and three blurbists, the poet strikes a triumphant pose and high-fives the Muse: “We did it, baby.” When Joshua Mehigan published his impressive first collection, The Optim […]
  • The Histories of Herodotus, translated by Tom Holland June 15, 2014
    Two of the greatest of Tom Holland's predecessors in translating Herodotus are Victorian scholar George Rawlinson and Aubrey de Selincourt; the former translated Herodotus in 1860, making an enormous hit (despite the fact that its detractors often referred to it as “dull and prolix"), while the latter's 1954 Herodotus was another enormous hit, […]
  • Bullfight by Yasushi Inoue June 15, 2014
    The premise of Yasushi Inoue's debut novella Bullfight, celebrated in Japan as a classic of postwar literature, is unassuming enough: an evening newspaper sponsors a tournament of the regional sport of bull-sumo. As practical and financial issues arise, the paper's young editor-in-chief, Tsugami, soon realizes he has taken on more than he can handl […]
  • Sworn Virgin by Elvira Dones June 15, 2014
    Sworn Virgin was made to be translated. Elvira Dones wrote this book not in her native language of Albanian but in Italian—a necessarily fraught and complicated decision. In an Italian-language interview with Pierre Lepori, Dones speaks about her choice of language: “Sworn Virgin was born in Italian . . . I’ve lived using Italian for nineteen years, it has s […]
  • On the Letters of David Markson June 15, 2014
    Knowing these narrators and how their lives paralleled David’s own, it’s difficult to deny his being a recluse. I certainly held that image of him, and nursed it, secretly cherishing it because it meant I was one of the few people with whom he corresponded, and with whom he would occasionally meet. Arranging our first meetings in person was something of a ni […]
  • Storm Still by Peter Handke June 15, 2014
    Storm Still (Immer Noch Sturm) does not necessarily represent new terrain for Handke. Originally published by Suhrkamp Verlag in 2010 and now available for English-language readers thanks to Martin Chalmers’ fluent translation, the play chronicles the dissolution of the Svinec family, a family of Carinthian Slovenes—a quasi-fictionalized version of Handke’s […]
  • Red or Dead by David Peace June 15, 2014
    David Peace's novel Red or Dead is about British football, but it partakes in the traits of Homer's epic. This is a novel about the place of myth and heroes in modern society, about how the cyclical rhythms of athletic seasons reflect the cyclical patterns of life. It is a book about honor and fate, and one which bridges the profound, dreamlike ter […]

Laura Miller on Against the Day

Lord help us. Laura Miller has reviewed Against the Day.

This isn’t about her not liking it. I’m perfectly fine with people not liking ATD, as long as they’re intelligent about it (see Tom LeClaire in Bookforum, for instance). In fact, I agree that there is plenty to criticize in this book. It is very imperfect.

But Miller dislikes ATD for such remarkably uninformed reasons that it’s a wonder that Salon still lets her write. Actually, no, it isn’t.

For instance:

In his ethos, the brave, heroic, decent individual is pitted against merciless institutions, systems and elites (he’s got a thing about Ivy Leaguers) that openly or covertly run the world. (He’s also prone to personifying those systems, hence the mustache-twirling villainy of Scarsdale Vibe.) That’s the essence of Pynchonian paranoia, but the rub is that Pynchon’s heroes (in this novel, at least) aren’t paranoid.

I’m going to type this real slow so even Miller get it. The reason the characters aren’t paranoid is because THE BOOK TAKES PLACE BETWEEN 1887 AND 1920!!! Paranoia, at least the way Pynchon writes about it, doesn’t exist until after World War II. In ATD, Pynchon is trying to describe the world as it existed BEFORE WWII. Why would he include post-WWII paranoia in a book that tries to explain the world before WWII?

There’s more.

Maybe this would be sufficient, if by now we didn’t have, say, a writer like David Foster Wallace, who can give us a novel every bit as antic and intellectually demanding as "Against the Day," and can also populate it with believable people whose fates not only interest but break our hearts. . . .

The bar is higher now, and it’s not quite enough to sketch a dozen or so characters without trying to make them breathe in a novel that raises Big Questions and then just leaves them dangling. Time doesn’t exist, but it crushes us anyway; everyone could see World War I coming, but no one could stop it — those are two weighty paradoxes that hover over the action in "Against the Day" without truly engaging with it.

I will never understand why critics try to criticize Pynchon for not writing REAL CHARACTERS. As though REAL CHARACTERS were the be-all, end-all of literature. He wrties flat characters because–among other reasons–it wouldn’t do to have REAL CHARACTERS engage in manic orgies one moment and then be talking linear algebra the next.

The bar is not higher because Pynchon is not trying to jump over the same bar as other authors. Damn those apples! They really don’t make orange juice as well as oranges do, do they?! Say it with me Laura–"Pynchon does not want to be DFW! Pynchon does not want to be DFW! Pynchon does not want to be DFW!" Now let’s click our heels together and wait for the wizard.

As for the oddly capitalized Big Questions: He leaves the Big Questions dangling because . . . wait for it . . . THERE ARE NO ANSWERS! Yes! In Pynchon’s world, cause and effect only take place within the boundaries of one’s brain, so it wouldn’t exactly make sense if Thomas Pynchon tried to tell you how to make sense of History. He purposely repeatedly leads you right up to the answer and then dodges away for precesely for that reason.

I really don’t mind if Miller thinks that’s a bunch of BS. In fact, I would like to see an argument for why Pynchon’s view of history is incorrect. But from Miller’s review it looks like she doesn’t understand what Pynchon is trying to do.

Not to mention, if Miller is so intent on ANSWERS, then why is she such a big fan of Infinite Jest, a book that, to say the least, doesn’t exactly give you narrative closure?

One last one:

Like Pynchon’s previous novel, "Mason & Dixon," "Against the Day" doesn’t really start to cohere until a point so far into the book that all but the most fanatical acolyte (and there are plenty of those, of course) will have given up and wandered off. "Mason & Dixon" doesn’t become an actual novel until about page 250; with "Against the Day," it takes more like 400 pages.

I would like for Laura to trot out a 1,100-page book that DOES begin to "become an actual novel" within the first 400 pages. Well, actually, I’d like for Miller to explain what she means by "become an actual novel," since most of Pynchon’s books don’t ever become an actual novel in the sense in which Miller appears to be using that word.

You Might Also Like:

No related posts.

Related posts brought to you by Yet Another Related Posts Plugin.

2 comments to Laura Miller on Against the Day

  • Tore Rye Andersen

    Thanks! Laura Miller deserved that drubbing for her numbskull review. As for decent negative reviews of Pynchon’s novel, Louis Menand’s review for the New Yorker is actually more well-argued and well-founded than Tom LeClair’s review. Tom LeClair says that the only character name in the novel he recognizes from previous Pynchon novel’s is Bodine, but hey: what about the main characters of AtD, the Traverses? LeClair doesn’t know his Vineland, that’s for sure. Also, saying that Pynchon in AtD just gives us the Baedeker Land he criticized in V. is just plain wrong. AtD contains plenty of criticism of tourism as well, and the different locales are much more fleshed out than in V.
    So I’d certainly recommend Menand over LeClair for a negative review.

  • Look at it this way: “Without opposition, all things would cease to exist.”
    Or, to translate into our times: What’s the point of being a genius if everybody “gets” you? Especially if they understand you right away?

Leave a Reply

  

  

  

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>