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Leslie Fiedler–I Admit I Was Missing Out

I've read the first few essays in Love and Death in the American Novel, and now I will wholly endorse the notion that I should have got on the Fiedler wagon earlier. The breadth of knowledge (far beyond literature) and synthesis thereof is simply incredible . . . talk about someone who sounds like he's read everything and knows just how to put it into a cohesive framework. This is the kind of oracular voice that I think we all wish James Wood (who, admittedly, seems to have read everything) was.

Or, to put this all another way, I seem to be underlining an unprecedentedly high amount of my copy of Fiedler. Seriously; the footnotes in this book sound a lot more interesting and promising than a lot of abstracts I've read.

Usual caveats about a great text's resistance to quoting aside, I've got to pass along this:

The American writer inhabits a country at once the dream of Europe and a fact of history . . .

And then at greater length:

A recurrent problem of our [American] fiction has been the need of our novelists to find a mode of projecting their conflicts which would contain all the dusky horror of gothic romance and yet be palatable to discriminating readers, palatable first of all to themselves.

Such a mode can, of course, not be subsumed among any of those called "realism." Our fiction is essentially and at its best non-realistic, even anti-realistic; long before symbolisme had been invented in France and exported to America, there was a full-fledged native tradition of symbolism. That tradition was born of the profound contradictions of our national lise and sustained by the inheritance from Puritanism of a "typical" (even allegorical) way of regarding the sensible world–not as an ultimate reality but as a system of signs to be deciphered . . .

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Scott–it’s FieDler, not FieLder.

Scott — are you familiar with Lionel Trilling? He’s another great mid-century critic whose work achieves a kind of synthesis of literary, cultural and sociological criticism. Plus, he’s a nice stylist. Here’s a quotation from his book Beyond Culture that I’ve always loved (and which seems more and more relevant each generation):
“The function of literature , through all its mutations, has been to make us aware of the particularity of selves, and the high authority of the self in its quarrel with its society and its culture. Literature is in that sense subversive.”

Wasn’t familiar either until I read their writing about Poe’s Arthur Gordon Pym in graduate school.


The Surrender is Scott Esposito’s “collection of facts” concerning his lifelong desire to be a woman.


Two long essays of 10,000 words each on sex in—and out of—literature . . .

The first essay dives in to Nicholson Baker’s “sex trilogy,” explaining just what Baker is up to here and why these books ultimately fail to be as sexy as Baker might wish.

From there the book moves on to the second essay, which explains just why Spaniard Javier Marías does right what Baker does wrong . . .


5 essays. 2 interviews.

All in all, over 25,000 words of Latin American literary goodness.

3 never-before-published essays, including “The Digression”—a 4,000-word piece on the most important digression in César Aira’s career.

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