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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The Tunnel

Fall Read: The Tunnel by William H. Gass

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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.

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

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Ten Memorable Quotes from William Gaddis’ Letters

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


Interviews from Conversational Reading

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


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  • Reviving Antal Szerb March 15, 2015
    Antal Szerb’s lithe, lively, and wholly endearing fiction is peopled by male dreamers on spiritual journeys of self-discovery. Each one sets out on his respective mini-mission with good intentions but knows from the outset that there are only so many harsh truths he can withstand. In this respect, all Szerb’s protagonists seem to have heeded the advice of Gr […]
  • 39 Africans Walk into a Bar March 15, 2015
    New anthologies of African fiction seem to materialize virtually every year, if not more often in recent years. When presented with the physical fact of yet another new anthology of African fiction, the immediate question, one which I was asked when I pressed the warm, bound pages of the Africa39 anthology into the even warmer hands of a new acquaintance, wa […]
  • The Country Road by Regina Ullmann March 15, 2015
    This collection of short stories, her first to appear in English, counters material poverty with a fulfilling and deeply spiritual relationship with the natural world. Ullmann herself was no stranger to hardship. A depressive, she was plagued by personal and professional crises. Financial constraints forced her to send her illegitimate children to the countr […]
  • The Fall of Language in the Age of English by Minae Mizumura March 14, 2015
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  • Another View: Tracing the Foreign in Literary Translation by Eduard Stoklosinski March 14, 2015
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  • The Latest Five from Dalkey Archive’s “Library of Korea” Series March 14, 2015
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Naboobs of Negativity

Shorter William Deresiewicz: everybody’s wrong about My Struggle except for me.

If you want to see straw man after straw man mercilessly slaughtered, you should definitely read Deresiewicz’s essay. I could refute his points one by one, but it would waste both your time and mine—the responses are clear enough. Fill in the blanks if you wish. Seriously. This is about the level of analysis on display here:

With its subject and size, My Struggle has invariably drawn comparisons to Proust’s Recherche, the great prose epic of the self remembered—comparisons the book itself does much to invite. But here are some things that the Recherche contains that Min Kamp does not: wit, satire, comedy, verbal and symbolic complexity, psychological penetration, sociological reach, the ability to render complicated situations, a genuine engagement with the subtleties of memory, the power to convey the slow unfolding of the self. And here is something that Proust did that Knausgaard did not: he took his time. The Recherche, only fractionally longer than Min Kamp, was labored at for thirteen years. About a page a day of finished prose appears to be the speed limit for a sustained work of competent literary fiction. You want to write shit? Write fast.

And honestly, I’d like to know where Knausgaard “does much to invite” comparisons to Proust. Yes, he does invite comparisons to many authors and artists in My Struggle. But Proust? I’m calling bullshit on this.

The biggest problem with Deresiewicz’s piece is that he appoints the following as the erstwhile defenders of Knausgaard: Jeffrey Eugenides, Zadie Smith, Jonathan Lethem, James Wood, and Leland de la Durantaye. This goes a good way toward explaining why Deresiewicz has such an easy time massacring his straw men, and why anyone who has given this book some serious thought will find his critique greatly lacking. Wood is the best of the bunch, but even his reading of Knausgaard was banal. If Deresiewicz had wanted to, he could have found much more intelligent and difficult-to-refute defenses of the book. But that would have involved hard work and deep thought, things Deresiewicz is ostensibly in favor of, but, in practice, I guess not really.

I suppose this is what The Nation’s book pages are about these days—a review of bland reviews.

You don’t have to like My Struggle. I know plenty of people who don’t. I myself think Book 3 is so-so. But you can’t just dismiss it. There’s an undeniable appeal to it, both popularly and critically. There are reasons for this. If you want to criticize the book, you can choose to wrestle with those reasons, or you can choose to cherry-pick some of the least compelling defenses of the book and cut them down with your acid wit. One of these will be worth reading, the other will be Internet fodder for about a week.

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2 comments to Naboobs of Negativity

  • Lance

    I started arguing this in my head but it felt like last night when I was arguing with my 3 year old daughter about how her hot dog was cut up so I quit and had a cup of coffee. He seems to be saying this just isn’t his cup of tea, he doesn’t understand the hype; he’s feeling left out. Fair enough man. I put down Infinite Jest three times but read the Pale King twice. Taste is a fickle beast.

  • Rachel Owlglass

    I’m not sympathetic to Deresiewicz, but your continued assertion that Knausgaard doesn’t evoke Proust is ridiculous. None of these things on their own may convince, but in aggregate? “I not only read Marcel Proust’s novel À la recherche du temps perdu but virtually imbibed it” (volume one, page 12), The sense-memory scene with the Klorin, the form that allows for essayish segments on art and literature (participating in the Year of Proust last year, within a few weeks I read Knausgaard on Dostoevski in vol.2 and then Proust on Dostoevski in Time Regained).

    Of course, like doesn’t mean “the same as”, but Min Kamp almost certainly rhymes with In Search for Lost Time.

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