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
  • Favorite Reads of 2014Favorite Reads of 2014

    Lila by Marilynne Robinson This isn't my favorite Marilynne Robinson book by a long shot, but even not-the-best Marilynne... »
  • Michael Hofmann on Richard FlanaganMichael Hofmann on Richard Flanagan

    The NYRB should really get this guy to review Jonathan Franzen's Purity. The Narrow Road to the Deep North has the scope... »
  • Coetzee’s Short StoriesCoetzee’s Short Stories

    Just published by Text Publishing. J.M. Coetzee swims strongly against the ebbing tide. Not only has Text Publishing... »
  • The first PerecThe first Perec

    In the TLS, Lauren Elkin reviews Portrait of a Man Known as Il Condottiere, aka Geroges Perec's lost first novel. In... »
  • 20 Books at 3820 Books at 38

    I'm surprised to learn Andres Newman is so young. Also, great overview of his books in English. Andrés Neuman is... »
  • The Future ModianoThe Future Modiano

    The Complete Review has the details of the future Englishing of our most recent Nobel laureate. And also, sales figures. For... »
  • Quarterly Conversationi Issue 38Quarterly Conversationi Issue 38

    Issue 38 right here. or TOC after the jump. Features Readings, Fragments,... »
  • On KafkaOn Kafka

    Rivka Galchen on the new Kafka bio by Reiner Stach. I have come to the conclusion that anyone who thinks about Kafka for... »
  • Me on ModianoMe on Modiano

    My review of Suspended Sentences by Patrick Modiano. The most focused of the book’s three diffuse novellas is... »
  • Elena Ferrante InterviewedElena Ferrante Interviewed

    At the NY TImes. I'm currently reading Book 1. Q. You insist on anonymity and yet are developing a cult following,... »

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.


  • [[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 […]

Of Course Everyone Knows That There's No Experimental Writing In America

There’s been a heck of a lot of coverage of Dalkey’s Best European Fiction anthology. (And big congrats to Dalkey for that.) By and large it’s been pretty good, but for some reason I keep seeing people proffer a couple of patently false ideas: 1) Americans don’t want to read fiction beyond their nation’s borders; and 2) There’s no experimental fiction of the kind seen in Best Euro being written in the U.S.

As to misperception #1–another day. But as to #2 here’s a fine example from Time magazine, wherein Radhika Jones gets Best Euro editor Aleksandar Hemon to abet her in passing along this myth:

The writers in Best European seem a more adventurous bunch than their American counterparts. They experiment freely with structure and venture more often down the path of metafiction, debating the direction of a story even as their characters are entangled in it. (“The Basilica in Lyon,” by Serbian writer David Albahari, is a mesmerizing dream chase along those lines.) Hemon says this is a reflection partly of his own editorial taste but also of the European publishing environment, which doesn’t follow the American blockbuster model. “There’s a lot of American fiction on the fringes that is very daring,” he says. “But it is judged not by courage or the risks that it takes but by its success.”

Of course Hemon is right about the blockbuster model, but he shouldn’t consign “adventurous” American fiction to the fringes. After all, I think Hemon would count his own work among the daring fiction coming out of the U.S., and he hasn’t exactly been languishing on the fringes.

Thankfully, in The New Republic Ruth Franklin (via Lauren) pretty much lays out the rebuttal for us:

So I was surprised to find Smith (a British writer of Caribbean descent who lives partly in the United States) pronouncing a strangely antiquated definition of American writing in her introduction to Best European Fiction 2010, a new anthology edited by Aleksandar Hemon and published by Dalkey Archive Press. “It seems old-fashioned to speak of a ‘Continental’ or specifically ‘European’ style,” Smith (correctly) begins, but she continues: “If the title of this book were to be removed and switched with that of an anthology of the American short story, isn’t it true that only a fool would be confused as to which was truly which?” The differences, she argues, go beyond the “obvious matter of foreign names and places.” European fiction shows “a strong tendency towards the metafictional”; an interest in magic realism (one writer enjoys a fantasy breakfast with Murakami; another imagines that Gustav Klimt has 14 illegitimate sons all named Gustav); and an “epigraphic, disjointed structure” featuring abrupt endings. These stories, she concludes, “seem to come from a different family than those long anecdotes ending in epiphany, popularized by O. Henry.” And these writers’ models are not O. Henry or Hemingway, but Barth, Barthelme, Beckett, Kafka, Sebald.

O. Henry! When was the last time you saw a reference to him in a contemporary American short story—or anywhere else? What struck me about Smith’s description of this supposedly European style was how well it applies to new American writing. Today, the greatest remaining practitioners of the traditional, linear short story Smith seems to be invoking are Alice Munro and William Trevor—neither of whom is American. (She’s Canadian, he’s Irish.) Meanwhile, in American fiction, the kind of fragmentary, fantastic writing that was once experimental has now become common, thanks to the influence of literary journals such as McSweeney’s (as I once argued in Slate). Barth and Barthelme—both of whom are American—are most definitely among the progenitors of this work, but Murakami and Houellebecq are its current patron saints. Kafka’s influence, of course, is a given everywhere, but Sebald was far more popular in England and the United States than among his compatriots on the Continent.

Thank you. It’s not like you have to look that hard to find the American writing of the kind Franklin is discussing here. David Shields just made a book-length case for it in Reality Hunger (which Zadie Smith forcefully came out against in The Guardian). Don DeLillo just exemplified it once again with Point Omega. Robert Coover is going to add to it when he publishes a metafictional deconstruction of the noir genre starring you. (Yes, you.) Jonathan Lethem just published something that sounds a heck of a lot like magical realism. And this is all from the past month or two.

True, as Hemon says there’s a lot of adventurous fiction languishing on the fringes, but that doesn’t change the fact that there’s also a lot of it getting published by the mainest of the mainstream. There’s a lot of fragmented, meta, crazy-type fiction going on out there in the U.S., and it’s getting published because American readers are pretty comfortable with it now, comfortable enough that it’ll sell in large enough volumes to make it profitable. This shouldn’t really come as a surprise. After all, have you taken a look at life in the U.S. recently? I’d say it’s getting to the point that people I know are more familiar with fragmentation, multiple worlds, meta, etc than the other stuff that’s supposedly our bread and butter.

You Might Also Like:

More from Conversational Reading:

  1. Best American Fantasy, Now With More America Just yesterday I wondered if there wasn’t more anthologized translations these days, and now I see that Best American Fantasy will be broadening its reach...
  2. Joshua Henkin’s Ten Terrific Novels About Writers, Writing, and the Writing Life (Today we have a guest post from novelist Joshua Henkin. Henkin’s novel, Matrimony, about MFA students and writing about writing (among other things), is out...
  3. University of Texas Brings New Fiction from Latin America: Interview with Casey Kittrell Last month I excitedly reported the news that University of Texas was adding new life to its translation series. They'll be making more efforts to...
  4. DFW on Writing Full essay here. The best metaphor I know of for being a fiction writer is in Don DeLillo’s Mao II, where he describes a book-in-progress...
  5. Vitality vs Empathy There’s a nice post over at CultureSpace that looks at the pitfalls implicit in the characters of Zadie Smith, Salman Rushdie, David Foster Wallace, and...

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

10 comments to Of Course Everyone Knows That There's No Experimental Writing In America

  • Neil

    Robert Coover’s new one sounds interesting. I have only read his early work. Is he still in form?

  • Charlotte

    Lydia Davis, Mary Caponegro, Robert Kelly, Paul LaFarge, Brian Evenson, Keith Waldrop, Rosmarie Waldrop… the list goes on…

  • Marc W.

    …well? Finish the list! I’d like to know. =P

  • Charlotte

    …William Gass, William Gaddis, William Vollmann, Mark Danielewski, Anne Tardos, Jackson MacLow, and pretty much anyone in any recent Conjunctions:

    http://www.conjunctions.com/justout.htm

  • Brian P.

    I agree with the gist of what you’re saying in terms of general American fiction, but I think you are missing one key point. This is a part of a collection called BEST EUROPEAN FICTION. I seriously doubt any of the wonderful authors you mentioned, save Lethem, would make it into a similar American collection. You can definitely find writing of this type from American mainstream publishers but a similar kind of collection would be virtually unthinkable. I can’t imagine it in a million years! Also Chronic City, while possessing related qualities, is so far from a decent novel I cannot imagine why you would pick that one. Reputation should not give one such a pass.

    We really need The New Republic to fold up and die. It is a hate-mongering and wickedly embarrassing shell of what it once was. Leon Wieseltier further sullied the credibility of anything coming from that publication rather recently.

  • Thank you for this article. I’m a UK author and, possibly because of my age (all CBGB and Factory), I grew up thinking of the US as the epicentre of all things countercultural and cool. Early last year I started a writers collective of mainly European-based writers, Year Zero Writers (with two exceptional US members), and I’ve come across several articles about us on the web by US writers saying how they wish they lived in the UK because nothing cool and experimental happened in the US. That went against everything I’d grown up thinking, and I wondered if I just had a wildly anchronistic view of the States. I’m glad to find out I was right and that exciting stuff IS happening there.

    Oh, and if people want proof of the extraordinary experimental writing coming from the States, try this, posted today by our very own Californian Sarah E Melville:
    http://yearzerowriters.wordpress.com/2010/02/18/getting-book-trailers-right/

    and search out the likes of badbadbad and moxie mezcal

    A word of warning though – I’m not quite sure that anything that’s percolated its way up to a regular anthology or mainstream publisher ios really experimental – we need to get terminology straight – if there’s a lot of it around it’s not experimental – by definition – different from what went a year or so before yes. Experimental no.

  • There are actually 3 sensibilities, British, European & American. If there is anything meta or experimental happening in British Literature, it must be so underground as to be etched on fossilised wood borne aloft the backs of woodlice. Clearly there is an experimental seam of European literature, right now a lot of interesting work is coming out of former Communist states. I defer to the American correspondents here, but I have come across Gary Lutz and Raymond Federman, though the latter could be argued to be European as much as American.

    The UK-US nexus, by sharing a language has always reflexively fed back & informed each other. US band can call themselves Pavement, while Scottish band Jesus & MaryChain write a song called “Sidewalking”… We each seem to find the other’s grass far greener.

    For my part, the music of Swans, Sonic Youth & slightly later CopShootCop represented a truly experimental wing of music, unparalleled in the UK.

    Oh yeah, I’m a member of Dan’ Collective by the way!

  • [...] these lines comes a post entitled “Of Course Everyone Knows That There’s No Experimental Writing in America“, at Conversational Reading, which makes the claim: True, as Hemon [editor of the Best in [...]

  • [...] on John Updike Sam Tanenhaus on John UpdikeShareTNR’s Ruth Franklin has demonstrated a pretty good bullshit detector. So when she writes that the most interesting article of last week’s Times [...]

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>