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
  • Marcos Giralt TorrenteMarcos Giralt Torrente

    My piece covering two new translations of books by Marcos Giralt Torrente—Paris and Father and Son: A Lifetime—has just... »
  • A Little Lumpen NovelitaA Little Lumpen Novelita

    The latest Bolaño, reviewed at M&L. In one of the monologues that make up the long middle section of Roberto... »
  • ePoetryePoetry

    I don't really think poetry written for print works in the electronic format. You can make an argument that there isn't a whole... »
  • Issue 37 of The Quarterly ConversationIssue 37 of The Quarterly Conversation

    Here it is. If you're the kind that doesn't like to just jump into things, full TOC after the... »
  • The Translation BestsellerThe Translation Bestseller

    I wonder if, given the minuscule amount of translated books published each year, but the relative regularity of a bestseller... »
  • Future LibraryFuture Library

    Cool idea. Edouard Levé would have been a fantastic participant. A thousand trees have been planted in Nordmarka,... »
  • Juan Jose SaerJuan Jose Saer

    You all should really be reading Juan Jose Saer (if you're not already). His books have a very particular feel . . . I could... »
  • In the ArchipelagoIn the Archipelago

    Jill Schoolman, interviewed at BOMB. Hope everybody reading this in the Bay Area will come out to the event with Scholastique... »
  • How They ThinkHow They Think

    Okay, I know it's wrong to respond to clickbait, but—the thing that pisses me off about this is that it's somehow a... »
  • FlamethrowersFlamethrowers

    It's kind of amazing that the NYRB published Frederick Seidel's lazy review of The Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner, one of last... »

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.


  • Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay by Elena Ferrante September 16, 2014
    Few novelists have captured the rhythms and flow of life with the veracity of Elena Ferrante in her Neapolitan Novels. Following the friendship between Elena Greco and Lila Cerullo from childhood to old age, the tetralogy spans fifty years; over the course of that time, no emotion is too small, too dark, too banal to be recorded. No expense, so to speak, is […]
  • Trieste by Daša Drndić September 15, 2014
    As Drndić reiterates throughout the novel, “Behind every name there is a story.” And Haya Tedeschi’s story is draped in death. Born to a Jewish family that converted to Catholicism and tacitly supported the Fascists in Italy, Haya was a bystander to the Holocaust. She attended movies while Jews and partisans were transported to concentration camps; she pored […]
  • The Tree With No Name by Drago Jančar September 15, 2014
    At the opening of chapter 87—the first chapter found in The Tree with No Name—Janez Lipnik finds himself up a tree, shoeless, and lost in the Slovenian countryside. He makes his way to a house where he is taken in by a woman teacher who is waiting for her lover, a soldier. It becomes clear we are at the height of World War II. Soon after, we follow Lipnik […]
  • Kjell Askildsen, Selected Stories September 15, 2014
    Here, at the midpoint of his narrative, Bernhard, the affectless and purposeless protagonist of "The Unseen," experiences existential near-emancipation at dusk. This retreat toward obscurity in terse, direct language—thematic and stylistic markers of each work in the collection—comes immediately after Bernhard’s sister mentions her plans to enterta […]
  • Berlin Now by Peter Schneider September 15, 2014
    In his new book of essays, Berlin Now, Peter Schneider reveals himself as a gnarled Cold Warrior who has been stricken with many of the maladies common to his generation. With the specter of Communism exorcized, his new enemy is Islam. The book is a collection of short interlocking pieces introducing Anglophone readers to Berlin; it is not being published in […]
  • Paris by Marcos Giralt Torrente September 15, 2014
    In 1999, Marcos Giralt Torrente’s debut novel, Paris, was awarded the XVII Premio Herralde de Novela prize. Despite his success, it took fourteen years for Giralt’s work to appear in English, with the story collection The End of Love arriving in 2013. Now, this year sees the publication of two more books by Giralt: Paris, translated by Margaret Jull Costa, a […]
  • 10:04 by Ben Lerner September 15, 2014
    “It seemed that the [New Yorker] story—which was in part the result of my dealing with the reception of my novel—had been much more widely received than the novel itself,” says the narrator of Ben Lerner’s second novel, 10:04. Perhaps this narrator is Lerner himself—at one point he describes 10:04, within its own pages, as “neither fiction nor nonfiction but […]
  • Theories of Forgetting by Lance Olsen September 15, 2014
    Lance Olsen’s Theories of Forgetting is a masterful work structured around Robert Smithson’s earthwork “The Spiral Jetty.” Olsen’s novel is comprised of three narrations, written each by a separate member of a family. The husband’s and wife’s texts progress in opposite directions across the book, with each page divided among these two inverted texts; though […]
  • An Interview with Lance Olsen September 15, 2014
    The most substantial may be that innovative fiction knows what it is, that someone like me could define it in any productive way, that innovative fiction might somehow be one thing, or somehow consistent through time and space. None of these is the case. That’s exactly what I find most exciting about writing it, reading it, thinking about it. Innovative fict […]
  • The Ants by Sawako Nakayasu September 15, 2014
    In The Ants, we receive a study of existence through ants. That is, there are ants everywhere, ants substituted in every segment of the landscape, yet their behavior seems to reveal something altogether human. Too human. The ants are crushed and disappointed. They are warm and many. They are involved in gang wars and live inside carrot cake. The unique quali […]

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>