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

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.

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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

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
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  • 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 […]

On That Creative Criticism School Thing . . .

At The Valve there's an interesting discussion of J.C. Hallman's essay on launching a school of creative criticism.

Among others, Zak Smith, of Gravity's Rainbow illustration fame, is there in the comments:

If you pick up “The Second Coming” read it and don’t like it, that’s fine. That is an acceptable response to a piece of literature.

If, then, you take a class, learn all about Yeats and meter and symbolism, and then re-read it and then suddenly claim to like it–that’s bad.

That’s posing. That’s like saying you didn’t used to like broccoli but then you took a biology class and a chemistry class and now you know what broccoli is made of and so you like to eat it.

More from Conversational Reading:

  1. The Translation Creative Commons I've been discussing retranslation in light of the new edition of The Tin Drum. One issue that comes up is, what do you do if...
  2. Blogs & School? So I’ve noticed something fairly interesting happening lately: Online class websites for high school and college classes have linked to certain posts on Conversational Reading....
  3. Kafkaesque Criticism Writing on Franz Kafka: The Office Writings in The New Republic, Louis Begley makes Kafka criticism sound a little, well, Kafkaesque: Thus was constituted the...
  4. Criticism Great Prospect article. If the below at all sounds lucid to you, do yourself a favor and click on through. (via Lit Saloon) When looking...
  5. Post-Colonial Criticism: Cherry-Picking Evidence? At The Valve they're discussing whether post-colonial criticism "assumes its conclusions even before it begins." The responses so far seem to amount to "yeah, so...

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10 comments to On That Creative Criticism School Thing . . .

  • JPoll

    Interesting thought, but also one that encourages a stifled, circumscribed approach to literature. I read Gravity’s Rainbow as a sophomore in high school; I thought particular scenes and images were great, but the “big picture” eluded me, and consequently I thought the novel over-hyped. I read it again during a graduate school seminar devoted entirely to Pynchon, and this time all the various nuances, allusions and structural pivots became clear(er). I felt, instead of indifference, something akin to awe.
    Learning more about how a piece of literature works is not falsifying the experience. Nor does it negate your initial response. Being satisfied with your first impressions is a good start on the path to hubris.

  • I disagree with Zak on this point, but I think I agree with him on almost all the others he makes in the debate thread Scott links to here. It seems central to the idea of writing about books, or making any kind of art about any other kind of art, that we can reach one another, move one another, persuade one another, and, in the end, grow one another such that our ability to perceive what might be beautiful is expanded. True, it’s not facts that will do this, or contexts, or theories, but those are not the only tools we have — even as “critics.”

  • What really strikes me about a lot of academic criticism is that it sees critical methods as nothing more than tools for unlocking a text. Granted, they’re well aware of the assumptions that lie behind those tools and they can be very passionate about advocating for a methodology that fits their world view, but I do think that this emphasis on seeing method in such a way takes away from the communicative and artistic aspects of criticism.
    Also, might as well say that I think the people who are reading your remarks as a blanket criticism of academic crit are missing the boat.
    And in closing, I thought it was fairly interesting how many academics on the thread over at The Valve tried to invoke “the system” in a sort of quasi-defense of their writing. Obviously that’s a part of the question that can’t be ignored, but it did seem to be a little bit of a doth-protest-too-much kind of situation. Fundamentally, if you are using “the system” as both an explanation and a defense (as many over there seem to be doing), then your argument is incoherent.

  • What the Hell? Is this Zak Smith person nuts? What, so we’re all frozen forever in our first, visceral reactions to everything we read? So if you take the time and make the effort to learn enough to increase your appreciation of what your author was trying to do, you’re ‘posing’? Yeesh. If that were true, I’d love only Superman and Prince Valiant comics and would have no use for Horace, Ariosto, Erasmus, or Shakespeare – or Pynchon either!

  • Yes, there’s been a lot of circular reasoning over on that thread — from people who have, presumably, devoted so much of their lives and careers to that particular vicious cycle that they no longer recognize either the spiral or their own vertigo.
    Ironically, a fairly characteristic strategy for academics — launching ad hominem attacks under the guise of niggling details of history or precision of citation — hit such a fevered pitch that it actually became a pretty good demonstration of the pissing match I described at the beginning of the piece you reprinted. Funny and sad! But without the bittersweet twang of poignancy. Rather, something you’d prefer to simply spit out than swallow.
    Anyway, here’s hoping there’s a conscientious majority listening in silently…

  • I think the people who are reading your remarks as a blanket criticism of academic crit are missing the boat.
    It must have been comments like these that confused us:
    “The essays collected in The Story About the Story assault the institution of literary criticism.”
    “I have a bad habit of arguing with critic types. Theory-based critics, folks who go to scholarly conferences to make friends with peers who will peer-review them through the 120-pages of published material—or whatever the standard is—that they need for the tenure that will ensure that they spend the rest of their lives attending more scholarly conferences.”
    Or maybe these just “niggling details”. Anyway, it has certainly been a lively discussion.

  • Rohan,
    You’re diminishing yourself with this defensive kind of response. Anyone can pull quotes from Hallman’s writing on this topic and paint him as an anti-academic person. Obviously since he is writing in a polemical mode, this is easy to do.
    If you look at the substance of his remarks, he’s clearly not for tossing out the academy with the bathwater. But don’t take my word for it: in the table of contents to his book you’ll see plenty of critics who clearly qualify as academics.

  • I’m amazed how people seem to be going out of their way to take offense at this. I never said:
    “[you should be] satisfied with your first impressions”
    I never said:
    “we’re all [or should be] frozen forever in our first, visceral reactions to everything we read”
    I merely said that “claiming” (falsely–that’s implied) that you like something just because you “understand” the allusions or the context or the devices used is bullshit.
    You have your whole life to re-read a book and change your mind.

  • Cassandra

    Forgive me, but wouldn’t taking such a course broaden one’s capacity for appreciation, or at least help reveal art and beauty and greatness in a text that one might not before have known how to see?

    I used to hate jazz. I thought it was dull and boring and that it all sounded the same. A friend of mine persuaded me to take an introductory course in the genre, and by the end of the few weeks, I had an entirely different perspective: it was as though I learned how to ‘hear’ something I hadn’t been able to prior.

    I agree that claiming you like something because you now (imagine) you understand it is absurd. Still, I think that being introduced to the nuances and intricacies of a work is a different story, and that it’s possible to get a great deal of aesthetic enjoyment as a result of certain forms of education.

    Your example is a good one, though. What kind of existentially-illiterate fool wouldn’t like The Second Coming upon the first read? The poem is soul-wrenching, and its strength comes from the gut, not symbolism and meter. Or so it seems to me.

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