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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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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

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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.


  • A Treatise on Shelling Beans by Wiesław Myśliwski March 9, 2014
    A man enters a house and asks to buy some beans, but we aren’t given his question, only the response: humble surprise from the narrator and an invitation inside. This modesty, though it remains at the core of the narrator throughout, is quickly overwhelmed when his questions, his welcoming explanations, flow into an effort to tell his whole life story, from […]
  • The Gorgeous Nothings by Emily Dickinson, edited by Marta Werner and Jen Bervin March 9, 2014
    The Gorgeous Nothings, the dedicated work of visual artist Jen Bervin and author Marta Werner, presents in large format the first full-color publication of all fifty-two of Emily Dickinson’s envelope writings. As such, it opens up an aspect of her craft that suggests she was, in the so-called late ecstatic period of her career, experimenting with creating te […]
  • The Mehlis Report by Rabee Jaber March 9, 2014
    The Mehlis Report follows the architect Saman Yarid on his daily perambulations around Lebanon's capital, where his memories of the city's past and his observations of the high-rises that have emerged from the ruins of the nation's civil war dominate the faint plot. But the book transcends Beirut: Jaber writes about what is left behind when pe […]
  • The Fiddler of Driskill Hill by David Middleton March 9, 2014
    Middleton’s sensibility as poet and man is thoroughly Christian, Southern (or rather, Louisianan), and traditional, but he’s no unreconstructed romantic Rebel reliving the Civil War. His manner is meditative and elegiac, not rancorous or redneck. In a rare useful blurb on the back of the book, the North Carolina poet and novelist Fred Chappell describes Midd […]
  • The Fata Morgana Books by Jonathan Littell March 9, 2014
    After The Kindly Ones, the nine hundred-page long Goncourt Prize-winning “autobiography” of a Nazi, fans of the Franco-American writer Jonathan Littell may heave an inward sigh of relief at the sight of The Fata Morgana Books. A slim collection of “studies” (as some of these stories were called in their original French incarnations), The Fata Morgana Books n […]
  • Novelty: A History of the New by Michael North March 9, 2014
    There is no better way to ensure the early demise of a form or a style than to proclaim its newness; fewer epithets are as old as “new.” A well-known work by Italian artist Maurizio Nannucci reads, “All art has been contemporary”—we may wish to amend it, for present purposes, and have it read, “All art has been new.” Yet surely this is something of a truism. […]
  • A Life Among Invented Characters: A Tribute to Mavis Gallant March 9, 2014
    Two things immediately come to mind when remembering Mavis Gallant: her unique sense of humor—stories always told with a wry half-smile—and her near-comical stonewalling when confronted with leading questions about her craft in interviews and with audiences. The first time I was in her simple three-room apartment on rue Jean Ferrandi, a mere three blocks fro […]
  • The Guy Davenport Reader March 9, 2014
    Poet-critic. Think of that word, made of two—what a beaux construction. The first is wild, hair mussed, looking at a bird in a tree—yet the follower is practical, urbane, and seemingly obeisant to word counts. Together they bleach out the fusspot academic and appeal to logos—Davenport once said that he was “not writing for scholars or critics, but for people […]
  • [SIC] by Davis Schneiderman March 9, 2014
    In 2011 Andrew Gallix, in the Guardian, wrote a piece on unread difficult books, and mentioned “an anthology of blank books [edited by Michael Gibbs] entitled All Or Nothing,” and we can consider Blank as continuing that line. Kenneth Goldsmith’s prefatory essay “Why Conceptual Writing? Why Now?” in Against Expression: An Anthology of Conceptual Writing (201 […]
  • The Ben Marcus Interview March 9, 2014
    I do tend to generate a lot of pages when I’m drafting something, and I cut as I go. I make strange noises out of my face, on the page, and they are for the most part not worth keeping. Some of the stories don’t take shape until I overwrite and pursue every cursed dead-end I can think of, which clarifies everything I don’t want the story to become. But I don […]

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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