For years now (or more likely, forever), I’ve not understood what is meant by the “Great American Novel,” nor why people seem to fetishize it so much. It just seemed like an extremely silly way to think about a work of literature.
But now that I’ve worked with translation for some time and have gotten a better sense of other national literatures, I think I may see some meaning to the concept, however trivial and inconsequential for a nation like the United States. There are places out there that are both small enough and have young enough . . . continue reading, and add your comments
I was asked to say a few things about this right over here. Thanks to Ed Champion for asking me to comment and for bringing some attention to this weird question from the world of translation.
A couple things I didn’t have a chance to address in the interview: first of all, I don’t think it’s right at all to I find it publish private correspondence on your blog without prior consent (as appears to be the case here). It seems especially gratuitous to me, as the email serves no real purpose in this discussion, other . . . continue reading, and add your comments
I think we’ll all agree that we have some idea where Nick Kristof is coming from, but he makes just about the most godawful “get off my lawn” case for it possible. Perhaps ten years ago there was still some excuse for being a major pundit and not knowing all about these blogsites that the kids are writing on these days, but, by God man, if at this point you can’t at least offer us the slightest indication that you’ve absorbed Web-based cultural criticism beyond NewYorker.com and TED.com, then you should probably have the sense to just be . . . continue reading, and add your comments
Interesting thoughts on the differences between the rise of the Western novel vs the Eastern, from Franco Moretti’s Distant Reading.
Chinese critics have identified over 600 characters in The Scholars, 800 in The Water Margin and the Jin Ping Mei, 975 in The Story of the Stone. And since size is seldom just size—a story with a thousand characters is not like a story with fifty characters, only twenty times bigger; it’s a different story—all this ends up generating a structure which is very unlike the one we are used to in Europe. . . . Preventing . . . continue reading, and add your comments
Thermonuclear Monarchy sounds like a fascinating book. Good interview of the author with Sarah Gerard.
SG: Your investigation of Hobbes’s translation and other documents including the constitution makes it explicitly clear how easy it is to manipulate language to seem to be in favor of this kind of brutality, but your work is encouraging in that it also shows us how investigating these historical documents can bring us back to an understanding of injustice. Can you talk about that?
ES: Other people have shown, without alluding to nuclear weapons, how odd the picture of Hobbes had . . . continue reading, and add your comments
One of the things that gets me about a place like Buzzfeed is that it never seems to occur to anyone over there that vapid praise is probably more disheartening to a certain kind of author than an intelligent, but somewhat negative critique of his or her book. I don’t know why people like Lee Siegel and Isaac Fitzgerald come to books, but I love literature (in part) because I can discuss it with other people—and we often don’t agree on what’s good and what’s bad, or why. The conversations where we disagree tend to be much, . . . continue reading, and add your comments
Not the way I’m used to thinking of the concept. Brad Leithauser does a good job of flipping it at The New Yorker’s Book Blog.
Most novels feel like agglomerations of short stories, various interlocking scenes, each of which may be driving toward a particular sentence. In Thackeray’s “Vanity Fair,” for instance, four widely scattered lines might be classified as the book’s climacteric: “Darkness came down on the field and city; and Amelia was praying for George, who was lying on his face, dead, with a bullet through his heart.” (Two of the primary characters meet their . . . continue reading, and add your comments
This is actually from a fairly long essay on Amazon and bookselling, but it covered so much that I didn’t know what to quote, so I’ll quote this. Anyway, just read the essay. It’s fascinating.
To the Big Five, locked in a death struggle with Amazon and the distracted American reader, this kind of experimentation might seem unrealistic. To survive, they are trying to broaden their distribution channels, not narrow them. But Andrew Wylie thinks that it’s exactly what a giant like Penguin Random House should do. “If they did, in my opinion they would save the . . . continue reading, and add your comments
Not quite sure where all this is coming from, but Laura Miller’s column on the psychology of one-star Amazon reviewers is a little weird. No doubt some of these reviews are written from an insecure place, but to psychoanalyze the whole lot based on, well, one or two sentences is a bit much. It’s all just a wee bit obsessive.
But I suppose more to the point: who cares why people write those sorts of reviews?
If, however, I did fear, deep inside, that my inability to appreciate any celebrated book betrayed my complete intellectual and aesthetic . . . continue reading, and add your comments
Nice essay on Bach: Music in the Castle of Heaven by John Eliot Gardiner at the NYRB.
Just how Bach managed to express the inexpressible, especially with regard to death, and what life experiences stood behind his compositional decisions are at the center of a lively new book by the distinguished British conductor John Eliot Gardiner. Stepping in as president of the Leipzig Bach Archive at the beginning of this year, Gardiner has devoted his life to the performance of Bach’s vocal works (he has conducted them all), and the biographical gaps he seeks to close . . . continue reading, and add your comments