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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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Interviews from Conversational Reading

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See this page for interviews with leading authors, translators, publishers, and more.


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    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
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  • An Interview with Lance Olsen September 15, 2014
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  • The Ants by Sawako Nakayasu September 15, 2014
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  • On Gottland by Mariusz Szczygieł September 15, 2014
    Gottland is not a novel, but that proves difficult to remember. The book, playfully subtitled Mostly True Stories from Half of Czechoslovakia, is technically a work of reportage, and its author, Mariusz Szczygieł, one of Poland’s best-known journalists. Most of Gottland’s tales, however, seem better suited to Soviet science fiction—or even Russian absurdism— […]

Polite Discourse

In her New Yorker article about Witold Gombrowicz’s Diaries, Ruth Franklin brings up the Pole’s harsh treatment of the literary scene he was a part of:

In the early years, Gombrowicz fires off one screed after another at the literary establishment. He rails regularly against the niceties of emigre publications (such as the one he is writing in), which he says remind him “of a hospital where the patients are given only soups that are easily digested.” He worries that literature “is in danger of becoming a soft-boiled egg instead of being a hard-boiled one, which is its vocation.”

I wish the constraints of the publication Franklin was writing for had let her dedicate more space to Gombrowicz’s critique of the literary “establishment.” As it is, the way it’s treated in the article makes it sound as something that is consigned to the past, as well as merely one concern among many that Gombrowicz had. Of course, neither is true. Gombrowicz’s critique of the chumminess and bloodlessness of the literary scene of his time could as well be leveled at our own. And his concerns about literature “becoming a soft-boiled egg” should be regarded as perennial.

Unfortunately, it seems all too normal in our polite literary discourse that a writer working in a venue like The New Yorker would not be at liberty to point this out; or, if such a point was made, it would be dwarfed by the sensation it caused, as when Jonathan Franzen attempted to critique his friend David Foster Wallace. There seems to be no space in these publications for discourse that steps outside these boundaries, unless someone is quoting something that a writer like Gombrowicz wrote decades ago, probably lamenting the same things.

Jacob Silverman notes this energy on his personal website, although he speaks of it only in the context of Twitter and the blogosphere (I imagine he would extend it to other sectors, though):

There’s a version of Fischer’s critique that could be applied to the literary blogo- and twitter-spheres. The dominant sentiments are cloying niceness and blind enthusiasm (particularly on Twitter). Somehow criticism has become synonymous with offense; everything is personal—one’s affection for a book is interchangeable with one’s feelings about its author as a person. Critics gush in anticipation for books they haven’t yet read; they <3 so-and-so writer, tagging the author’s Twitter handle so that he or she knows it, too; they exhaust themselves with outbursts of praise, because that’s how you boost your follower count and affirm your place in the back-slapping community that is the literary twitter-sphere. There’s also a sense in which critics have to engage in this kind of behavior in order to appeal to average readers (whom they also hear from on Twitter); so as to connect with them, they must become them.

I like Silverman’s advice: “Let’s think more and enthuse less.” Or rather, let’s remember that we can still like someone personally if we think they’re an awful writer. And let’s keep in mind that we don’t betray our literary heroes when we critique their style or argue against the substance of their arguments.

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1 comment to Polite Discourse

  • Richard

    I would just point out that the uproar surrounding Jonathan Franzen’s “critique” of DFW had nothing to do with a literary or aesthetic argument. Rather, Franzen made some very personal comments about DFW as a person, as a friend, as a human being (and as a husband). They were, as I just wrote, “personal”–so you can argue that he can say whatever he wants, or feels, since they were friends. However, the uproar seemed to me to be equally valid–Franzen was criticizing DFW as “selfish” and a “coward” for having committed suicide, in short, and publicly airing some very obviously conflicted but strongly negative feelings about him. Again, it’s his right to say whatever he wants, but my take was that some people thought it a bit unseemly to air such dirty laundry in public forums (it wasn’t just the excerpt from Farther Away in The New Yorker, by the way–it was also a couple of interviews that he gave, and live talks).

    So I don’t really see how that compares to what you’re claiming about the Gombrowicz article. They’re two completely distinct issues.

    On the other hand, I do certainly agree with what you point out with regard to the Gombrowicz article.

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