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
  • Two PansTwo Pans

    Another high-profile pan for David Mitchell's newest. I think Mitchell is pretty seriously overrated, but most people in the... »
  • ThoughtcrimeThoughtcrime

    There are a lot of really obvious takes on this that you are probably already thinking of. To me, the interesting/scary thing... »
  • Wood on MitchellWood on Mitchell

    For the record, James Wood's take on Mitchell is pretty much my own. Dude can write for days, but I rarely feel that there is... »
  • M&L on Ann QuinM&L on Ann Quin

    Music & Literature unearths a sroty of Ann Quin and publishes it. If the name is new to you, have a look here.... »
  • The Potato EatersThe Potato Eaters

    Nice interview with Bela Tarr's cinematographer, Fred Kelemen, discussing the film The Turin Horse (which I recently watched,... »
  • 35 Worthy Independent Books35 Worthy Independent Books

    All publishing this fall. Pretty nice list. Good on Publishers Weekly.... »
  • The new DostoevskyThe new Dostoevsky

    Been a while since I read Crime and Punishment. Sounds interesting. Several earlier translations tended to smooth over... »
  • Golden HandcuffsGolden Handcuffs

    The current issue of the Golden Handcuffs Review has my essay "The Eclipse; Or, The Vulva," which is part of a series of work... »
  • The Translation Is HotThe Translation Is Hot

    While I tend to lump blockbusters into an outlier category regardless of what language they were originally written in, I do... »
  • LRB on Robbe-GrilletLRB on Robbe-Grillet

    Nice that there are still places like the LRB that publish things like this: By the time he was elected to the Académie... »

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.


  • Nostalgia June 15, 2014
    Few habits are as prone to affliction, or as vulnerable to an ordeal, as the bent of a peddler’s consciousness. Placeless, the peddler completes an untold number of transactions; there are ideas to conduct (through language, which can transact a mind) and feelings to certify (through tasks, repeated interminably). […]
  • Why Literary Periods Mattered by Ted Underwood June 15, 2014
    There are some writers who are, and likely always will be, inextricably linked to the “period” with which their work is associated, and in many cases helped to define. Surely Wordsworth and Keats will always be “Romantic” poets, while Faulkner and Woolf will remain modernists, as the term “modern” has been fully appropriated to describe the historical era be […]
  • Trans-Atlantyk by Witold Gombrowicz June 15, 2014
    August 1939. You sail to Buenos Aires on the Chombry as a cultural ambassador of Poland. Why say no to a little holiday on the government’s tab? Soon after arriving you sense that something isn’t right. You emerge from a welcome reception and your ears are “filled with newspaper cries: ‘Polonia, Polonia,’ most irksome indeed.” Before you’ve even had a chance […]
  • Accepting the Disaster by Joshua Mehigan June 15, 2014
    The first collections of most young poets, even the better ones, carry with them a hint of bravado. Flush with recognition, vindicated by the encouraging attentions of at least one editor and three blurbists, the poet strikes a triumphant pose and high-fives the Muse: “We did it, baby.” When Joshua Mehigan published his impressive first collection, The Optim […]
  • The Histories of Herodotus, translated by Tom Holland June 15, 2014
    Two of the greatest of Tom Holland's predecessors in translating Herodotus are Victorian scholar George Rawlinson and Aubrey de Selincourt; the former translated Herodotus in 1860, making an enormous hit (despite the fact that its detractors often referred to it as “dull and prolix"), while the latter's 1954 Herodotus was another enormous hit, […]
  • Bullfight by Yasushi Inoue June 15, 2014
    The premise of Yasushi Inoue's debut novella Bullfight, celebrated in Japan as a classic of postwar literature, is unassuming enough: an evening newspaper sponsors a tournament of the regional sport of bull-sumo. As practical and financial issues arise, the paper's young editor-in-chief, Tsugami, soon realizes he has taken on more than he can handl […]
  • Sworn Virgin by Elvira Dones June 15, 2014
    Sworn Virgin was made to be translated. Elvira Dones wrote this book not in her native language of Albanian but in Italian—a necessarily fraught and complicated decision. In an Italian-language interview with Pierre Lepori, Dones speaks about her choice of language: “Sworn Virgin was born in Italian . . . I’ve lived using Italian for nineteen years, it has s […]
  • On the Letters of David Markson June 15, 2014
    Knowing these narrators and how their lives paralleled David’s own, it’s difficult to deny his being a recluse. I certainly held that image of him, and nursed it, secretly cherishing it because it meant I was one of the few people with whom he corresponded, and with whom he would occasionally meet. Arranging our first meetings in person was something of a ni […]
  • Storm Still by Peter Handke June 15, 2014
    Storm Still (Immer Noch Sturm) does not necessarily represent new terrain for Handke. Originally published by Suhrkamp Verlag in 2010 and now available for English-language readers thanks to Martin Chalmers’ fluent translation, the play chronicles the dissolution of the Svinec family, a family of Carinthian Slovenes—a quasi-fictionalized version of Handke’s […]
  • Red or Dead by David Peace June 15, 2014
    David Peace's novel Red or Dead is about British football, but it partakes in the traits of Homer's epic. This is a novel about the place of myth and heroes in modern society, about how the cyclical rhythms of athletic seasons reflect the cyclical patterns of life. It is a book about honor and fate, and one which bridges the profound, dreamlike ter […]

Sigh

I am as up for an “American literature is too parochial” screed as is anyone else. So, when I saw that Ilan Stavans had penned an article for World Literature Today called “Is American Literature Parochial?” I had high hopes for the kind of rant that would have me quoting it in Twitter before I had even finished reading it.

Alas. What I instead found was mixture of re-purposed controversies, outdated statistics, and tired arguments. Stavans starts off with Horace Engdahl’s remarks upon the awarding of the 2008 Nobel Prize in Literature. Honestly . . . haven’t we already talked these remarks to death? Is there anything Stavans can possibly add to what has already been said? Whatever the answer to this question may be in the abstract, in practice the answer turns out to be, “no.”

Then we are treated to some warmed-over statistics that will be familiar to anyone plugged in enough to literary culture to know what World Literature Today is: “The average American, ages fifteen to sixty-five, barely opens a single book a year”; Bowker reported 400,000 books published in 2012, MFA programs are on the rise, English majors are on the decline, blah, blah, blah, we publish more than we read.

And then finally we get to blanket generalizations about the American people;

American literature is parochial because America is solipsistic. This isn’t to say we don’t travel. Actually, travel is a national sport among the middle class. We’re in cars traversing the country, and, money permitting, our curiosity leads us to visit other societies. But travel for us is by definition a complacent endeavor. Americans only go to safe, secure places where the food and accommodations guarantee that we still feel at home. Therein lies the key to our parochialism: it is an illness of abundance. There is much to see and means to achieve it. Yet we fail to venture beyond secure confines because we are afraid of getting lost. Loss is about the lack of control, and we love to be in control. In our literature, we embrace the exact same approach: we love when our fiction shows us foreign lands but only if those lands are friendly to Americans; and when they aren’t, we want the characters to make it safely home. For home is what we’re all about: its security, its durability.

At long last, just when you thought this piece could not get any more banal, it moves on to a discussion of . . . wait for it . . . Philip Roth and John Updike. Sorry to say it, but the former is retired and the latter has been dead for a number of years. I don’t see how they figure too much any longer into the question of whether American literature is too parochial.

Improbably enough, the piece ends with an argument that, in fact, literature is no longer relevant:

I was once at a dinner party in Chile when a distinguished writer told me an invaluable truth: excitement in our time is rarely connected to literature anymore. It belongs to science. It is far more fun to have lunch with a scientist these days than with a writer. Scientists are at the cutting edge; the world belongs to them. Writers, instead, like to complain they don’t get enough attention. And literary critics—like me—make a profession of these types of complaints. She added that Americans are prone to complain even more than everyone else. When something doesn’t go their way, they let the world know about it. Since their ego is the size of their country, their complaints are louder. Her main argument was that in the twenty-first century, literature has lost its mojo, but American writers haven’t realized it. She concluded by saying—and this I remember as the apex of the evening—that to compensate for this, writers in the United States like to think of themselves as entertainers. They don’t belong to the society of world literature because that society would parry that what American writers do isn’t as entertaining as they think it is.

I guess my point here is that World Literature Today is a nice enough publication. It seems to be well-funded. It has a useful reviews section. It has nice production values, and nontrivial circulation. There’s no reason for it to have to publish a pointless feature article like this. (Or, for that matter, their cover story, “Four-Legged Fictions,” which is “a portfolio devoted to writers and their canine characters.” Lord have mercy.)

When the ostensible guardians of culture aren’t able to offer up to the few people who still care about culture a product more inherently interesting than this, then we truly do deserve to be laughed at and marginalized. Obviously there are lots of other cultural publications who are doing good work. Good for them. They’re the ones keeping cutlture aflaot in this society. Too bad they have to fight against the dead weight of things such as this.

You Might Also Like:

More from Conversational Reading:

  1. Book Banning Can’t go too long in this country without some busybody trying to ban books from high school reading lists because of prurient content. Blah, blah,...
  2. Willa Cather In The Guardian, A.S. Byatt makes the case for Willa Cather, whom she says has been unfairly neglected. She was a successful journalist and...
  3. Culturally Insular This has to be the dumbest thing to come out of the Swedish Academy since Knut got all up in arms about giving Elfriede Jelinek...
  4. Bookstore Tour We had a great turnout for today's bookstore tour. Here's a photo of some of the attendees at Get Lost Travel Books. More photos and...
  5. Nobel Prize to Herta Mueller I’m sure most of you know this by now. The Atlantic rounds up some responses from the parochial Americans. ...

Related posts brought to you by Yet Another Related Posts Plugin.

2 comments to Sigh

  • I read that article up to the point when Stavans said there were no book chains in France and Germany. Chains may not be as significant a force in Europe as they are in the US, but they exist. FNAC? Furet du Nord?

    A totally minor issue, to be sure, but it’s where I gave up.

  • F.Rivera

    Yes, but what can we expect from Ilan Stavans?

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>