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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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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

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Here are ten of my favorite moments from these hugely interesting letters.


Interviews from Conversational Reading

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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 […]
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    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 […]

The Missing Link Between John Updike and David Foster Wallace

I wanted to front-page Barrett's comment from yesterday's post on The Mezzanine since it's absolutely brilliant and far better than anything I cn say about this book:

I'll raise your "seems to anticipate DFW" one and say that Baker is actually the missing aesthetic link between Updike and DFW. The manic see-through vision applied to everyday objects is the direct result of Updike's lavish attention to surfaces, and Baker asserts in U&I–a great, wonderfully creepy book–that he wants to take Updikean plot and explore its internal crevices. He wants to pause plot. In each of his fiction books, the plot exists in the margins, or roaring overhead; or to piggyback on one of the great images from The Mezzanine, the plot is like the turntable's needle, overhead and deadly while Baker rappels downward into the grooves of the Significant Plot Points and pans for gold. I think you can see in Infinite Jest the same willingness to suspend forward momentum for ex-ray analysis, while the plot assembles off screen and approaches sideways, its wheelchairs squeaking.

Reading that comment, what Barrett says clicks beautifully with what I know of Updike, Baker, and Wallace. And how wonderful it is to find an author–or maybe even a book–that can link two of the major writers from post-war, 20th-century American fiction.

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5 comments to The Missing Link Between John Updike and David Foster Wallace

  • JPoll

    It’s fun and convenient to align writers in this way, as if literature were one long continuum, but I think it does a disservice to those involved. For one, it boils each writer down to a few emphatic elements, e.g. Updike was sensual, meticulous, lavishly observant; Baker is all of these too, and also apparently plot-arrested, as was Wallace (which isn’t the case if one reads Girl with Curious Hair, Broom of the System, most of Oblivion). Second, this boiling strips each writer of what makes him original in his own case — so now Baker is both a renovator of Updike and a signpost heralding Wallace. Third, it impresses too much weight on whatever mutual influences might be at play; Wallace surely read Baker, but how much did he take from him (even unconsciously)? Finding links between artists is a fascinating and often productive exercise, but simply corralling three aesthetically similar novelists together and imposing a kind of literary “connect-the-dots” is too mechanistic.

  • J,
    I’d say most critics, by necessity, “boil each writer down to a few emphatic elements.” Undoubtedly, if Barrett weren’t writing a comment to a blog post he would have gone into greater detail into each’s style, as he’s definitely capable of that. And I don’t see what’s so “mechanistic” about these links when Barrett calls into play Baker’s own book where he consciously states his objective to update Updike. Critics have been “connecting the dots” for ages . . . seems to have worked out pretty well for them.

  • JPoll

    Maybe what I mean is that designating Baker as the “missing aesthetic link” between Updike and Wallace is arbitrary — what not David Markson? Or DeLillo? Even Foucault, for that matter, who explicitly diagnosed postmodernism as a “contrapuntal” state of affairs in which everything is lovingly and forensically described. Wallace and Baker share some of the same narrative strategies, of course, but I don’t see how that illuminates them in any relevant or useful way. To my mind, these writers are all so singular and their projects so particular that forcing a connection on this basis alone seems jejune.

  • Tom

    I agree with JPoll on this to a certain extent.
    I don’t know what kind of literary relationship actually exists between these three or how enlightening it is to conjure one. Baker as the missing link (whatever that means…I wasn’t aware that Updike and Wallace needed linking) is arbitrary, yes. Likewise, I too object to the conception of literature as a systematic, teleological daisychain. Citing influences is one thing; rigging aesthetic genealogies around a few coincidental and superficial similarities is something else entirely.
    But I also agree with Scott in that this is precisely what critics have been doing for centuries and it has worked (in some respects). The issue, I think, is choosing how to link artists. Where is linking appropriate and organic? Are such links productive, i.e. do they help us approach the writers in a more constructive or “meaningful” way? I think we have take care when aligning writers — to that end, Updike and Baker seem like natural fits, while Updike, Baker and Wallace just don’t work for me as a useful aesthetic triptych.
    Ok, my two cents.

  • Well, let me further muddy this by throwing in the name of Harold Brodkey, another writer whose intense explorations of the moment also bear on this commonality–if it actually is such–among Updike, Baker, and Wallace.

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