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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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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.

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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.

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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

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Two great online lit magazines team up to read a mammoth court drama, the world's first novel.

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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.


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    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
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  • 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
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  • 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 […]

This Business of the Novel Being Over

Daniel Mendelsohn, creator of straw men:

I don’t know how people can still buy into this ridiculous, antiquated notion that the only really “literary” activity is writing fiction. I think the novel is over. It’s so clear to me that the novel is a genre that has reached its final stages, there’s nothing else to do, it’s all been done, the experiments, the this, the that. Naturally people will keep writing novels because it’s fun, and it’s a form you’re sentimental about. But you could certainly make an argument that the novel has now been eclipsed by the memoir as the pre-eminent form of literary self-expression just now—or certainly as eminent as the novel. I just think our attachment to the novel is, in some sense, a sentimental notion; and as a critic, but also as a writer, you have to be aware of the reality of the terrain that you’re in. The fact is that most writing is non-fiction writing.

Do people really buy into this, that “the only really ‘literary’ activity is writing fiction”? I suppose some do, although no one whom I take seriously—and I imagine no one whom Daniel Mendelsohn takes seriously—says anything resembling that “the only really ‘literary’ activity is writing fiction.”

But I’m interested in the much less laughable argument that “the novel is a genre that has reached its final stages.” I disagree with this as well, but I’ll at least grant that intelligent people can make this argument. A large part of what I have to say in The End of Oulipo is an argument that the novel is not over by any means, as well as an encouragement to see literature in terms that broaden out beyond just fiction. Obviously reading the book is the best way to get the whole argument, but you can read the meat of it in this excerpt I published in The White Review.

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9 comments to This Business of the Novel Being Over

  • SirJack

    “If I were a writer, how I would enjoy being told the novel is dead. How liberating to work in the margins outside the central perception. You are the ghoul of literature.”

    –character from Don Delillo’s The Names

    People have been saying the novel’s dead or dying for generations now. The people who say this have given up on pushing against this form, except in the most anemic, self-referential ways (Vila-Matas, Iyers, etc.).

    This fellow’s praise of the memoir is laughable. What memoirs could you really compare to the greatest works of literature? Or can you really categorize Proust, Sebald, Knausgaard as memoirists? All writing is lies. But these writers’ emphasis is on something bigger than their little lives. Hence, they are not writing memoirs, but literature.

  • Pat O'Donnell

    Yes, well, the novel is dead or over argument has been going on since the novel began, as Steve Moore points out in his magnificent History of the Novel, and as John Barth (tongue firmly in cheek)pointed out in the venerable “Literature of Exhaustion.” What’s exhausted itself is the novel is dead argument.
    Hard to discern exactly what the point is of declaring that any form of literature as “pre-eminent” at one point or another: pre-eminent in what terms? Sales? Quality? Amount? The statement is dramatic, but too sweeping and blunt to be useful in any way.

  • I agree with the previous 2 commenters, but would also note that we have an unprecedented amount of liberty to use, play with, distribute, etc. other forms of art using the technology. The novel isn’t dead, I’d say (although it depends which ones you read!), but people are playing with forms quite a lot.

  • Matt

    While there are certainly good novels being written today what is the last novel you can think of that was a really earth moving work, or a masterpiece. If you take the devils advocate position and look at it in those terms then maybe Mendolsohn is on to something. There are books published now that I enjoy but where are the novels that are urgent and demanding acts of art summoned from another dimension? It seems authors are scraping a barrel that is quite empty. You can feel that sense of despair and feel the pieces missing from even the most talented writers of the last couple decades. Maybe the novel Ian dead per se but until that bolt of lightning strikes again one can at least say perhaps the muse is in hiding.

    • Sawn

      “There are books published now that I enjoy but where are the novels that are urgent and demanding acts of art summoned from another dimension?”

      A Naked Singularity – Sergio De La Pava
      The Instructions – Adam Levin
      Super Sad True Love Story – Gary Shteyngart
      Busy Monsters – William Giraldi
      Fever Chart – Bill Cotter

      • SirJack

        Yikes, that list does not make me feel good.

        How about Europe Central (Vollmann) and the Kindly Ones (Littell) for starters. I’m not feeling the despair from these writers (nor does there seem to be anything missing from, say, Delillo, who continues to produce adventurous fiction).

  • Birne

    @Matt: Haven’t you read the other’s comments? I concur with them and with Esposito. Similar claims as Mendolsohn’s have been made over and over again during history. Works that are considered earth shattering, paradigm shifting masterworks today were rated poor and mediocre works by critics when they came out. Do you think that we are better than the critics in those times. Isn’t it more likely that many of the so-called critics do not even know the masterworks of our times, yet, or at least seriously underestimate them? I do not understand why people fall into such traps again and again, even intelligent and well-read people. Typically one hears such stuff from old people who just have not read enough contemporary literature. How likely is it that we are living at a special point in history with respect to the novel? Forget it, it is the usual paranoia. Even world renowned authors fall into this trap. Recently I read an interview with Michel Butor, where he claims that the European novel is dead and that there is a crisis in literature, that nothing of relevance has come out the last decades, that there is stagnation. And then the interviewer asks him if he had ever heard of people like Hrabal, Kis, Tisma, Nadas, Esterhazy, Stasiuk. Of course, he hasn’t. So I am not surprised at all that he comes to such nonsensical conclusions. I am pretty sure that he also has never heard of people like Laszlo Krasznahorkai, Mircea Cartarescu, Mikhail Shishkin, Reinhard Jirgl and maybe not even Sebald, Bernhard, Goytisolo etc.

    If you are looking for ‘urgent and demanding acts of art summoned from another dimension you should watch out for these people and read their books. Read Krasznahorkai, read the Melancholy of Resistance or War and War or Seiobo There Below. You will see…

  • Matt

    Honestly I haven’t read all of those authors but I’ve read my share. I own The Melancholy of Resistance, just finished Nadas Parallel Stories, among a few others there. Again while these books are skillfully executed I wouldn’t place them on the top shelf of literature. I was merely offering a counterpoint. I don’t necessarily agree with all the points of the article but there is perhaps a kernel of truth there that is interesting to discuss and speculate upon.

    • Birne

      Yes, Matt, I agree. Oh, and congratulations on finishing Parallal Stories. The book is looking reproachfully at me from my shelf because I have been neglecting it.

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