And so today I find another unadventurous fiction longlist from the National Book Awards: not a single book from an independent press. Ridiculous! Good to see George Saunders’s Tenth of December on there, though. I taught it at Brown last spring and was impressed by its varied innovative approaches, sardonic tonalities, and embedded poignancies. I’m not much for literary art as competitive sport these days but I’d love to see Tenth of December awarded the prize, not only because its literary merit marks it as “deserving,” but because Saunders will undoubtedly give the best speech, that is, unless Thomas Pynchon’s Bleeding Edge wins and the Pynch sends Russell Brand to accept the award.
The blog, The Reading Experience, is a wonderful place. Daniel Green’s articles are very informed, looking at literary works and literary questions from many perspectives. This is from the “about” page:
I was an academic scholar and critic before I began writing for this blog. I still write the occasional “academic” essay, and my approach to criticism is still no doubt informed by my experience as an academic critic, but I now for the most part write general interest reviews and longer essays intended for a nonspecialist audience.
Currently he looks at Justin Taylor’s The Gospel of Anarchy, considering its reviews before looking closely at the novel:
If The Gospel of Anarchy is not particularly audacious in form or style, Taylor is clearly a skilled enough writer, and the “shifts” in point of view help maintain interest in the story, however much the story is unfortunately all too predictable, the outcome of its depiction of a failed punk commune implicit in its origins in youthful naivete, rigidity of belief, and in the narratives of failed utopias that precede it (I often thought in particular of Hawthorne’s The Blithedale Romance while reading The Gospel of Anarchy.)
In the sidebar of The Reading Experience are links to articles on the web. One fascinating work is Daniel Davis Wood’s Under the Sway of the Cinematic Imagination at his Infinite Patience blog, in which he looks at the “critical oversimplifications” of a piece by John Freeman, editor of Granta, who “attempted both to commemorate the tenth anniversary of “9/11″ and to assess the impact of 9/11 on American literature.” Wood concisely points out Freeman’s misreadings of William Gaddis’s The Recognitions (1955), Thomas Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49 and Gravity’s Rainbow (1966 and 1973), Don DeLillo’s White Noise (1985) and David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest (1996).
[This post is something of a response to John's recent post, and some of the comments made there by Darby, John, and me.]
Back in high school/college, my favorite filmmakers were Terry Gilliam, Stanley Kubrick, Peter Greenaway, and Martin Scorsese:
As you can see, I gravitated toward a visually spectacular cinema. Everything else looked so boring! So mundane!
Do you feel a duty to read and acknowledge your literary, theoretical, and musical foremothers?
I’d argue that most people have no idea who their artistic forebears are. For example: students tell me all the time that David Foster Wallace is their favorite novelist. And when I see their work, they’re indeed writing very DFW-influenced stuff. But they rarely know anything about DFW’s own inspirations, or the lineage(s) he inhabits.
This is only natural; we all of us live artistic lineages backward. (I’m no exception; my initial influences were G.I. Joe and X-Men comics.) And this is why I’ve been saying for a little while now (polemically, mind you) that Ulysses is no longer all that influential a novel: not many people sit down and actually read it, let alone get direct inspiration from it. (“I discovered stream of consciousness by reading Molly Bloom’s soliloquy, and now I use it in my work.”)
Rather, people read more contemporary authors, like DFW and DeLillo and Franzen and Pynchon (to name authors of a particular type), and they imitate them. And so they get a lot of Joycean influences, but only indirectly, and mainly through those authors. (E.g., they see DFW or Pynchon shifting narrative registers, but they don’t see how Joyce did a lot to pioneer that trope in Ulysses.)
This is always happening. People imitate Lydia Davis without reading the Symbolists. People (used to?) imitate Vonnegut without reading Céline. And so on.
My father, who once trained as a baker, taught me when I was a kid how to bake an apple pie. I don’t know where he got the original recipe from; I highly doubt that he invented it. Certainly he didn’t invent the idea of baking pies. And he didn’t invent the idea of baking an apple pie.
He was very clear about certain instructions:
- always use Granny Smith apples;
- always use ice-cold water;
- touch the dough as little as possible.
Since then, I’ve baked several apple pies, and over time I’ve modified the recipe slightly, but it’s essentially the same (and I never violate his prime instructions).
When I make a new apple pie, I’m not doing anything new.
I recently acquired Kitchen Sink’s The Outer Space Spirit collection, two months’ worth of Spirit comic strips from 1952, written by Jules Feiffer (yes) and drawn by Wally Wood. They are truly something—and I’ll write more about them soon, soon.
In the meantime, I wanted to call some attention to “Wally Wood’s 22 Panels That Always Work!!”, a well-known crib sheet that Wood drew, demonstrating different basic panel layout options. (See below for the image—but be warned, there’s some not-safe-for-work content down there, as well).
The entire book is built around a concept he calls “free indirect style,” which essentially refers to a prose style for which Gustave Flaubert is largely responsible. One of the hallmarks of this style is that the language is most often experienced by the reader to be that of the book’s narrator or protagonist. Cases, therefore, where a description or word choice does not suit the narrator, and therefor invokes the author, are seen by James Wood as essentially a flaw. Well, at least an inferior style.
A bunch of people posted responses, and I posted a couple of responses, and Shya posted a couple of responses. And then this morning I was going to post yet another response. But then it got long-winded (a weakness of mine), and went off on a few tangents, and then I realized I wanted to embed some pictures and YouTube videos (another weakness). So I made it a post. I made it this post!
re: John M. recently quoting something that Paul wrote at his blog, and re: Roxane’s recent post and the resulting epic thread regarding writing and its worth, I’d like to pick a bit more at the bones of genre fiction.
I love genre, because genres are basically conventions. They’re expectations that both authors and readers (and editors, and sales people) bring to a text—suggestions as to what should be inside, and how it should be arranged. And I dearly love conventions, because they’re the very stuff of communication, and of artistic structure—whether we’re obeying them, or departing from them.
I’ve never really understood what some people mean when they talk about “exploding genres” and “writing between genres,” and so forth, because I myself can think of very little writing that is pure genre. Most literature that I read—even the more conventional things—already exist between multiple genres.
Consider The Lord of the Rings.