A Note on My Latest Yawn, etc.

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.

Big Other

What’s happening in this image?

The leftmost light bulb is exploding.

Why would it do that?

Perhaps it wanted to? It’s the suicidal counterpart to Gravity’s Rainbow‘s Byron?

No.

Well then it simply overheated?

No. Please note that it hasn’t blinked out.

True, true.

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Daniel Green’s The Reading Experience

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).

The Barthelme Problem

[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!

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We Know Best What’s Nearest (Living Art Backwards)

A quick follow-up to Tim’s post here, which was itself in response to Jackie Wang’s post here. Wang had asked:

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.

Style as Imitation

Leonardo #1, page 17 (1987) (detail; First Publishing reprint). Art by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird.

1.

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.

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Wally Wood’s 22 Panels That Always Work!!

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.

The Outer Space Spirit, page 26 (detail).

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).

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