This post will serve double duty. First, it will point you toward John Madera’s excellent and informed monthly reading round-up over at The Nervous Breakdown. As he did last time, and as he will continue to do on every first week of the month, his column explores his adventures in reading both new and old works, with heavy emphasis on certain canonical passions (now William Gass) along side of reflections on the work of contemporaries (Aaron Burch, among others). Please go check it out.
As for the second duty, I point you to the very first sentence of Madera’s column, where the following words appear: “the pronounced lack of ambition and its concomitant general distrust of virtuosity in the contemporary arts scene.” Ambition is an interesting concept with regard to art. In the context of literature, I often hear it within with a conversation about the sheer length of a work. (That, or used disparagingly to mark an author’s distasteful self-promotion.)
Of course, artistic ambition is more than a matter of size.
If I were AD Jameson, I’d trace the evolution of popular perceptions thereof from Ancient Greece through Marvel comics. But I’m not AD Jameson. Instead I simply want to know who, among contemporary writers–among people published in the journals you edit or read–you think of as most ambitious? Feel free to add a couple lines of explanation vis a vis the nature of their ambition, or of ambition in general. But mostly I want names. Who are the ambitious contemporary writers?
Finally, do you feel like your own work is “ambitious?” Is this something you see as a reasonable thing to think about when making art? Or is it something for the critics to discuss, something assigned to you after the fact.