Radically unchangeable gestures

Having read Northrop Frye’s The Anatomy of Criticism earlier this year (see discussions here, here, and here ­– more to come), I’ve now started reading Frank Kermode’s The Sense of an Ending. I think I incline more to the Kermode than the Frye, partly because I like Kermode’s waspishness but also because his views seem to coincide rather more with my own instinctive feelings on literature and criticism. Continue reading

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Book Hunting in San Francisco: Wallace, Wallace Stevens

I love San Francisco. Especially the book stores and thrift stores. The Community Thrift Store in the Mission has been a goldmine for me the last six years and each time I come here I check in and check out with jewels for about $1.50 each. I remember going there and finding the first six issues of NOON for $.50 each. Last year there were two first editions of Donald Antrim’s The Verificationist and one of his The Hundred Brothers. Ardvark Books in the Castro also has great finds. The first two days of my trip there was, bookwise, delightful.

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Seventeen Ways of Criticizing Inception (AKA, All Knowledge Isn’t Equal)

Let’s consider the truth behind advertising.

[This can be considered a response to this post, and its comments thread.]

1.

You’ve just become the fiction editor of a small journal. You open your email and see that you’ve received 1,000 unsolicited submissions. The first ten were sent by:

  • Carlos Shirley
  • Jeanne Goss
  • Jack Livingston
  • Christine Stribling
  • Melissa Mathieu
  • Benjamin Tatro
  • Tao Lin
  • Ryan Monk
  • Naomi Foltz
  • Matthew Orosco

Which one do you open and read first?

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Reading Frank Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, part 6

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 7 | Part 8

Greetings again after much too long a while. Since the last installment in this series, the new pornographers at Vivid have announced, written, shot, and released Batman XXX: A Porn Parody, so it’s well past time to look at the fourth and final book of The Dark Knight Returns, “The Dark Knight Falls”!

Unlike Books Two and Three, which each start a little while after their respective preceding chapters, Book Four picks up right where Book Three left off. The Joker has just died, his final act having been to frame Batman for his own death. Police Commissioner Yindel cordons her forces outside the Tunnel of Love, readying an assault. Meanwhile, Superman continues fighting in the “police action” in Corto Maltese…

Book Four, page 177 (detail).

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What Is Experimental Art?

Edgar Degas, "Les Danseuses Bleues" (1890)

One typically hears unusual art called three different things, often interchangeably:

  • Innovative
  • Avant-Garde
  • Experimental

But what do these three words mean? Do they mean the same thing? I don’t think so, and in this post I’ll point out some basic differences between them. I’ll also define what I think experimental art essentially is, and how such art operates.

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Tiny Shocks Revisited (A Continuing Criticism of James Wood’s How Fiction Works)

Earlier today John pointed toward Nigel Beale’s cleverly-titled criticism of my post “Tiny Shocks: Uncovering the Reductive Plot of James Wood’s How Fiction Works.” I’m looking forward to Nigel’s longer criticism; in the meantime I thought I’d reply regarding the mistakes Wood makes in his readings of Viktor Shklovsky and William H. Gass, since Nigel asked specifically about them:

Does Wood ‘misunderstand’ Gass? Is his reading of Shklovsky ‘demonstrably wrong’? Are these ‘intellectual errors’ or are they mischievous ploys to argue (successfully I’d say) points which you just don’t agree with? Who’s being Ad hominem here?

(Nigel, I hope you don’t mind my calling you by your first name; since we’re Facebook friends now, and I hope you’ll call me Adam. It keeps things friendlier!)

And let me say that it’s certainly fair for Nigel to take issue with my calling Wood’s account “smug and small” etc. Those are critical words, granted. I stand by them, however, as fitting descriptions of Wood’s argument and the manner in which he makes it: Wood’s reading of fiction in How Fiction Works is reductive, and I believe that a critic of his stature is capable of far better. (He studied with Frank Kermode!)

OK, on to the formalists.

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Innovation in Art

So glossy!

What is innovation in art? This is something I’ve circled in my other posts, for example:

Now I’ll try addressing it a little more head-on.

All art contains both innovation (unfamiliarity) and convention (familiarity). Some artworks are so familiar as to preexist themselves. I didn’t like Andrzej Wajda’s recent film Katyn (2007), thinking it nothing more than a string of war movie clichés (this time in Polish). Its being unoriginal and predictable annoyed me; I might have walked out (or fallen asleep) had I not gone to see it with a couple of friends (who for the record both really liked it). And I felt as though its unoriginality trivialized its very serious subject matter, the Katyn Massacre.

On the other hand, some artworks are so radically different from what we know and expect that we can’t make any sense of them, let alone recognize them as artworks:

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