Is there a David Bowie of literature?—such an asinine question, as dumb as asking, “Is there a Virginia Woolf of music?”—arguing against it arguably as asinine as answering it at all, even on its own terms, which is to say, which “David Bowie”? which “literature”?; not to mention the problem of even locating a “there” with any kind of certainty, and of establishing what and/or where or whatever “Is” in this case is.
25 remaining, & here they are, picking up where we left off, with Tolstoy & his disgraced Natasha
26) The Prince has immersed himself in war work, Napoleon’s on the march, and Natasha attempts suicide, arsenic, then spends weeks in bed. Only her old friend Pierre, our hero more or less, can wring from her an agreement to meet.
27) Pierre’s no innocent himself, though rather a bumbler, badly married, an embodiment of how the good in Russia has gone sour, but Natasha always liked him and when they meet, in the parlor, they’re chummy a while.
28) But finally Pierre has to ask, “Could you really love… that evil man?” aware even as he asks that he’s bumbling again, sounding full of hoke, and yet at his question Natasha undergoes another of those reality-replenishments. Continue reading
Look: I read the Bible when I was ten, the whole thing. I don’t remember much. The reading was the product of some weird compulsion or another (I wasn’t religious and neither was my family). The length played some part; I was very thrifty then. Why buy a 200 page book when you can get one at 400 pages for the same price? That’s just stupid! My limited allowance lead to some warped thinking (Stephen King! Why read The Shining when It‘s so much longer? Ooooh, The Stand!), but I don’t blame my parents. Subsequently, I read War and Peace, Anna Karenina, Gulag Archipelago, The Brothers Karamazov (what is with the Russians?), the first two parts of A la recherche du temps perdu, oh and there’s Dickens, much beloved because come to late, I think — Bleak House, Little Dorritt, Our Mutual Friend (please read them, reader, don’t do as I do); I read Pynchon, all of it, in a single semester of college (something I will always regret, as I haven’t been able to read him since — we read a book a week (you read V in a week and let me know how it works out for you)); Moby-Dick, Don Quixote, the Decameron, Tristram Shandy, The Magic Mountain, The Arabian Nights, Manuscript Found at Saragossa; I read The Sot-Weed Factor, and, last year, The Last Samurai and George Mills, among others. This is just off the top of my head — I’ve read a few books, so you’ll excuse me if I can’t remember them all, and I’m too lazy to go looking through old lists and in boxes.
So, what I’m trying to say is: I’ve given it every chance I could reasonably be expected to give it, the big book. And you know what? Some of those books listed above are books I’ve loved so much I’ve reread them. I’ve read Don Quixote at least four times, Manuscript Found at Saragossa probably four or five, Moby-Dick, the Decameron, The Bros. K. — all reread several times. But there is something about great length that produces a corresponding trepidation (repulsion?) in me. Continue reading
“What we don’t know is exactly what we need,
And what we know fulfills no need at all.”
I have seen… and
I have lived to see Janice and Big Brother playing at a college dance;
And I have seen the posters in the dark forest where I lost my way directing me to the Avalon Ballroom;
And I have befriended the Family Dog;
And I was invited by the Mothers of Invention to a Freak Out!;
And I went to the Avalon and I went to the Fillmore and I went to Winterland;
And I freaked out…just a little;
You know, my hair got “good in the back”;
Stanley Elkin proved remarkably supportive and generous with me, c. 1977 in Boston. He’d come to town as a visiting writer at Boston U., just another of the amazing lineup (Barth, Barthelme [Donald], Cheever [alcoholic, alas], more…) brought in by George Starbuck while he was running the writing program. I was a recent graduate and still spending a lot of time in the department, while freelancing as a teacher and writer in town. I’d read a couple of his novellas, stuff that later wound up in Searches & Seizures and The Living End, and I’d started A Bad Man after seeing Gass recommend it in one of his essays, then had it snitched off my seat by a stranger on the MBTA.
The photo used elsewhere on Big Other is the figure I recall. Elkin and I met at a department function and, drink in hand, he proved a delightful sourpuss, for instance regarding his friend Bill Gass. “Listen,” he groused, “I’ve written better novels than Bill ever will.” This with obvious fondness! And energy, too — this was before Elkin’s MS put him in a walker. I don’t even recall seeing him with a cane. Continue reading
The votes are in, and the winner of the poll for the first book to be discussed in the Big Other Book Club is Tom McCarthy’s C. Shortlisted for the Booker Prize, hailed by many and knocked by maybe even more, McCarthy describes the book as dealing with technology and mourning. I’m excited to have, as our first book for discussion, a contest finalist that’s merit has been argued. All the more fuel for our discussion. I’ll start reading quite soon, and begin posting questions, comments and death threats in January.
In the mean time, here’s the rest of the schedule for 2011:
January: Tom McCarthy C
February: Mary Caponegro The Complexities of Intimacy
March: Manuel Puig Betrayed by Rita Hayworth
April: Stanley Elkin Searches and Seizures: 3 Novellas
May: Djuna Barnes Nightwood
June: Lyn Hejinian My Life
July: John Barth The Sotweed Factor
August: Gordon Lish Peru
September: John Gardner and John Maier translation of Gilgamesh
October: John Hawkes Travesty
November: Helen Vendler Dickinson: Selected Poems and Commentaries
December: Mo Yan Big Breasts and Wide Hips
Writing the title of this post actually felt very silly; it seems such an arbitrary way of gathering a list of writers to look out for. What could be sillier than singling out writers in this way, according to their age? Surely, there are more worthy criteria. Well, there is an answer to what could be sillier than singling out over forty writers over forty to watch, namely, singling twenty writers under forty to watch, especially largely mainstream writers writing, for the most part, conventional and redundant fiction. And the New Yorker has done just that. But this isn’t surprising. Theirs is an idea once again institutionalizing, reinforcing our decayed culture’s obsession with youth, not to mention its eyes wide shut wallowing in mediocrity. So, not only have they missed, for the most part, who are the best fiction writers under forty to watch, but, with their unapologetic valorization of youth, they missed entirely. The following writers (and I include poets, essayists, and theorists among them) are writers who have consistently written great work. I anticipate great things from each of them in the years and years to come. With full awareness of how a corrective sometimes ironically and paradoxically legitimizes what it seeks to correct, here, in the order in which I thought of them, are over forty writers over forty whose work I will be busy watching.
“And more than once, in their middle years, she and King Shahryar had pretended in bed that her life was on the line again, as it had been for the first thousand nights of their story — a touch of the old fire, the familiar terror of once upon a time.”
— from The Last Voyage of Somebody the Sailor, by John Barth
Update: If a blog post can ever be said to be in honor of anyone, then consider this one in honor of Ruth Kligman. May she rest in peace.
can someone write a truly romantic novel today? Or would it necessarily be a postmodern (or post-postmodern) exercise in romanticism?
I’d suspect that, even if we went back to Romantic Era, we’d have a hard time finding something “truly romantic.” As Pontius Pilate so insightfully asked Christ: Quid est veritas? (What is truth?)
So let’s leave aside truth for the moment, and try answering that question in a different way.
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.