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.

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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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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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Uncover Your Tracks: A Preliminary Critique of James Wood’s How Fiction Works

Who knows what all is down there?

Shya posted something two days ago about James Wood’s How Fiction Works, in which Wood advocates the use of “free indirect style”:

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!

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