The World’s Twelve Worst Books?

The Circe episode of James Joyce’s Ulysses is a jeweled phantasmagoria; and it’s filled with incredible inventories, including one where Bloom’s “bodyguard distribute[s]

Maundy money, commemoration medals, loaves and fishes, temperance badges, expensive Henry Clay cigars, free cowbones for soup, rubber preservatives in sealed envelopes tied with gold thread, butter scotch, pineapple rock, billets doux in the form of cocked hats, readymade suits, porringers of toad in the hole, bottles of Jeyes’ Fluid, purchase stamps, 40 days’ indulgences, spurious coins, dairyfed pork sausages, theatre passes, season tickets available for all tram lines, coupons of the royal and privileged Hungarian lottery, penny dinner counters, cheap reprints of the World’s Twelve Worst Books: Froggy and Fritz (politic), Care of the Baby (infantilic), 50 Meals for 7/6 (culinic), Was Jesus a Sun Myth? (historic), Expel That Pain (medic), Infant’s Compendium of the Universe (cosmic), Let’s All Chortle (hilaric), Canvasser’s Vade Mecum (journalic), Loveletters of Mother Assistant (erotic), Who’s Who in Space (astric), Songs that Reached Our Heart (melodic), Pennywise’s Way to Wealth (parsimonic)…

So what, for you, would rank as the world’s twelve worst books? Please feel free to add your own parenthetical qualifying appellations.

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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.

The Big Other Interview #43: Kane X. Faucher

Kane X. Faucher is a literary madman: part Hunter S. Thompson transplanted to the Great White North and part deft academic theorist in the mode of Marshall McCluhan. Faucher is everywhere at once: he’s present as a sort of pixilated specter as I write this, and he’s the implied author and mock reader of the text to follow. He’s a post-structuralist time bomb sent from the future by Derridean agents intent on erasing themselves from history, and his latest novel, The Vicious Circulation of Dr. Catastrophe: A Polemical Ensemble (Enigmatic Ink 2010), is fulminating on a virtual bookshelf near you.

Get it before it gets you. After you read the twisted mindslag we call “The Big Other Interview.”  You can also learn how Faucher repudiates large chunks of his writerly past. Oh, and check out the “pendant” photo on his homepage.

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James Joyce Twitters, Too.

Unlike most written twitterings, Joyce’s is actually worth the time. From Ulysses:

THE KISSES

(warbling) Leo! (twittering) Icky Icky micky sticky for Leo! (cooing) Coo coocoo! Yummyyum, Womwom! (warbling) Big comebig! Pirouette! Leopopold! (twittering) Leeolee! (warbling) O Leo!

(They rustle, flutter upon his garments, alight, bright giddy flecks, silvery sequins.)

The Dominant and the Longue Durée

"Hi, I'm dead!"

It’s a very familiar story: Romanticism began in 1798 and ended in 1900, when it was replaced by Modernism. …Although maybe it wasn’t replaced until 1901; it must have taken a while back then, in those days before cellular phones and email, to “get the memo,” as we say today. How long did it really take for everyone to hear that they were to stop making Romanticist works, and start making Modernist ones? Why, in some of the outlying regions, Romanticism may have limped on until 1902—even 1903!

Pinpoint the year when Romanticism died, or when Modernism perished. Can you have two eras at one time? Some have argued that Postmodernism is over; have you heard? Stop making Postmodernist art! It’s sad; I liked Po-mo; I’ll miss metatextuality (plus I had a killer idea for a story that became self-aware, and demanded the right to vote). But there’s also an upside: no more Shrek movies! (Well, not after this year’s Shrek Forever After.)

All of this begs the question: What happens to eras? And what are they? Surely they exist—Modernism happened—and if they exist, they must have beginnings. Right? Modernism surely began at some point. Do they also have endings? When Modernism started, what became of Romanticism?

Let’s see if we can’t find out.

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