"BAD PAPER: The Bursting of the Fiction Bubble"

read it here.

August 26, 2010

Dept of Filthy Neocon Litcritter Lies

I'm taking the liberty of reposting in its entirety this concise exposé of kultur-kaiser Adam Kirsch by Steven Augustine from The Endless Thread. Kirsch belongs to the same sub-genre of "critic" as James Wood -- smarmy-smart, facile propagandists of the empire's cultural bureau for "higher-toned" readers from the professional-managerial class (Jed Perl's another one). Kirsch recently wrote a couple of know-nothing take-downs of Slavoj Zizek in which he condemned the Slovenian philosopher/provocateur for being "fatally attracted to violence." These were published in the New Republic, a magazine psychopathically attracted to violence.

Here's comrade Augustine's piece:

Like all his fellow Neocons, Adam Kirsch scores his points by lying; the techniques he prefers are creepy sleight-of-hand, or the 20th-Century propagandist’s sadistic favorite, which is to assert, with a wink, that Blue is Red or a Cow is a Butterfly or that a Fundamentalist Guerrilla and a Secular Dictatorship are chummy together (for example). It only works if you aren’t paying attention… or if you really want to believe.

In his eulogy to Frank Kermode, the mendacious Adam quotes a review Kermode wrote about a collection of essays by Martin Amis. Kirsch would have the reader believe that Kermode’s introduction to his review of “The War Against Cliché” is a quietly devastating put-down:


“The last book he published before he died was Bury Place Papers, a collection of his LRB essays, which shows that he was a tough and witty critic as well as a learned one. His review of Martin Amis’s essay collection The War Against Cliché is a master class in quiet devastation: “The main title of this collection may at first seem wantonly non-descriptive, but it turns out to be exact,” Kermode begins. “The first thing to see to if you want to write well is to avoid doing bad writing, used thinking. The more positive requirements can be left till later, if only a little later.” It takes a minute to realize that Kermode’s verdict on Amis has just been delivered and that there will be no appeal.”

From the review, by Kermode, Kirsch quotes:


“That said, or, as Amis allows himself to say, ‘simply put’, we have here a literary critic of startling power, a post-literary-critical critic who, incorrigibly satirical, goes directly to work on the book. Often, being right and being funny are, in this book, aspects of the same sentence. Often, as one reads on, one finds oneself quietly giggling, or gigglingly quiet. The precision of the attack is astounding, and is matched by the bluntness of the condemnation.”

or this:

“The long central New Yorker essay on Larkin is probably the most considered and the most permanently valuable part of the book. It recycles some earlier remarks to great defensive effect. More than any other piece it confirms one’s opinion that Amis is the best practitioner-critic of our day – just what Pritchett was in his prime, though without the bad punctuation and the jangling train-wrecks.”

Seems, strangely, like very strong praise, doesn’t it? Well I’m afraid you’ll have to keep reading it, again and again, until it doesn’t.

Neil Bush 2012.

August 9, 2010

Fiction Ain't All The New Yorker Domesticates

From the blog "Have a Good Time," an insightful post entitled "What the New Yorker doesn't publish":

For starters, this letter:

To the Editor,

While I was glad to see praising reviews of poets Rae Armantrout and Anne Carson in recent issues, I was somewhat disturbed by their contents. Dan Chiasson says that Armantrout is the “best poet of the [Language] group” because she “takes the basic premises of Language writing somewhere they were never intended to go.” This ideological attack on experimental writing is repeated in Meghan O’Rourke’s review of Carson’s “Nox,” when O’Rourke says that Carson’s “singular gift” is complicated by “a postmodern habit of pastiche and fragmentation,” which O’Rourke calls “so much formal detritus.” Not all critics have to be behind Language poetry or formal experimentation, but to praise a Language poet and a formal experimenter for all they do that isn’t subsumed by those categories is a shockingly brazen party-line statement of what is and is not acceptable in poetry.

It’s no surprise that a reviewer unsympathetic to Language poetry would only find praiseworthy the least Language-like elements in Armantrout’s work, nor is it surprising that a reviewer unsympathetic to formal experimentation would only care for Carson as a traditional lyric poet. What is surprising, and troubling, is that the New Yorker would print what amount to polemics against Language poetry and experimental writing in the form of reviews that pick out their outliers for praise. And in drawing the line where they do, excluding most Language poetry and experimental writing, the New Yorker obviously also excludes (for example) explicitly political poetry or poetry by people of color, which receive even less critical attention.

This is obviously not as important as the New Yorker failing to cover, say, Gaza* (nothing in the print edition since a shocking Lawrence Wright article in November 2009–which might be worse than not covering it at all–and very little before then); and that in turn is obviously less important than the actual situation in Gaza. But the very rare and selective eye towards poetry reflects the same deep ideological biases as the Gaza coverage. Similarly, the New Yorker‘s poetry predilections are mere instances of the broader biases of Official Verse Culture, which themselves only reflect more pernicious forces of reaction and white supremacy. Perhaps I am overstating, but for me at least, the New Yorker has a profound role as an arbiter and definer of culture and politics. Presenting the ideological as neutral, even as it is of course ideology’s oldest trick, must be resisted!

* Nothing on Oscar Grant. Nothing on SB 1070. Two brief stories on Sean Bell, one making fun of how black people speak, and one round-up of musicians’ responses. These kinds of stories on Sean Bell are emblematic: the New Yorker casts attention away from police violence making language and political music the real story.

August 2, 2010


from an interview with Steven Moore, author of The Novel: An Alternative History, at 3 Quarks Daily:

What about the earliest fictions you include in the book fascinate you the most?

The daring of them. This goes back to your first question about alternative fiction. These early fictions, especially Egyptian and Assyrian stuff, they're almost like avant-garde magical realist novels. They're more like García Marquez than John Updike, say. The freedom I saw there really interests me. This is the same freedom avant-garde writers adopt. As soon as literature started becoming written, critics came up with rules for poetry and drama. Anyone who was writing tales or longer fictions were pretty much free to do whatever they wanted. There was this real spirit of experimentalism, to use a modern term, in that early fiction, that fit in perfectly with my whole thesis: the avant-garde novel is not a modern aberration, but goes all the way back to the beginning. If anything, the conventional novel is the aberration. That's a very late development.

Could you say that we have it backwards, that what we see as normal is one current of many in terms of the way the novel has gone? We've focused so much on one subset, that has seemed to us to be the only thing?

Exactly. Without question, it's the most popular form of fiction, the conventional novel, the beginning, middle, end, and all that. It's the easiest to read, has the largest appeal, blah, blah, blah. But when you step back and look at the whole stream from ancient Egypt to what's being written now, it's just a tributary that goes off to the side. I wouldn't push it too hard, but the experimental novel is actually the main river. The conventional novel is a popular sidetrack.