Beyond the Blurb: On Critics and Criticism. Published by Cow Eye Press

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As stubborn as I am about the conventions of writing, finding it lacking in so many of the short stories in current literary periodicals, I do not find Carter's style anything but exciting and intrigueing. There is skill, artistic freedom, joyous journey and pleasure in "purple prose", and there is also unskilled gobbledegook being touted these days. The authors you mention are fully worthy of their art.

R. A. Rubin

Purple Prose is indulgence. Don't try to paint a writers ramblings as art. James Joyce has ruined three generations. Academics, Iowa Workshops are to blame too. Of course Roths early works are his best. Then he ran out of ideas and became his character Zuckerman, sad. Bellow is a great talent churning vomit. Haven't read Carters stuff, but any bad writer can say "fuck you." That doesn't mean that the reader appreciated incredible insight or enjoy. That's what art should do, insight and enjoy.

Robert Nagle

I agree, but one element that needs to be accounted for. Given competing demands for my time and attention, maximalist prose is unlikely to catch many readers. Right now there is lots of videos, games and sitcoms to keep a literate person happy. If I’m going to read a long indulgent piece of prose, I better be wowwed. Smaller forms and simpler writing styles have a better chance of connecting with an audience (especially in this age of international audiences, where English may not be a person’s first language). One reason for the popularity of a fiction project like is that it is so easy to approach and requires so little preparation or suspension of disbelief. That’s one reason, by the way, for weblog’s popularity.

Hapax Legomenon

It has a slightly different focus, but I once wrote an essay praising frivolity called "Pleasure Manifesto"

It's work safe, but resides on an erotic fiction site that is often blocked by corporate firewalls.

Jimmy Beck

Some of this is tilting at windmills, no? By any measure, Philip Roth is and has been a fantastically successful writer. Is that despite or because of his frivolity? Portnoy's Complaint was a critical and commercial success. In the literary world, a new Roth book is always an event--even 35 years after Portnoy. Does it matter that "some readers" don't like "Operation Shylock"?

Moreover, Roth and Carter are hardly alone in their excesses (and I would even argue that most of Roth's writing is quite clear). Personally, I find much of Faulkner and Henry James unreadable, the former because he's so willfully overwrought and baroque, the latter because he was never able to have the stick surgically removed from his ass. I have been excoriated and sneered at for dissing two of The Great Ones, but, in Carter's words, so fucking what? I don't accuse them of being bad people or moral failures, I just find it aesthetically maddening to read their books. Maupassant wrote about nothing but hookers; back in the day, many people had a problem with it (even Frank O'Connor in the 1960s). But I find Maupassant's prose to be perfectly lovely and his storytelling skills first rate. C'est la vie.

People regularly spit on Raymond Carver's grave (when they're not trying to claim his work as their own) for exactly the opposite reasons: too minimalist, too spare, too repetitive, boring language, no plot yada yada. The whole Gordon Lish cabal--Amy Hempel, Barry Hannah, Mary Robison--has been roundly (and unfairly, IMO) told by the literary establishment that they are passe. Again, who cares? Were Carver to rise from the dead, he could just as easily say, "I write stripped down, understated prose. So fucking what?"

Dan Green

I don't spit on Carver at all, nor on Hempel or Robison. I think they're all very good writers. Also, I don't think it contributes much to an understanding of James, even of what's wrong with James, to say "he was never able to have the stick surgically removed from his ass." This is, of course, itself a moral condemnation, not an aesthetic judgment.

Jimmy Beck

No, it was absolutely intended as an aesthetic judgment. The high-fallutin diction, the sentences that go on for days, the inscrutable language, and the condescending and hectoring tone--these are what bug me about James and what, in my view, sum to the literary equivalent of a stick-in-the-ass. You may not approve of the metaphor, but it was exactly what I meant. I do not condemn him as a man or a moral being, only his words on the page.

Dan Green

But your words are all still words that imply moral failure. They're not terms that have anything to do with the aesthetic consideration of fiction at all.

Kevin Holtsberry

We must be getting somewhere people are arguing!

Seriously though, sometimes "purple prose" can get in the way but sometimes it can be an enjoyable part of the process. One can like both pen and ink sketches and oil painting right? I think what Dan was getting at was the attempts of particular style to claim the moral high ground as to what is superior art - the criteria shouldn't be conformity with the reigning style. I posted a quote last night from Orwell on Conrad that points to this subject as well. It will probably always be around, after all writers are human with all the foibles and jealousies that entails.

Trent Walters

I finally finished posting on this--! The relevant part to this discussion is "More Bang for Your Buck" but I hope to work on specifics (i.e. "case by case") later. I'm not sure how much we agree or disagree, yet. Perhaps only a dissection will tell.

Dan Green


Since the post at your blog is about more than the subject of this post, I'll comment here. Actually, I have only one comment. You're reading the wrong "late" Roth. Stay away from the trilogy for these purposes. Read Sabbath's Theater or Operation Shylock instead--or perhaps go as far back as The Counterlife.


Although my Roth education is somewhat lacking, I did read SHYLOCK and SABBATH, and found both rather horrifying in their excesses. Ultimately, at least to me, it seemed to smack more of Roth showing off how he could peddle tawdriness and pointlessness within the confines of literary fiction, and less of whatever aim he actually had with either of the books. SHYLOCK, especially, seemed to be caught up far too much in its clever construct instead of actually saying something--there was an interesting idea, but by the end of the book I was more confused than when I'd begun it.

And as for SABBATH, was that annotated phone sex scene really necessary?

Dan Green

It's precisely the insistence that writers "say something"--preferably something acceptable-- and stop fooling around, as well as the subsequent moral indignation when they don't ("horrifying in their excesses") that writers like Carter and Roth resist. The protagonist of Sabbath's Theater is someone who himself refuses to listen to other people telling him to be good. Sabbath wants his moral freedom, Roth wants his artistic freedom.

Trent Walters

Not having read the works in question, I venture heedlessly forward anyway! (It does sound as though I should read the works in question to decide for myself.)

I love messing around--but messing around to a purpose. If he's just a plain clothes dick jazzercising for thirty minutes before investigating the homicide, I'm not interested. But if he's jazzercising and one of jazzercisers is a suspect or somehow intrinsic to the tale (love interest and/or weight problem that feeds in thematically), kick butt! The funkier the better.

You'll need to read the above as a double-metaphor for more than story but also style. If Roth does this, I'm in like Flynn.

Dan Green

Neither Carter nor Roth jazzercise for its own sake (or not much), although Roth does sometimes mess around to the purpose of telling a joke--but the jokes are always integrated into his fiction's overall design. Roth's style is actually very rarely "purple," but in its vigor can get fairly red.


I'd also like to add that I'm a huge Angela Carter fan, and don't find her books to be all that excessive, because I'm too much in love with her use of language and her imagination. I can see why others might view her work as such, but how can one read THE BLOODY CHAMBER and not be at least somewhat moved?

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