Beyond the Blurb: On Critics and Criticism. Published by Cow Eye Press
Critical Essays, Reviews
Literature, Literary History, Literary Study

« Making Life Beautiful | Main | Rigid and Impacted »



R. A. Rubin

The writer asks himself Post-Hemingway -- How much is too much?" Sure, I could describe my character physically down to her cuticles, and I could give her a nervous twitch, or hand her a cane.

The trouble with Irving, an entertaining novelist, he can't go to the next level because he is hoplessly mired in Liberal attitudes, so his characters must live out the little moral lessons pertaining to the light-weight ideas that could be found in Hillary Clinton's, "It Takes a Village."


I'll agree that that prose is pretty tortuous. I think what Jensen is trying to articulate are the intangible parts of someone--the little tics that make each of us unique.

Of course, this is tautalogical: A good novelist personifies by giving each character the things that make each character unique.

I think much more interesting than saying that novelsts characterize with saggy breasts or personality tics would be to say how novelists achieve lucid characters. It's difficult to get the right balance of telling about a character but letting the reader complete the impression in her head. I also think there's an art to finding the right details, the banal parts of life that, for all their insignificance, are telling.


There is a difference between dumb hurmor and smart humor, I think. Of course, there's the dumb kind of dumb humor and the smart kind of dumb humor. There may be even a dumb kind of smart humor! Humor can be based on a sene of incongruity or cognitive dissonance. There's that old carpenter's joke: "I've cut this board three times and its still not long enough." That's a smart joke, although maybe a dumb example.

I think you parse this journalistic prose too carefully. That is, these assertions aren't meant to withstand such intelligent scrutiny. The sentence you have trouble with is just trying to say: characterization is a matter of capturing the quidditas of an individual self, not of grouping together a lot of "identifying marks" like hair color.

David Milofsky

Is there something wrong with "journalistic prose?" When bloggers look down their noses at the prose of other critics one has to wonder. At the same time, I think Jensen has missed the point of Irving's work. His early novels were energetic and very funny but then, of course, he became famous. His problem now is not that he's liberal or not brainy enough, but that he seems to take it all too seriously, with the comparisons of himself with Dickens and Wagner. I haven't finished Until I Find You, but it smacks of self-consciousness to me, as did the earlier Son of the Circus, as well as too many research assistants. Here you find everything you never wanted to know about tattooing and tattooists, for instance, with a resultant loss of pace and characterization. But no one who knows very much about literature can doubt Irving's gift, his sense of style and language, which makes all the tendentiousness all the more regrettable.


There's nothing wrong with journalistic prose, just that journalists writing on deadlines may not have time to fix sentences like that one about "suasion," or to formulate their ideas with the requisite theoretical precision. I'd hate for someone to spend an hour criticizing a sentence that I wrote on my blog. I'm sure I write quite a few bad ones. Dan formulate his ideas with a great deal of care, and might be the exception to the rule among bloggers. I have a feeling he actually writes DRAFTS of his posts.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)

The Art of Disturbance--Available as Pdf and Kindle Ebook
Literary Pragmatism--Available as a Pdf