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Beyond the Blurb: On Critics and Criticism. Published by Cow Eye Press
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THE LITERARY SPHERE: TAKING CRITICISM ONLINE

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LET'S REVIEW: BOOK REVIEWING AS LITERARY CRITICISM

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01/04/2006

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Nick

I do not wish to ally myself with Mr. 'Real Writer', as I am usually in agreement with Dan Green's comments (for example on literature not being made to serve political/social/moral causes and on the problems of mainstream publishing etc).

I do agree with the above post, however, in that I think the Times article was kind of bullshit, though my reasons are a little different. It is certainly true that big publishing houses are doing their best to destroy literature, that they don't employ enough readers, and that the average editor doesn't know his arse from his elbow (though to some degree the individual cannot be blamed if the company's ethos is to publish shit).

However, it is not a fair or useful test to submit work from the 70s. This gimmick clouds the issue, as the work is likely to appear anachronistic, at least enough to arouse suspicion. The Times should have just sent contemporary work by important authors of today (eg Curtis White, Gilbert Sorrentino). Of course the work wouldn't have been accepted (the very reason these authors are published on the independent Dalkey Archive), and all the article would have proved is that the best writers we have struggle to get published by commercial houses...but wouldn't it be nice to see this dealt with seriously in the mainstream press?

The Times article was stupid, the Booksquare article looks stunningly stupid and, while we're here, it's a pity they used V.S. Naipaul who seems to be in favour of some kind of feudalism and keeps banging on about the Novel being dead, with apparently no knowledge of the complexities of this debate, which authors of innovative fiction have been engaged in for about forty years.

Keep it 'Real'.

DW

>> Either "literary talent" no longer matters and publishing any piece of dreck that comes along on the suspicion it might make money is now acceptable practice, or it does matter and the publishing world is doing a dreadful job of serving that talent.

Isn't that a binary proposition, and aren't those usually specious?

Nick

The Comment I made of couple of refences to has disappeared, which makes some of what I said above seem strange, but it doesn't affect my post as a whole.

Brendan Wolfe

I don't know why the original comment was deleted, and like Nick, I tended to agree with it. But now why all the hostility? And what does a post from last year have to do with anything? Anyway, if it's your blog & you kill a comment, that's your right. It's hardly censorship. Kirkus, by the way, has been reviewing & giving exposure to self-published authors for a little while now, and for a price, but that's another discussion, too, I guess.

Brendan Wolfe

It seems we're not going to be friends, but I'm not sure why. Dan's got a beef with the publishing industry. So what? Ignorance may or may not be at the root of his claims. So what? Calling him a coward and me dopey -- where does that get anyone? Make your points and move on. Either that or be more honest about what has you in such a lather.

As for Kirkus Discoveries, I'm genuinely curious what the brouhaha is about. I personally don't care whether the Discovery reviews translate into sales; I don't care about the regular reviews, either. What matters to me is the integrity of the reviewing process. Is that a sham because the writer paid for the privilege? I don't think so, so long as the reviews are identified as Kirkus Discovery and so long as there's no pressure on the reviewers.

What's your take?

Nick

Mr Writer (great name by the way, was it by deed pole or were you born with it? Must have saved a lot of awkward soul-searching about what your 'calling' was). So your very real post turned out to be a mere phantasm, but could we ignore that and I'll ask you two simple questions.

You say: 'Could it be that the great unwashed of self-published writers aren't comprised of the sort of middle-class gentlemen who can simply write their fancies without having to grub for money like some dirty prole?'

What about those who do a day job thus enabling them to write what they feel they must despite current publishing trends? You seem to be saying one must, in order to survive, pander (to some degree) to current commercial standards (need I say bourgeois standards-how does this figure into your rhetoric?). The type of writer I have described writes what he wants and pays the price, the type you advocate writes full-time but has to shape the material. They are both compromises and it seems to me a matter of the individual deciding what is most important to him.

Surely you can accept the publishing industry's culpability on some level? What about past examples-Melville's a big one. What about Flann O'Brien's 'The Third Policeman'-they wouldn't publish it in his lifetime (even though he was always willing to make changes to his work) so he shelved it. Posthumously released, it turns out to be one of the greatest comic works ever written, and recently it went on to big sales as a result of being featured in the plot of the TV show 'Lost' (nearly forty years after his death). The point? The publishing industry is fickle and rather absurd; it's decisions have little to do with genuine merit. Some good stuff may get through but many don't want to be victim to the whims of someone like Murdoch (surely not a friend of 'dirty proles'?), sitting at the top of a publishing conglomerate.

Hopefully these posts will be left up and you'll be able to see that, despite me having a bit of fun at the start, I'm seriously engaging with your points. It would be good if this didn't become class war (I don't know anything about your background, nor you mine and that's good), or more raging at Dan Green, or if you have to do that maybe you could also offer something on Brendan's points or mine. Cheers.

Dan Green

Anybody who wants to disagree with me by making reasoned arguments is welcome. Those who want to discharge their dyspepsia or otherwise engage in moronic verbal abuse will be deleted.

Dan Green

I apologize for the gaps in this thread that result from the above-stated policy.

DW

>> The Times should have just sent contemporary work by important authors of today (eg Curtis White, Gilbert Sorrentino). Of course the work wouldn't have been accepted (the very reason these authors are published on the independent Dalkey Archive), and all the article would have proved is that the best writers we have struggle to get published by commercial houses...but wouldn't it be nice to see this dealt with seriously in the mainstream press?

What on earth would such an exercise prove? "We submitted blind manuscripts and found that the big houses had no interest in the work. Well, the joke's on the big houses, because those manuscripts were actually writtten by ... er, by authors whom the big houses have aready shown that they have no interest in. Um, gotcha?"

Nick

Exactly! It was just a kind of reductio ad absurdum of my own thoughts, I said to myself 'well this Times thing is stupid, you don't have to send in old work to try to trick them, there's all kinds of work that doesn't get published now for no good reason-just send that in!' I thought I showed that I was not proposing this as an actual idea for an article, maybe the fact that you've only picked on this one thing means you couldn't find fault with the rest.

The point was just that instead of these gimmicks why not have a serious article that explored the failures of the publishing industry, and looked at some of the best authors working with small publishers. Probably wishful thinking. There is certainly a need for such an article though; many people I know, for example, love literature but have a limited awareness of the breadth of writing that exists. I feel that we are almost at the stage where all writing of merit (that which is actually art) is completely separate from the stuff one hears about in the papers, winning prizes etc. Hence if one claims to love literature it is untenable to concern oneself only with mainstrem publishing.

Everyone's probably noticed that if you want to get published it helps to be an ex-model, talk show host, pop star, comedian, actor, sports star. If you're famous for anything other than writing you're in with a real chance. It could be said that this is not the stuff that they even claim to be 'literary'. Well, when it comes to what big publishers, and broadsheets for example, think of as 'serious' work you don't have to be any of the above. You just have to be Zadie Smith.

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