Btb3
Beyond the Blurb: On Critics and Criticism. Published by Cow Eye Press

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05/23/2006

Comments

Dorothy W.

As a new book blogger, what's exciting to me is that while I've always tried to be a slow and careful reader of a variety of things (occasionally successful), now with a blog I can write about it and (a few) people will read it and respond. Thanks for the post.

Jonathan David Jackson

Good thoughts, as usual!

I've always been devoted to small, well-run, independent presses, and I collect new ones into my knowledge-base almost as much as I drink tea (which is a lot), and it just so happens that I found my way back to Gilbert Sorrentino through Coffee House Press, the small publisher that has done a great deal to keep his recent work alive.

In fact, one of the ways that we may celebrate Sorrentino's lifework and simultaneously create our own more generous and discerning literary cultures against the grain of an impatient, sometimes vulgarly commercial set of book markets would be to buy his books online directly at small presses if their websites allow us to do so. We can start by buying Sorrentino's three most recent collections from Coffee House Books at

www[dot]coffeehousepress[dot]org

Just browse by "titles."

My old journal tells me that I first starting reading Sorrentino in December of 1992--the exact same month that I started reading John Barth, Stephen Dixon, Jill Johnston, James Purdy (Purdy's IN A SHALLOW GRAVE genuinely frightened me almost as much as the movie BURNT OFFERINGS did when I was a child). In 1992, Professors Barth and Dixon two were well-regarded teachers in the city where I was living and studying for my undergraduate degree at the time...there are actually quite a few truly excellent graduate level creative writing teachers: when I later took one course with Stephen Dixon I found him to be a most exacting and generous critic of his students' work: he would literally type or write out detailed (and, in my case, spot-on blistering yet well-deserved) comments on manuscripts in addition to line edits in his halting, knowing cursive; his colleague John Barth retired from the university the year that I studied with Professor Dixon).

You see, these authors' very invention will not even countenance impatience.

For me, that's one of the hallmarks of truly original fiction and poetry--the kind that resists yet stakes claims on prior conventions with such transformative force that they demand not to be considered as ephemera.

Impatience may well be one of the candified qualities of mind most concomittant with ephemera.

You must be prepared in a fashion to share with the writers whose work you so well call out in your blog, Dan; you have to concentrate--which is not to say that there is no joy, no levity to be had...I laugh out loud reading the work of a newly published authors like Donald Antrim with his dark, violent, rhetorically challenging aesthetic or Holly Link with her odd glosses on witchcraft, or Hanne Blank, one of the most original voices in literary erotic fiction that I know.

In the end, don't we make books breathe too?

birnbaum

Spot on Daniel

Literary journalism and thus so called mainstream culture has been hijacked by commercial concerns---as in a steady flow (which is, of course, an understatement) of titles ( I don't think they actually qualify as books until you have them in hand).

The window of attention for the new has been foreshortened - movies, the 1st and maybe 2nd weekend, and for books, maybe 4-6 weeks.

That's crazy, for sure.

Roy Rubin

Well said Dan.

Ron Mashate

I have a bit of trouble seeing the difference between the Reader and the Market. The Reader is the Market. And if anything, the expanding market in "books" caters to the niches, hence fragmentation. Further, I'm not exactly sure how this could be avoided, short of market regulation. If readers aren't reading it, if critics aren't talking about it, if people aren't championing it, then the market, at least for that book (and at least for the time being), isn't likely to exist. Art doesn't have autonomy, much as it wish it did. Louis Menand had an interesing piece in the New Yorker on something along these lines. (It seems that I can't use html in the comments so the title of the Menand piece is All That Glitters: Literature's Global Economy)

birnbaum

The confusion of the Reader with the Market is the bad reasoning used to justify countless sins.

Of course it is necessary for an artist's creation to be brought to the attention of its (possible) constituency and that the artist be compensated in some way (material and emotional)but these facts and others do not justify the juggernaut that exists to hypnotize (brain wash, if you will)consumers and it is not the same thing as the economic entity---the market which is neither human or in conformity with human imperatives.

It would be naive to deny or ignore the material conditions that exist (prevail?) but that does not require lovers of literature and art to do the dirty work of hucksters and vulgarians by subsuming some kind of "realitic" acquiesence to that so called reality.

EG Should one care about the weekly announcement of which film is #1 at the box office?

This infiltration into all areas of life by the Market and its flying monkeys is responsible for something as as rank and wrong headed as the recent NYT Best Novel of the Quarter century pr stunt.

Or advertisements such as "Don't be the last one in your neighborhood to get the new Harry Potter."

Need I say more?

Ron Mashate

Then, Birnbaum, you'll especially enjoy the Louis Menand New Yorker piece. (http://www.newyorker.com/critics/books/?051226crbo_books)

Dan Green

Menand merely points out that "literature"--especially as it now seeks out "international recognition"--has become implicated in the system of "cultural capital." He does not say this is a good thing, merely that it is. In fact, his essay has an elegiac quality to it: "That ideal [of autonomous art] disappeared a long time ago. The Martians have already landed." Personally, I think the Martians should mind their own business.

birnbaum

Well, I think English's book on literary prizes has some passing sociological interest---I suppose Menand's take on it is accurate.

To see how the literary marketplace ---so-called--- is its own reductio ad absurdum, just have a peek at newest literary prize inaugurated last year,QUILLS.

"Of course, we like to think that recognition of literary excellence is intuitive," says Menand.

Daniel, do you agree?

Dan Green

Robert: I wouldn't say that it's always intuitive. Sometimes time has to pass or critics have to convince some readers of a writer's excellence. Or both. But I wouldn't say that the two alternatives are sheer intuition and rank commerce. Somewhere between is the right balance between "ideals" and the need to find readers for one's work.

Ron Mashate

I'd agree, though caution to add that any intuition is complicated by, or not necessarily independent of, a literary history that already informs these discussions of excellence or merit or commercial appeal or what have you. Even so, Sartre appreciated something in Faulkner that wasn't exactly informed by what was going on in the southern United States, at least not implicitly, even though it was intuitively simpatico with what Proust had been up to.

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