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




  • A survey of current writers whose work might be called "experimental." Includes a prefatory discussion defining terms, as well as essays on David Foster Wallace, George Saunders, Gary Lutz, Ben Marcus, Mark Danielewski, John Keene, Shelley Jackson, Steve Tomasula, more than a dozen others.
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  • "I offer here no overarching theory about the nature or direction of innovative writing by women writers, although as I do note in several of the essays in the first section, there is a recognizable affinity among numerous current writers for what I am here calling 'fabulation.'" Includes essays on Rikki Ducornet, Aimee Bender, Noy Holland, Helen DeWitt, Eimear McBride, more than a dozen others.
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  • "Although the term has come to identify a general attitude toward traditional intellectual assumptions or, more specifically, discernibly related practices in philosophy, the social sciences, and all of the arts, "postmodern" was originally a critical label attached to an emergent group of American fiction writers perceived to be challenging established literary convention."
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  • In the early to mid 1960s, an iconoclastic mode of American fiction that came to be called "black humor" presaged the larger movement succeeding it that eventually came to be known as postmodernism. This volume looks at the essential features of black humor fiction, with essays on all the major black humorists: Joseph Heller, Kurt Vonnegut, Bruce Jay Friedman, Terry Southern, and more.
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  • Is a work of experimental fiction really an experiment? What was metafiction? Experimental fiction and tradition. New Romancers. Poetic structures. Fiction as performance. Varieties of experimental fiction.
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  • Beyond the major publishers’ seasonal lists to out-of-the-way presses and lesser-known writers.
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I agree with the general thrust of this post. I also agree that Gough glides right over the period you're talking about, but this comment from Gough means something different to me:

"The last 30 years have seen the effects of turning novel writing into an academic profession with a career path. As they became professional, writers began to write about writers. As they became academicised, writers began to write about writing."

I don't think he's talking about "metafiction" at all here. (He certainly seems unaware of the likes of Elkin and Sorrentino and the other comic writers you're referring to here.) I think he's talking about "academic writing"--he seems to me to be making the common complaint about workshops and the like. Especially where he says in the next paragraph that "Thirty years of the feedback loop have led to a kind of generic American literary prose, instantly recognisable, but not as instantly comprehensible." This doesn't sound like metafiction to me.

In some respects, in the rest of his piece Gough seems to making the same sort of argument David Foster Wallace made in his "E Pluribus Unum" essay, without being as aware as DFW is of the history of the post-modern novelists coming before him.

(Also, it seems clear that Gough's claim about the problem with John Banville is based on just the one book that won the Booker.)

Dan Green

I don't know. "Professions generate private languages designed to keep others out. This is irritating when done by architects. But it is a catastrophe for novelists, and the novel." Sounds like a swipe at postmodernism/metafiction to me.


Yeah, that part gave me pause...

Maybe he doesn't know what he means.

Julian Gough

Whoah! Before this horse gallops much further in this particular direction, could I step (metacritically) out of the shadows and explain what I meant? (Of course, Richard may well be correct when he says, maybe I don't know what mean...)

In fact, I largely agree with Daniel. I love Barthelme, I love Pynchon. I think that American metafiction has been where a lot of the Hot! Comic! Action! has been this past half century.

But in my essay, I'm trying to make a book-length argument in 4,500 words, and I simply didn't have time or space to explore US metafiction. My broad argument was not that nobody is writing good comic fiction (that'd be nuts): It was that the general tendency of the culture leans against treating serious stuff through comedy. And I wrote the article for Prospect magazine, in London, and for a largely London readership. My examples were thus largely drawn from the right hand side of the Atlantic.

Some of the lines that I had to cut from the finished essay, due to lack of space, might have made this clearer. Here’s an example of a lost paragraph which in fact mentions Pynchon:

“So it is likely that the great novels which effortlessly cut the Gordian knot I have described have not only been written already, but published already, reviewed and dismissed already. Certainly they have not won the Booker Prize. Nor are they ever likely to. The Pulitzer Prize, consistently picking the wrong novel throughout the sixties, seventies and eighties, once almost got it right, in 1974. The novel committee unanimously chose Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon (undoubtedly the greatest American novel of that year). But the overall Pulitzer committee refused to award the prize to Pynchon for such a tasteless book. So no award was given that year.”

I don’t think we disagree. My argument was a little overcompressed in the edit, but to clarify it here: I agree with Daniel when he says:

‘It's the rejection of this liberating anarchy by "professional" Creative Writing that has stultified "literary prose," not the acceptance of a "private language" too influenced by postmodernism.’

But I’m glad you enjoyed so much of the article, and I’m delighted you and your readers have engaged with it so full-bloodedly.

Dan Green

Julian: Thanks for the clarification. Your description of what was left out of your essay does explain my confusion at what seemed to be its omissions.

Julian Gough

No problem, Daniel. Here at Gough Literary Industries, we like to provide a full-function essay service with 24-hour online technical support.

Plus, I like arguing about books.


heh, did you just finish rereading some nietzsche?

I agree completely with the mfa bashing; however I am going to apply to a program this year for all the hot conects and wanna-be intellectual scenester chicks with emo glasses (hot librians!!!) more interested in looking like an author than acutally being one. But hey, I bet they give A+ dome. Too, my work of iconoclastic comic metafiction has generated some really great form letters, and it looks like the letters "mfa" from a sexy university add some weight to query letters. I'll do the mfa like kierkegaard did the phd.

I don't think the satire is getting published (best recent satire is marshal mathers), because when agents talk about satire in the states, they mean sex and the city, will and grace, or some trash along those lines; you give them juvenal (_real_ controversial critique of the contemps, those _cons_) and they say "I can't sell this" because its too literary; then on the indi publishing side of things, they dont want your work either, because as a satirist, you hit _everyone_ (both the publishing industry, out for evil profits and dumbing down books to compete with DVDs, and "marginalized" [i hate derrida for the widespread use of that word] presses with thier tired politcal agendas). Even better, you cant self publish because those printers cant deal with aesthetic expiriments so necessary to modern-post-modern fiction (but how can there be fiction when there is no truth?) Sorry, you could have skipped this paragraph because I have some sand in my vag, but DONT have a myspace =((((( But the but, or detour, is SO postmodern gusy, as is my most recent attempt to espace from the metaphysical cloture of spelling guys, gusy.

perhaps ill take some moonlit walks in the rain and then ask for somone to loan me pistols instead; nietzsche democratised irony, that's something i can't laugh over.

"look on the brightside/suicide"-Kurt Cobain

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  • "In this volume I have included most of my substantial posts on the blog as medium, as well as literary culture online in general. . .They are presented in chronological order, from 2004 to 2019. I have chosen this arrangement because it shows the development of my thinking about online literary criticism and because it may perhaps be interesting for readers to survey the issues that arose as literary blogging itself developed. "
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