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

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06/10/2008

Comments

Daniel

Don't buy the hype. The 20th century just wasn't that special. Joyce completely tied his narratives to simple chronological time, as did Wolf, and both modernists assumed an amount of stability. Flaubert's use of time was not particularly innovative, and neither were his plots revolutionary (he based them on popular, often moralistic cautionary, tales of his time). Since the advent of the novel what has changed most is not some fundamental view of the relationship of the self and world, or time (or even the authorial approach to time), but the freedom of elaborate prose styles.

Steven Augustine

I envision the above comment delivered as a speech to a bladder-venting confederate in an alley, delivered with a teenager's bored-with-everything sneer. Closeup on: the rolled-up comix in our Goethe-manqué's ass pocket.

Richard

He isn't going to be fooled, Steven, no sir.

Steven Augustine

There's a picture of him with *John Updike*, Richard.

Schopenhauer's bloody knuckles SON

"and I have no desire to see all readers except the most avant-garde and well-educated able to read novels. But that is what's happening here: undermining the validity of people's reading enjoyment."

I really dont see how Dan in any of his posts nears the perception of an elitist; (if he is, then I like him even more). he wants erudite readers and erudite writers, which if you go back a few years, is exactly the make-up of those who read and wrote *anyways.*

Seems to me, the Enlightenment f$#ked everything up, or if you want to consider things from another point of view, very few have taken advantage of all the benefits that the Enlightenment sought to give the herd, and indeed all that every martyr has burned for and all that every philosopher has imbibed hemloc for.

Steven King and Paris Hilton and Don Delilo and Eggers and Updike (are you kidding me dude are you kidding me) and N+1, hell most american readers and writers, shouldnt be allowed *near* a pen and paper, and I can hear the ladies English and Thought exhale in relief when these collected flatheads and their terrible twerp friends are out of ink and their brows are vexed.

Only the most educated should be reading and writing (I think the situation is like this anyways, the writers just dont get paid or get to sit in beautiful Medici palaces like they used to, or advise Nero or Alexander or Pericles or Dionysus II). Democracy is a waste of time, the hoipoloi are either too stupid or lazy to profit from it, or it overtly inhibits the flourishing of art and good humans.

AndrewKenneally

As a blast of disgust, SBN's is up there, but perhaps a blast of disgust can still clear a certain am,ount of air. How do we ensure only the most educated should be reading or writing, I wonder? And again on the practical basis of this 'should', how do only the most educated become most educated if they shouldn't be reading until they become most educated?
Your disgust with democracy has its basis in truth, but it's very much a defiled notion of democracy, not anything like the active participation in the community of the individual that democracy is supposed to mean.

On the position of the novel & the flourishing of art, I do think the artist has to create in a largely unformulated space. An intellectualising of the systems of form could hardly lead to anything but sterile form. Such should come naturally to the artist. Notes From Underground(in the Pevear Volokhonsky translation) is still more startling in its jagged edge strangeness than most anything since, but I can't imagine Dostoevsky came to this precipice of artlessness by a carefully conceived critical process. It might be a tortuous process "getting there" for the artist, but it's still beating a path into the unknown, which must mean a letting go of the known self.

Zachary

Steven, do you agree with Daniel or disagree with him? For all I can tell from your urinological comment, *you* might be the companion in the alley. Daniel articulated a response to Dan Green's argument; surely you have something less flip to say? I ask not to call you out, but because if I am right in thinking that your scorn is the front face of a powerful disagreement, I'd like to hear that position laid out. For I am largely in agreement with Daniel's, and not Dan's, point.

Dan Green

"I am largely in agreement with Daniel's, and not Dan's, point."

Before you debate further with Steven, you should probably make sure you know what my point is. As far as I can tell, my post had precious little to do with the issues Daniel raises. It wasn't about time or the "relationship between self and world." It was about a set of conventions--point of view, plot, narration, etc.--that Robbe-Grillet thought characterized the 19th century novel and that he believed were no longer adequate in the 20th. I agree with him, but make the further point that even the mainstream of literary fiction has incorporated much of the modernist challenge to these conventions. I don't know what "hype" Daniel is referring to, since my post is simply a kind of updating of Robbe-Grillet's analysis of 50 years ago. Neither do I argue that the 20th century was "special." Its fiction is, however, no longer "innocent," which is Robbe-Grillet's way of noting that it became much more self-conscious and self-reflexive as practiced by such writers as Joyce, Faulkner, and Beckett. This seems to me an indisputable point.

Steven Augustine

Zach:

I posted the comment I intended to post, and the meaning that I wanted it to impart is obvious to anyone blessed with a basic level of college reading skills. The comment I posted is all I need/want to say about Daniel's comment; I'm not required by ad hoc blog law to further debate what I consider to be vapid comments or positions, though I'm free (to a certain extent) to comment on them. If you don't agree with *my* comment, by all means voice your opinion of it, but you're bound to be disappointed if you expect me to dignify every manifestation of reactionary puddinheaditude (there seems to be a veritable claque of it) that pops up online by "engaging" it (ie, going around and around and around ad inf.). Life's short, man. You want my extended attention: write something *interesting*.

LML

"Its fiction is, however, no longer "innocent," which is Robbe-Grillet's way of noting that it became much more self-conscious and self-reflexive as practiced by such writers as Joyce, Faulkner, and Beckett. This seems to me an indisputable point."

That Joyce, Faulkner, and Beckett were self-conscious is indisputable, but that the mainstream has appropriated anywhere near all of their innovations, with the possible exception of Faulkner (the least radical of the trio) is highly disputable. Ulysses is much more than a new approach to interiority; not even half the book is delivered in so-called "stream of consciousness." What about the wacko several hundred pages with the prostitutes, written in the form of a stage play whose preposterous action rises like radioactive swamp gas from Bloom's unconscious? The only narrative artist I've seen really dig into this mode (with mixed results) is the David Lynch of Inland Empire. What about Beckett's trilogy, which collapses consciousness and narrative into a single compelling, contradictory, exploratory fog? Who is working this territory? Barthelme at best responded by throwing his hands in the air and making delicious jokes about the whole enterprise. Robbe-Grillet's problem (and Dan Green's) is an overly systematic approach to the history of art. Eliot immersed himself in anthropology and Chivalric narrative, subjected his resulting manuscript to an Ezra Pound remix, and emerged with the Wasteland. Beckett seems to have formulated his style by mulling over Vaudeville and the diaries of some old aristocrat who faithfully recorded his bowel movements. As AndrewKenneally suggests, original literary art does not emerge as a result of building deliberately on what has come before. It is a matter of finding (in past literature, in current events, in your navel) triggers for uncovering a deep and compelling idiosyncracy, and then of finding a form for delivery that will never seem new or old. The second part is much harder than the first.

Zachary

Steven, I'm neither puddingheaded nor paid to clap, but I think Daniel has a point, and am glad that Dan has taken it up in response. On the other hand, click-claque, you react as if there isn't a pennyweight worth of sense in Daniel's post, and take the defense stance when I ask if you had any thoughts on prior matter. *Of course* you aren't law-bound to enter into more substantial discussion, but manners is still manners -- though perhaps insults comprise the *interesting writing* you ask for. Whence all the ad hominem?

Interesting post, LML.

Daniel

I was really commenting on Grillet's ideas, not Dan G. Grillet focuses on what appears to me to be the wrong aspects of change that took place in highly developed, or literary, writing of the last 350 or so years. I feel that his focus reveals an unreflective [hype]r-attentiveness to the 'modern era' of literature that is very common; however a disregard for pre-modern writing, for thousands of years of literature, is a serious flaw in any scholar or critic.

The newfound freedom to explore blasphemous or untoward themes in the 18th and 19th centuries, and the freedom granted by the advancements in printing and general quality of life to allow more complicated and elaborate styles of writing, are both more important to the shifts in modern European-American literature than the intensification of cultural self-reflection, which is readily apparent as early as the Judaic Psalms.

I do offer my deepest apologies that, in my youthful phrasing, I've offended Augustine's sensibilities. You're a real peach. Thanks for undermining what could've been a perfectly intelligent discourse.

Steven Augustine

"Thanks for undermining what could've been a perfectly intelligent discourse."

All glorious sanctimonification aside, I "undermined" nothing but A) your self-regard, B) your astonishingly callow-yet-reactionary dismissal of a *century* of literary effort encompassing thousands of books and authors you can't *possibly* have read, and movements you can't possibly have absorbed, along with the cited writers you obviously haven't read well enough to pronounce on.

Yes, adjust the parameters of your little formulation coarsely enough (with vague enough language), and it'll all seem so very true to you! Whatever you do, don't read enough material, with enough attention to nuance or paradox or much-greater-than-your-capacity-to-perceive-it talent, to shatter your goofy fauxmniscience.

Never for one moment consider something like the revolution in narrative technique and perception that the symbiosis of Film and Literature afforded the writer/reader dyad in the "nothing special" 20th century... that would be too much like *thinking creatively* and *observing honestly, without an agenda* instead of minting (or parroting) blockhead schematics for an impossibly fluid subject. Right?

Much more fun to reduce James Joyce's *oeuvre* in a snide blurt. The matter (and handling) of "Time" in Ulysses or Finnegans Wake... you're of the sincere opinion that you've *mastered* it? Whelp.

Conservative Pronouncements of Stunning Pomposity are de rigueur in the much-debased world of Litcrit these days (and hasn't anyone noticed the disproportion of reactionary critics afoot, post-Bush?), I know, but don't expect me to pretend to consider them to be anything other than what they are. You are an essentially *political* phenomenon; your relationship to literature is circumstantial; you are attitudinally *toxic* in any field that privileges the imagination.

Yes, and a dozen or so like-minded Litbloglimbaughs are there to back you up; soothe each other with mutually-affirming comment-jerks and soon you'll forget all about this latest skirmish, as will I.

I'll go read, for the sheer pleasure, a formally daring, 20th century masterpiece whilst you sneer and pose and network and skim and smug your way to the top of the Gotterdaemmerung of publishing.

Zachary

Steven, it seems to me that Daniel was not denigrating the accomplishments of 20th-century novelists, but rather making taking pains to ensure that the acknowledgement of those achievements did not come at the implied expense of the achievements of any other period. Daniel is not reducing the oeuvre of any author at all; rather, it is you who reduces, by reducing the potential meaning of his comments to a set of political pronouncements against literature. Or do you wager that formal daring is entirely a 20th-century invention?

You can't *possibly* deduce the scope of literature he's absorbed from the evidence he's given against himself. As I asked earlier, whence the ad hominem? And I'll add now, perhaps superfluously, whence all this politicking? Must his youth be taken against him? Whose is the twilight dwindling, the pantheon (divine or literary), or is it yours?

Richard

I don't know, Zachary; I was immediately put off by Daniel's initial comment, too. It had the air of someone too cool, too above-it-all, to be "taken in" (which I've noticed in comments from him before, so this wasn't an isolated incident).

I will say that I find the notion of artistic "progress" or "advancement" suspect. I agree with Dan Green's point in the original post about the loss of innocence, and that "The set of accepted conventions for the writing of fiction has been advanced from about 1825 to about 1925"--which does NOT at all mean that ALL of the modernists' "innovations" or techniques have been absorbed. However, I put the word "innovations" in scare quotes for a reason. I think LML has it right (if I understand his/her comment correctly): the writer must find his or her own way. Writing is not an area of technology; any writer using someone else's so-called "innovations" is simply borrowing someone else's solution. Or, more likely, still writing as if that innocence were possible.

Daniel

I'm actually rather shocked to have such a reaction to what I felt was a pretty mundane point: that perhaps these modern conceptions are not as revolutionary as once thought. I'm hardly the first to say it.

I feel strongly that I've not dismissed anything, simply made a point that many of the 'revolutionary' aspects of modern literature are apparent in much earlier writing from various cultures. My analysis was particularly historical and materialist, actually – which is to say it was Marxist to a small degree – but labels don't concern me as much as rigorous study and insight into the work. Perhaps my Biblical example set an unintended tone.

You're probably correct to say that, in my capacity as a critic, I do not value the imagination – this is not to say I devalue it either. Nor do I devalue innovation, but again innovation is not merit, or quality, which is a far more amorphous and difficult concept. I take a skeptical approach to any sort of fundamentalism, be it Grillet's near-Evangelical modernism, the pure Classicists, religious, or otherwise.

Corrections and amendments to my analysis would've been welcome. We're all far more wrong than we are right. Assertions that I am simply wrong, or have an agenda, or am a fool, are not constructive for me, for the sake of good criticism, or for anyone reading this.

Thanks to LML for his extended analysis, especially regarding the variety of influences; I especially love the idea of innovation being due largely to 'a deep and compelling idiosyncracy.'

Steven Augustine

Daniel:

Now that you've toned down (*considerably*), I don't mind toning down my response to your presentation.

"We're all far more wrong than we are right."

We're only as wrong as we insist on being right. I defer to writerly accomplishment in most things literary. It's hard to make words live; I honor that fact. Sometimes a tad fiercely? No one's died yet!

Dan Green

Nowhere in my post will you find the word "revolutionary." Nor will you find it any other post of mine about postmodern/experimental fiction. It implies a program that, once installed, becomes just as confining as what was overturned. Today's revolutionary is tomorrow's reactionary, desperately defending the authority of his/her particular practice.

*Tristram Shandy* is an immediate example of an older work that already anticipated whatever "modern" innovation you want to name. However, TS remained an outlier for 150 or more years, as the established conventions of the novel became the very ones that Sterne was already questioning. However, that doesn't make those conventions any less confining or more in need of refurbishing, as in fact happened with a novel like Tristram Shandy often acting as inspiration. That this work or that work used strategies that predated modernism is mostly irrelevant if those works are largely ignored by readers and critics who just want more of what is currently considered acceptable, the "correct" way to write novels and stories.

Amateur Reader

"Tristram Shandy" remained an outlier in English literature (aside from "Sartor Resartus"). But it was a central influence on many German Romantics - for example, Jean Paul Richter, E. T. A. Hoffmann, and perhaps even Goethe.

While I'm here, I'll ask Daniel to elaborate on what he means by a more "elaborate" style of writing. More elaborate than Sir Thomas Browne? Or Milton? Or Rabelais? I have doubts.

Daniel

Certainly, AR.

Milton was indeed elaborate for his time (it was criticized of him then) and the density of his allusion was perhaps a model for Eliot, the scope of whose work was often on the theological scale of Paradise Lost. Certainly Milton's status as a master of the language is built on those abilities. But much of the difficulty in reading other authors of the past, thought to be elaboration of style but not necessarily so, is founded in the loss of a now-defunct syntax that was more familiar or contemporary to their time.

The compounding of various elaborate technical devices (such as foreshadow and echo as keys to understanding an otherwise impossibly dense text, a maximum density of allusion married to symbolism, hyper-litotes and the interior partial third-person narrator) that complicated texts was central to the aesthetic of the time. Again, I really liked LTL's phrase of a 'compelling idiosyncracy' driving what we take for innovation. Perhaps the individualism of American culture and the atheism (or deep agnosticism) of Europe had strong influences as well.

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