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

« Mars Sinking | Main | Max Apple »



Jonathan David Jackson

Dear Dan,

This is a fine review of a novel that I thought few people besides myself had read.

I hope you will answer my questions about an element of your critical approach. I have the utmost respect for your interpretations and we share a love for James Purdy and Stephen Dixon's work and you are the only person heretofore to have recognized Dixon's particular construction of life and his particular form of free indirect style--radical (in his case) approximation of character's assumed diction within the narrative voice--in some of his stories and novels.

My questions:

You say of FLAW in your review "It is artifice all the way down, and it does no justice, either to fiction or to the reality it seeks to encompass, to deny that fact."

- Who denies(d) the fact that the novel is constructed, is artifice?

- Who denies that the novel in question is constructed as fiction, or that the construction of "reality" is a highly created, stylized formal experience?

- Who is it in general or in the past (or who are you referring to) that denies the artifice of more commercial fiction (the kind on the bestseller lists) or fiction like Purdy's, Dixon's or Tulli's.

I share your extremely marked and often very vehement frustration with the narrowness of some (though not all) of the editors, agents, booksellers, and reviewers' tastes of the fiction that gets green-lit with marketing budgets and supported, as it were, in a drive to gain high numbers of readers (and handsome paydays for authors).

I am genuinely interested in knowing where in corporate publishing industries people intimate that fiction is not artifice, or constructed experiences. Where in corporate publishing do people deny the fact that the fiction is a wholly constructed experience of human existence?

*** It seems to me that there is an attendant problem: after the 1980s, it was the artifice of NONFICTION that was and still is often denied. There is an often extremely unintelligent ruse performed when reviewers and sellers ignore the constructedness of NONfiction. This unintelligence leads to James Freyian fiascoes--and there have been many such fiascoes revolving around the artifice of nonfiction. ***

In the market and reviewing of FICTION I see narrow and even problematic approaches. I see the favoring of particular fictional techniques and styles over others in big-money deals. But, rarely, do I see ad copy or reviews that get into neo-Aristotelian, Auerbachian, or experimental questions of mimesis--or debates around whether or the degree to which the fiction represents "reality." James Woods says he hates a particular kind of "hysterical realism" but even he wouldn't claim that works of fiction in general aren't constructions or formal embodiments of lives ideally or presumedly led.

Even the smashingly great Eric Auerbach (who, as graduate students know, wrote MIMESIS) spoke about the *kinds* of representations of reality--the kinds of artifice--that major works of Western European literature employed. MIMESIS was about the styles of construction that were or still are canonical. That those styles *are* constructions was the point.

You say, "On the one hand, it is relatively easy to evoke a sense of 'realism'."

But Dan, it really is not easy to evoke a sense of realism, either with Tulli's approach or with the approach of aesthetically lesser novelists like James Patterson who by their own admission are writing commercial fiction that cater to particular audiences needs for certain kinds of fictional construction. Each approach carries its own difficulties and challenges, even if the result, in my view, is better in some and not others.

"Sense" is the operative word for me in the phrase "sense of 'realism'". Even the science fiction, horror, and magical tales that I sometimes adore keep referencing back to human beings lives as our interpretation of history and present existence conveys it to be. Even genre fiction--avowedly removed from "reality"--is about our relationship, our sense, of life as it might be led.

So who in publishing or elsewhere denies the artifice of any of the kinds of fiction that you address?

What is the prior evidence that provokes the arguments that you make in the passages from your review that I quote in my comment here?

As ever, enjoying reading your critical voice:


Dan Green


I think you mistake my interpretive comments about the novel for an "argument" I'm making. My post is not about "corporate publishing" but about Magdalena Tulli's novel. I interpret the moves she makes in Flaw to be an implicit critique of "world-building" in fiction. Those who might deny that artifice goes "all the way down" are those who have much more confidence than I can see in Tulli that fiction can be socially useful or politically engaged. Or those who would call fiction not a "construction" but a "reflection" of "real life." Certainly those who think fiction should be "seamless," either as a depiction of reality or simply as entertainment, are not going to appreciate Tulli's exposure of the seams.

Jonathan David Jackson


No, not *at all*. I do not misread your critical review. It is an interpretation that contains an argument and I took pains to actually QUOTE your words.

Even here you keep saying "those who would call fiction not a 'construction'" without clarifying who exactly you are talking about.

- ***WHO*** are you talking about?

- Who claims that fiction is not a construction and when did/do they claim this?

- WHO are you talking about when you said "It is artifice all the way down, and it does no justice, either to fiction or to the reality it seeks to encompass, to deny that fact"?

- WHO denies this, Dan, and when did they deny it?

Looking at the thrust of your posts as a whole it is reasonable to assume that you might be talking about people in various publishing industries but it is unclear WHO you are talking about.

I'm not sure why you would be reluctant to answer such direct questions and continue such a conversation. Now, don't get me wrong: I can make mistakes of reading but in this case I asked pretty clear questions and read your interpretation quite carefully.

My first name is "Jonathan David" but feel free to call me Jon.

Best wishes to you!


Dan Green

No, Jonathan David, I do not make an argument about various people in the publishing industries. This post is a review of Magdalena Tulli's Flaw. If you wish, I am making an interpretive argument that Flaw, or Tulli, is "saying" something about artifice in fiction or about the limitations of a certain kind of realism, but I am not making an argument separate from my interpretation of the novel. We can have a separate conversation about the publishing industry or about realism as a representation of the real, if you;d like, but not on this post.


Wow JDJ.

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