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

COLLECTED ESSAYS ON LITERATURE AND CRITICISM:

EFN2

EXPERIMENTAL FICTION NOW


  • 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.
  • Free Pdf
  • Kindle Version
Iww

INNOVATIVE WOMEN WRITERS


  • "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.
  • Free Pdf
  • Kindle/Paperback Version
APF (2)

AMERICAN POSTMODERN FICTION


  • "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."
  • Free Pdf
  • Kindle/Paperback Version
Realisms

REALISMS

BSS

BETWEEN SILLINESS AND SATIRE:BLACK HUMOR FICTION


  • 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.
  • Free Pdf
  • Kindle Version
My Post (6)

MANY WINDOWS: ON EXPERIMENTAL FICTION


  • 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.
  • Kindle Ebook
  • Free Pdf
Angle

A WIDER ANGLE: AMERICAN FICTION AT THE PERIPHERY


  • Beyond the major publishers’ seasonal lists to out-of-the-way presses and lesser-known writers.
  • Kindle Ebook
  • Free Pdf

« Waiting for Waiting | Main | "Might Not the Painted Knife Slip From the Painted Table?" »

08/14/2008

Comments

Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Pacifist Viking

This may surprise you: there's little you've written here that I would disagree with.

Certainly we read literature because culture, society, and history have provided us with "literature" and taught us what might be done with it. But then, little we do isn't in some way culturally, socially, historically constructed. Going for a walk by myself is an individual activity, even if I didn't invent the concept of the solitary walk for pleasure.

In some ways, it is literary criticism's effort toward an objective valuation of literature that encourages me to celebrate the subjective. No one objective criterion has ever won out; no one objective criterion will ever win out (if it appears to, it is that which is in fashion, and it will give way). I could choose to accept a particular objective criterion to evaluate (becoming a "partisan" of a particular approach)--or I could recognize my subjectivity, taking the best of everybody else's ideas on objective valuation for my own purposes.

And so I don't entirely disparage the effort toward objective valuation; it is meaningful for the reasons you describe. If I react against anything, it is the tendency to universalize particular taste. Of course, there are works that give me pleasure that you would not enjoy, and there are works that give you pleasure that I would not enjoy. Rather than clinging to our particular "objective" criteria, calling each other "wrong" (How can we say "You're wrong for enjoying that book"? I suppose "You're wrong for thinking that book is good" has some purpose, but even that claim will eventually be reduced to competing arguments that can't really prove each other wrong), we could recognize, even celebrate, the subjectivity of tastes, the multiplicity of approaches. I see literary criticism better served that way: a diversity of approaches, a multiplicity of uses, and all these being shared, discussed, argued.

Perhaps this is a matter of emphasis. I have written elsewhere that "We are not alone as readers. We can share, discuss, argue, teach, learn." For many of the reasons you state, reading is a collective activity. But as you suggest, the reading EXPERIENCE itself is something different. In some sense it is of course a "relationship" between author and reader (in the Reader-response text), but when I read, I'm going away from social interaction, away from human contact, and sitting with a book alone, engaging with the text without anybody else with me. Afterward, I will engage others in discussion of the text (if I thought reading was a 100% individual activity, I would not blog about it). But it is ultimately my decision what I choose to read, whether or not I find it good (in the sense of subjective pleasure or according to whatever objective evaluation standard that I must still as an individual "choose"), what I might do with the work, or how I might "use" the text in my life (for I do "use" literature in my lived life).

So my ongoing discussion of literature's "multiple uses" fits into the idea of reading as a collective activity--different people provide new angles and approaches to the collective activity. And it also celebrates that which makes reading an individual activity--each individual has a willful choice about what to read and how to read.

Carolyn

While an expansive knowledge of the literary canon is required of any writer who hopes to break new ground, I think there is a real chauvinism in the notion that reading works in relation to the canon is the truest way of appreciating art. This disincludes the perspectives of a lot of people who haven't had access to the formal education or cultural capital required to make these sorts of comparisons. Not only that, but it makes all of us deferent to these vastly oversimplified narratives of artistic progress and experimentation - and leaves us all scrounging to explain the way our taste doesn't (because it couldn't possibly) fit into these restrictive narratives with silly terms like "guilty pleasures."

That said, I tend to agree with PV (and Dan) - that the only thing worse than the fallacy of one correct objective approach to art is the idea of a world in which people have given up trying to find it...

Maybe I just wish people would be a little less mean-spirited when discussing art. Among the literary avant-garde, the compulsion to impugn the intelligence or - worse - moral character of people who don't care for this or that style seems kind of rampant (see, e.g., the otherwise spectacular work of Carole Maso or Debra di Blasi). I love William Gass's literary criticism because he sincerely engages (even if he also mocks) people who disagree with him; I like this blog for the same reason.

Jonathan  Mayhew

A less well-educated person will still be reading literature in relation to institutional ideas of literature and some sort of canon. It won't be an individual act in the sense that Dan was describing. The difference might lie in feeling less empowered to make judgments, less confident of one's entitlements, not in the individual vs. institutional nature of the reading. Within this system knowing less makes you less powerful, more, not less, dependent, on received ideas from your High School teacher or the NYTBR.

The stage of deferring to Clement Greenberg-style narratives of artistic progess is something that many of us go through. To be enslaved by a narrow construal that narrative is itself a sign of cultural anxiety. But to pass through that stage is empowering.

Carolyn

Hi Jonathan,

I agree. Certainly, I would never argue against people reading more... a lot more! And maybe if I make it through the "cultural-anxiety" phase alive, the Clement Greenberg-style narratives won't seem so frustrating to me anymore. :)

Nigel Beale

I recently set out a proposed list of criteria by which the Booker Prize could be judged, and can attest to the mean spiritedness that Carolyn refers to.

I'd value any constructive feedback on this list, which can be found here: http://nigelbeale.com/?p=1068

Carolyn

Perhaps I'm revealing how behind I am, but this weekend I read Carl Wilson's Let's Talk About Love, and it attempts to explore some of the questions raised here a couple weeks ago. Wilson even has a couple paragraphs on Clement Greenberg - not to mention a chapter on Pierre Bourdieu, whose ideas I was, perhaps clumsily, drawing from in my initial comment.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Working...
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.

Working...

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.)

Postmodern Confusions

AODPurdy

THE ART OF DISTURBANCE: THE NOVELS OF JAMES PURDY

Litsphere

THE LITERARY SPHERE: TAKING CRITICISM ONLINE


  • "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. "
  • Kindle Ebook
  • Free Pdf
Tiol

THE IDEA OF LITERATURE


  • What do we talk about when we talk about literature? This volume explores that question by, first of all, looking "inside the text" at the dynamics of reading and the tangible effects of writing. It then moves "outside the text" to consider the relevance of social context and culture to perceptions of literature, as well as the assumption it is the writer's job to "say something" of political or moral value in addition to (even as a substitute for) creating literary art.
  • Kindle/Paperback Version
  • Free pdf
My Post (5)

LITERARY AESTHETICS

Lituni

LITERATURE IN THE UNIVERSITY


  • Inventing Literature. Performing Literature. Reading Literature. Theorizing Literature. Historicizing Litera- ture. Relinquishing Literature. Reclaiming Literature?
  • Kindle Ebook
  • Free Pdf
LR

LET'S REVIEW: BOOK REVIEWING AS LITERARY CRITICISM


  • A collection of essays considering the current state of general-interest book reviewing. Topics include: negative vs. positive reviewing, gatekeeping, writers reviewing writers, and criticism in cyberspace, among others.
  • Free Pdf
  • Kindle Version