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

COLLECTED ESSAYS ON LITERATURE AND CRITICISM:

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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.
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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.
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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."
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Realisms

REALISMS

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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.
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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.
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A WIDER ANGLE: AMERICAN FICTION AT THE PERIPHERY


  • Beyond the major publishers’ seasonal lists to out-of-the-way presses and lesser-known writers.
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« Litblogs and Critblogs | Main | Contributions »

09/23/2008

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Nigel Beale

I was struck by the vehemence of Michael Dirda's critique of this book -- rare to read such a negative review -- look forward to reading it precisely because of this.

LML

I agree with most of what you say here, though I probably liked the book--and his definition of style--a little more than you did. Thirlwell does not maintain that style is endless, does he? He only acknowledges that his broad view of it can, at times, threaten to become endless and, yes, meaningless. Which is why he requires specific texts. He defines by example more than by summary.

And he doesn't neglect the language and music and field of reference that are lost in translation, does he? He just maintains that these aspects of style are not everything, and that enough of any major writer's style remains to give us a powerful experience of it.

Chekhov sees a "fringe of hair" where, say, Balzac might have selected unambiguous editorializing/action-motivating detail, like a greedy glint in the eye. If each writer made such a choice only once, you couldn't call this an aspect of his style--it would merely be an aspect of one particular character--but the patterning of detail-selection in a text clearly becomes an identifying signature. As with Sterne's plotting, to use another of Thirlwell's favorites. Sterne is interested in every past fact that impinges on the present action, so he must constantly digress. One digression is an element of plot, but when a book's entire plot is a series of cascading digressions, we're clearly in the realm of style. I thought Thirwell did a fine job tracing patterns of choice such as these.

I take the hostility/indifference to Thirlwell to be a function of his breezy mastery of all of Western literature, at the age of, what, 30? I expected clumsiness of interpretation if not outright misreading, but instead, he makes consistently original yet usefully true observations about texts I thought had already been commentaried into hamburger. Clearly he has spent his reading life better than Dirda et al.

Dan Green

"One digression is an element of plot, but when a book's entire plot is a series of cascading digressions, we're clearly in the realm of style."

I don't think we are. We're still in the realm of plot or structure, it's just a plot with cascading digressions. The style employed to enact these digressions would still be at the sentence/paragraph level, which would require a different kind of analysis. Perhaps an analysis of how style reinforces plot.

I didn't dislike the book at all. It provoked me enough to want to quarrel with one of its underlying assumptions, but I would still recommend it to readers interested in either literary criticism or the particular writers--like Sterne and Flaubert and Chekhov--Thirlwell discusses.

LML

"I don't think we are. We're still in the realm of plot or structure, it's just a plot with cascading digressions."

I meant to say, "We're in the realm of style as well as of plot." I guess I don't see the point in separating a writer's macro decisions (decisions regarding groups of words that constitute characters or plot or whatever) from his/her micro decisions (decisions regarding individual words and groups of words that constitute sentences and paragraphs). Shouldn't these decisions all be mutually reinforcing? Yes, we use different analytical terms to talk about language and plot, but it's often easy to see that the two sets of decisions are analogous and that the connections between them amount to a larger unity of vision. Sterne's thick irony (faux legalisms, etc.) at the sentence level has everything to do with the digressions, which send up the presumptuous conventions of linear autobiography. I'd call that larger unity, or quality of vision, a "style," even though it troubles the categorizing urge to do so.

Then again I don't really care whether we agree to call quality of vision "style"; it's still where all the juice is, right? And it often survives translation. Maybe we don't really disagree on much here.

At any rate I'm glad you bring up the book. It would be refreshing that a book of innovative criticism by a relative unknown (in the U.S. at least) was published by a major house even if it sucked; that it is good is a minor miracle. I wonder how it slipped through the meat grinder.

Dan Green

"Then again I don't really care whether we agree to call quality of vision 'style'"

But I guess I do. I'd prefer to call quality of vision quality of vision and style style. Such analytical distinctions are meaningful to me when engaging in literary criticism. They call attention to different things, and it can be useful to keep those things separate.

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