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

COLLECTED ESSAYS ON LITERATURE AND CRITICISM:

TRE Press
Realisms

THE IDEA OF LITERATURE

Tiol

EXPERIMENTAL FICTION NOW

EFN2

INNOVATIVE WOMEN WRITERS

Iww

AMERICAN POSTMODERN FICTION

APF (2)

BETWEEN SILLINESS AND SATIRE:BLACK HUMOR FICTION

BSS

LET'S REVIEW: BOOK REVIEWING AS LITERARY CRITICISM

LR

THE ART OF DISTURBANCE: THE NOVELS OF JAMES PURDY

AODPurdy

« Litblogs and Critblogs | Main | Contributions »

09/23/2008

Comments

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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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