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

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"They attempt to transform literary language by disregarding its conventions."

I agree with you here. I would simply modify this last sentence to say that they do not "disregard" conventions but play with them. As you point out, Sorrentino is not "disregarding" the conventions of realism in Mulligan Stew; he's mocking them. My favorite is the recurring symbol of the jigsaw puzzle, an example of Sorrentino's utter disdain for the very kind of figurative language (especially metaphors and similes) that Andrew K associates with "real writing." Metafiction like the kind Sorrentino and others write actually thrives on the conventions of realism or literary language.

The Modesto Kid

Some unconventional writers, such as Stanley Elkin, invoke figurative language only to blow it up

Saramago does something similar -- he'll use a figure of speech like "the skein of life", then spend several clauses examining is and extrapolating where it can take us if we read the metaphor literally.

Daniel E. Pritchard

The type of flowery and overly-complicated description is a hallmark of bad writing, really, in verse and prose, and the term for it is elegant variation. If the metaphor is merely decorative, having no effect on character or tension, then one can say with some assurance that the piece is not well written. The 'assumption that "good writing" consists essentially of deploying figurative language' is one only held by high school students and fools.


"I would simply modify this last sentence to say that they do not "disregard" conventions but play with them."

I agree with this assessment. It's a judgment of personal preference, but it often makes or breaks some authors.

"The type of flowery and overly-complicated description is a hallmark of bad writing..."

Then what accounts, Mr. Pritchard, for your immense adoration for the recently deceased Mr. Updike? Or was he just that good to glide over such stipulations and criticism? Just wondering as I too enjoy some of his work. This is assuming, of course, no metaphor is at play and merely descriptive forces are at work, as per your definition.


Just to add, that on at least the surface level the little piece, while being fairly facetious right enough, is just personal, as in the 'descriptive' impulse just doesn't manifest itself in me at all even as desire, though if it did momentarily produce the desire I doubt very much I'd be able to effect the poetic description. And also in tandem that as a reader my experience of writing as substutite visual medium affords me precious little pleasure.


Though I think I've kind of forgotten what I was writing about, & you were probably closer to the mark. How much more can be enclosed within the knot of artistic form than linear explanation! I suppose it wasn't as innocent as the purely personal, as its little offshoot showed...the lapsing into, or wallowing in, artifice. Offshoot below:


Because one likes or respects an author's work does not mean one uncritically adores it — Updike was certainly prone to the pointless flourish, probably my least favorite quality in his writing. Where a metaphor or piece of figurative language is evocative and purposeful in the context of the work, it can be judged well-written, and where not , not; and how we judge that is the great debate.

Jim H.


This is a really interesting post. I'm sorry I didn't get to it back in Feb. when it was hot. It highlights the sort of thing that can be done on the 'internets' but which the prints can't do. Also, my tardiness indicates part of the problem with the net: once it's passed, it's past. If you missed it, it's gone. Hardly anybody scrolls down or digs back into the archives.

We've seen this sort of debate/dialogue before re: Hemingway vs. Faulkner among others.

It seems to me some works (and some characters) require a figurative language approach and some demand a more prosaic language. Neither is intrinsically bad or wrong. Among other things, tone, mood, pacing, implication, explication, intertextuality, self-referentiality, all are at issue in the choice of styles. Some writers can't write straightforward prose (itself a problem) and many more cannot write with the complexity of an Elkin or a Gass or a Pynchon. The key for the critic is to discern when the style is rightly and essentially used and how well.

Jim H.

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