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

Spindly femurs? Uh, I guess Lethem's a “leg man,” sort of. Is this meant to be an evocation of Ananke as Rockette? Because that would be somewhat interesting, assuming he wants us to think about high-kicking and cycling, coordinated effort for spectacle, and, yes, dammit, the true nature of inevitability.

Here's the deal. Bloomberg, while not RAPING this city and its citizens and guests (his personal net worth rocketed from $4 to $16 billion during the first two quasi-legitimately elected terms; NOTE: no such boon for the city he lords over, not at all. Coincidence? Synchronicity? Douse your bong and wake the fuck up, Jonathan Lethem), is positioning himself for a run against Obama in 2012. Think about what that means. Look at the race card he played during this last election, getting that prancing freakish circus clown Giuliani to evoke horrific memories of the Crown Heights riot while he sat there at the dais with his signature smirk smeared all over his arrogant mug. The memory of Yankel Rosenbaum was used like a piece of beshitted toilet paper. Cynical, disgusting, shameless and desecrating. Lethem couldn't call the mayor out for sullying a fellow Brooklyn boy? What the hell good is he if he has the bully pulpit and won't even defend the honor of his own? Don't give me that belatedly stuff; the incident I'm referring to happened more than five months ago.

So here's what I'm thinking about restructuring publishing. If a guy like Lethem can't meet his contractual obligation to deliver a meritorious book, he should be allowed to sell or transfer his contract to another author who can. If financiers can purchase mortgage loans and securitize them, why the hell can't we do it with book contracts? What's so special about books? Aren't they exactly like every other commodity? Once we've established a publishing-contract-backed securities market (PCBs, baby) then we can start betting on the futures of these contracts. I'm suggesting a derivatives market for authors. And please, let it be as “regulated” as the financial markets have been to date on this score. Just maybe, left to our own devices without the meddling interference of clueless publishing muddlemen, we can revitalize our literary culture and move some effing product! And then financially secure tenured professors like Morris Dickstein (sorry Morrie, but it's Tuesday) can put their money with their mouths are and bet accordingly.

Gravitational sinkhole, my ass! It's a choice. Nothing inevitable about Doctah Michael Bloomberg, President for Life.


This certainly won't "fix" the book, but I started enjoying the book more when I read it as being about boredom and a kind of a post-something desultory existence. How do you write a profound book about aimlessness? Or a beautiful sentence about confusion? I agree completely that is is a messy and at times frustrating book, but I also wonder whether this was part of the point.

Dan, I agree that Lethem isn't much of a postmodernist, but for me, that's not his problem. I love the idea of, for example, a fairly traditional detective novel in which the detective has Tourette's... The problem is Lethem's prose! You're right, critiquing the long excerpt from CC, to write "I could have settled for the first sentence." For me, his entire ouevre is overwritten to an extreme - every work needlessly exhausting to get through. More on my blog, at

Dan Green

I don't think it's a question of overwriting per se. In this case, Lethem has given over the narration to a narrator who simply is too garrulous, too unfocused. The narrative gets bogged down in Insteadman's language rather than enlivened by it.

Reed Sanders

Oh, come on, gents. It's very fine work. You're way too hard on one of the better novelists writing at the moment, postmodern or not. As Cowles said, "Even in an alternate reality — even in a fiction — passion and significance are everywhere if you know where to look."

Jacob Russell

In Woolf.. in Joyce (post Dubliners/Artist as a)... there is no filler. In Becket, there is no filler (prose meant for nothing beyond the conveyance of information).

By my own minimalist definition of the modernist agenda, only a few (prose) modernists pass the test. I guess I could add Hemingway...

would happily add Italo Svevo and a few others.

Ain't about content, veers from received notions of 'realism'...not that alone.

"It is of the essence of representation not only to represent someting but to represent its own representivity" Deleuze (translated by Levi Bryant)

But it's both! Both at once, and together! Not enough to swerve from "realist" conventions. The modernist agenda wasn't a denial of realism, but a committment to representation without the masks, representation that empolyed artifice, not to escape reality, but as an aesthetic analytic tool to strip away the fictive dream.

Jacob Russell

...and in that, entertaining divertimentes, in failing to either take up or challenge the essential agenda of modernists, have no claim to the (dubious) mantle of "post" modernism.

A kind of reverse slumming... Upper West Side revolutionaries claiming their bona fide on the backs of imaginary tigers...

Frances Madeson

" strip away the fictive dream." If only the United States Treasury Department would imprint that motto on the money...?


Nice review: you've done a great job of clearly delineating how and why the novel is so boring. I wanted to like Chronic City but I couldn't even finish's one of the few books I've abandoned with fewer than a 100 pages left. On the heels of You Don't Love Me Yet it seems like Lethem's on a real losing streak.


There are plenty of people who love to read Jonathan Lethem. I am not one of those people.

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