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

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Coincidentally, BIG OTHER posted a link to this ( today:

"I soon began to discover something even more startling. Not a single critic, not even those few who claimed to like Eyes Wide Shut, made any attempt to understand the film on its own artistic terms. Instead, the
critics denounced the film for not living up to the claims its publicists had made for it, reduced it to a question of its director's personality, measured it by how much information it conveyed about the familiar world around us. And I realized that something that had been stirring around in the depths of the culture had risen to the surface. After years of vindictive, leveling memoirs of artistic figures; after countless novels, plays, films, paintings, and installations constructed to address one social issue or another; after dozens of books have been published proclaiming the importance of the "great books" and "humanist
ideas" to such a point of inflation that the effect was to bun' the specificity of great books and of original ideas-after the storm of all this self-indulgence had passed, a new cultural reality had taken shape. Our official arbiters of culture have lost the gift of being able to comprehend a work of art that does not reflect their immediate experience; they have become afraid of genuine art. Art-phobia is now the dominant sensibility of the official culture, and art-phobia annihilated Stanley Kubrick's autumnal work. Much talk--some of it real, a lot of it fake--has been in the air over the last decade about empathy for the "other," for people different from us. But no one has dwelled on the essential otherness of a work of art. There is, after all, that hackneyed but profound notion of a willing suspension of disbelief. Genuine art makes you stake your credulity on the patently counterfeit. It takes you by surprise. And for art to take you by surprise, you have to put yourself in the power of another world--the work of art--and in the power of another person--the artist. Yet everything in our society, so saturated with economic imperatives, tells us not to surrender our interests even for a moment, tells us that the only forms of cultural expression we can trust are those that give us instant gratification, useful information, or a reflected image of ourselves. So we are flooded with the kind of art that deprecates attentiveness, tells us about the issues of the day, and corresponds to our own personalities."

Same Lee Siegel. Guess the pods got him.

Frances Madeson

I hadn't realized things were so dicey over at The Observer as to prompt a staffer to use its very pages for a perfume-scented job application right out in the open like that. Man! Plus, there must be a widely spread perception that Wood is now vulnerable (not surprising given how flagrantly self-serving he is, to the detriment of The New Yorker's readers; he's been marching to his own fife and lute for a while now) or Siegel wouldn't have made such an obvious play for his slot.

I wonder if a hard copy was anonymously delivered to Remnick (or slipped under his office door by Malcom) with the appropriately highlighted passages (rules and regulations, exquisite self-consciousness, so easily formulated, evaluated and assigned a [failing] grade, etc.) for Wood's termination (non-renewal of contract, rather) e-mail. Please don't think me too much of a hard-hearted Hannah if I won't worry about either Siegel or Wood; they'll each land on their own four feet. (Word to the wise at the Messud/Wood household, however: I might suggest holding off on any home improvement projects, or even small purchases like papaya slicers, for the time being.)

You know what's sad, though? The commenters over at The Observer. They all fell for it—hook, line and vulgar, vulgar sinker.

Frances Madeson

I don't care what they say, Daniel, I don't think you've mellowed a bit.

John Kenyon

I'm curious if you've read David Shields' "Reality Hunger," which feels like a direct antecedent to Siegel's treatise here. He, too, posits that fiction is done, that nonfiction is the only viable medium.

Steven Augustine

Andy, re: Kubrick and Ding-an-sich-ness... you're in for a treat:

Dan Green

Haven't read Shields.


It's Lee Siegel because nothing gets thrown overboard to windward.

Can't wait for his review of Orlando Figes' next review ... no, wait, non-fiction ...


Was there ever a time when The Average Reader was inclined to put in the time required for Finnegans Wake?

Another possibility, of course, is that nonfiction, in particular "current events" writing, has just gotten "more literary."


It's all fiction. That Lee Siegel doesn't understand that only reinforces my belief that he is a second rate intelligence.


It actually probably takes more time to understand a Shakespearean play and all its inferences than it does to "get to the bottom" (not sure why one would want to get to the bottom of a postmodern love-of-surface book to begin with--Joyce has already excluded Teachout from being able to read his text, and so perhaps, Teachout *will* never be able to "get to the bottom" of the Wake because he will forever be risibly diving into the hard surface) of the Wake.

I have never read any really good fiction: I liked Beyle's ("Belle's") nonfictive works better than his novels, and flaubert is boring and a bad nihilist (Leopardi and Schopenhauer are much more exhilarating). I actually dont even believe in the novel as a worthly literary genre, and its claims to heritage dating to Homer and Petronius remind me of twerpy american banks that buy out older companies and then claim to have existed for some presitgious amount of time. Even when the "death of the novel" was proclaimed, it was a late, bad remouthing of what philosophy already said about god (and really about all Ideals).

Regarding Siegel: he is innocuous in as much as he reveals that he is not capacious enough to ever hear the "planetary music" of philosophy and poetry which self selects a small audience across the vast expanse of human time. Any work of art that so desperately seeks to engage in the small affairs of the present surrenders its aesthetic strategies to really offer a perspicacious critique of the present and ultimately must surrender its metaphysical value as a work of lasting art, and is relegated to ephemeral journalism.

I think they have a startling new invention called "e-readers" and "e-texts" made just for such things.

Frances Madeson

You must have a big set of you-know-whats to have voluntarily selected the moniker “Abelard,” Abelard. “Beyond unique!” as Ralph Nader says. What's all this nonsense about no good fiction? And we were having such a lovely time before you stopped by. Are you quite sure I can't have my driver drop you off somewhere, a plastic surgery consultation, perhaps--uptown, downtown, anywhere at all?

My new car (purchased here is at your disposal. The radio's tuned 24/7 to the “planetary music” station, and there are some perfectly chilled wine coolers on the backseat. Help yourself! (I made it all the way to “vaseline” in the Lil Wayne vid on your site; I'll try again when I'm older.)


yes, well, I am currently regrafting the poetics of Abelard's identity.

I'm not familiar with Woods, but after reading your blog, you and lil weezy might have more in common than you think :)

Frances Madeson

Color me queasy.


As a writer, I found your "or leave it alone" strangely freeing.


you might ask Shelley to advise you about the "planetary music" Frances =) He knows something about Defense that you might be able to employ in honor of the novel the next time it comes under the terrible gaze of a philosopher.

Frances Madeson

Abelard, let me just nip this in the bud. As charming as you are— and you are, I get it—please don't flirt with me.

Finn Harvor

[err, Dan, was it the typos? Here's the copy-edit]

Yo, Abs! While u n da philasaphaz r dissin a r8thuz form, itz changin, dawg. But, ah, don't be taykin my WORD 4 it. lissin to this missiv from ma bro.....

Subject: Looks thang
Sunday, August 3, 2010 7:25 PM
From: This sender is DomainKeys verified "Thor Au" View contact details
Message contains attachments 1 Files (176KB) | Download All

Yo, Abs! Here's my piece. Know it sucks n all, but you know my theory: we've got to get away from the page and back to the word … make fiction not less fictional (who ever – I mean, ModernistEver – drew that distinction in the first place?), but less dry, less eager to mimic past forms: after all, if journalism can claim it is culturally central by virtue of a truth claim and an explicit linkage to facts, why shouldn't fiction defend its claim to cultural centrality by underlining that is ALSO true, and its linkage to facts exists but within a rubric (sorry for da egghead talk, dawg) of ambiguity?

Speaking of eggheads, you might enjoy the following: wrote it before you shaved your head and started pretending you were younger than forty. Of course, we all thought that youth was a state of mind back then; thought, deep down, that age was in some essential regard, CHOSEN. But then, that's because we were just so … oh, so triumphantly naïve in our blindness to the Rules of the Body. And how those caught up with us! Its creaks and pains, its double-chinned let-downs, its terrifying lumps, and strange, brown-coloured spots.... As they say in my hood (I mean, the hood I lived in until I moved to my shack under the World Wide Bridge), youth may be wasted on the young but life doesn't begin until 40k a year!

And a double irony, too, Abs! We didn't even LIKE our bodies when young! We thought that Love Change would be Heart Change which would in large measure be Body Change, and was just over the horizon. No one is quite as blindly faithful in the future as a main-squeeze-free young homeboi, eh, Absy?

Anyway, hope you like what's here. I know the writing is a little over the top, but I tried to keep it, you know, focused on just one theme (I didn't even include the bisexuality!). Also, props to you and yours. Hope your band gets back together and you finally DO scrape together money in order to record your demo, shoot your vid, and finally fall back in favour with that other aging chromedome – oh, what's his name again? Melville? Whale Tubby? The world NEEDS more rapidly-wrinkling tradition-haters!


p.s. Getting any lately?

[open attachment]


[Stage empty except for lectern. Figure arrives, walking briskly with a collegiate air, carrying a bundle of notes.]

Good afternoon. Class. Today's lecture is entitled HERMENEUTICS OF THE PHYSIO-PSYCHOLOGICAL EFFECTS OF EROTICALLY EXPLICIT PHOTOGRAPHS [beat] or THE WAR BETWEEN THE SEXY AND THE NICE. It is an attempt to prove that pornography does indeed have a deleterious effect on the maturation of the sexually conscious individual. But as you taking Pre-The-Next-Millennium Post-Modernism 522 know, proof is itself a problematical concept, and, according to much current thinking, an indication of empiricism's presumptions meeting common sense's myopia. In fact it's been argued -- for example, in E.F. Schrieber's recent paper, "What is it We Talk About When We Talk?" -- that 'proof' is the foundation of oppression.

But let's not be coy. We're all scholars here ... or at least, anxious graduate students seeking yet another degree without a clear idea of what the future holds for us. Generally speaking, we're highly strung individuals with a neurotic need to have our existence justified by marks. What's an orgasm for a grad student -- A-plus.... We live to argue, and the fuel of arguments is proofs. This is the way our minds work.

But what is proof? How can opinions be established as facts? The question needs to be broken into its constituent parts. Or rather, it needs to be considered in a light not so much scientific as poetic. The crux of the matter is that we need proofs to feel true. We never genuinely believe something until its veracity has had a chance to sink in. The process can take years. So, from this point of view, we develop a relationship with truth ... we get to know it over time. Perhaps we even marry it.

And what's the truth about pornography? Is it "just" art -- or, if we're not going to be naive enough to suggest it has merit, is it just a type of culture?

Smut. Hard-core. The dirty magazine. These things surround us ... they saturate our society like some additive to the water. And we're upset by them. Or obsessed with them. Or, with the blasé sophistication of age, indifferent to them. Although, no, it turns out we're never indifferent. And while it turns out as well that the politesse of modernity requires that we preface any generalizations made about society with the pronoun 'humankind', not 'mankind', it's mankind, really, that's at issue here. Men dig porn. Women -- despite what the pro-sex feminists say -- don't. I mean, who am I to categorically deny this? Maybe some do. I really don't know. But as a phenomenon, as something which is reflected in virtually every convenience store and book shop and triple-X cinema in the civilized world, pornography is a male fixation.

We bathe in it, we males. We start as boys. Its hot waters surround us, and penetrate us, and sweat us, and turn us feverish with ever-increasing temperatures. Ultimately, we generate our own blob of heat --. In the middle of pornography's hot tub, we find ourselves ejaculating a spit-sized wad of pearl. And in the meantime (though we don't see it) some force as hot as a branding iron descends on our brains, and sears us with the cattle-mark of lust. It's not women who sometimes are cows ... it's men. We're goofy herds. We just sit in the fields, munching our masturbatory cuds, when suddenly -- out of nowhere! -- a cowboy appears and scalds the letter 'P' into our skins. Forever after that, we're the property of the Penthouse Ranch.

I remember it well. Seeing the magazine. It was an experience that, if I were to be objective, could be characterized as one of the most aesthetically profound of my life. It may surprise at least a few members of the audience to hear this, but it is popular in some critical circles to refer to the '70s as "The Golden Age of Porn". And while the label infers a salacious sentimentality, there's something to it. Breaking away from the genitalia-concealing fakeness of Playboy and preceding the gynecological crassness of Hustler and most triple-X videos, the Penthouse of the early '70s had a type of horny innocence. It was enough just to show the pubic region. No spread shots were necessary: simply tanned models, luxurious settings, and clean bed-sheets. The words 'cunt' or 'hole' or 'come-bucket' hardly seemed associated with this dreamy, nudity-drenched world.

The place where I first looked at dirty magazines was a corner store in Ottawa called Art's Smoke Shop. Art, the proprietor, was highly tolerant of this activity. In retrospect, I think he believed he was performing a social good. Because all those self-serving articles by Bob Guccione and Hugh Hefner about the 'artistry' and 'healthiness' of what they were doing couldn't have been without an impact. Somewhere along the line -- and this too was symptomatic of the age -- there was a belief in sensual progress. For a few short years, capitalism was so giddy on itself that it'd become erotically socialist. Geez, everybody would be rich! And, by extension, everybody would be good-looking! NASA, the Beatles, Volkswagens, the split-level craze in architecture -- it all melded together. We'd look like astronauts. (What was 2001: A Space Odyssey but essentially a paean to the California-esque cool of those who pilot space ships? Isn't the subtext of all science fiction that outer space is a great location to train a buff bod? -- That outer space is, above all, a beach?)

But back to Art and his laissez-faire attitude towards the 12 and 13-year olds who used to squat at the back of his store, and feel their little hard-ons so intensely that their brains felt soaked in sugar. Porn reminded me of that candied powder you could buy in straws; it was a granulated high -- flavour crystals savoured by the tongue. But Art didn't know he was spoiling a sweet tooth. I think he felt that porn was virtually educational. Not only that, but ideologically sound. Sexually communitarian. Here was pictorial evidence (no proof!) that beauty could be spread around. Every man on earth was entitled to a sexy girlfriend. What is the highest form of social organization? An economy of orgasms! Orgasms with partners who are hot!

I wasn't a particularly good-looking kid. This didn't affect my tastes during puberty, however. When I started to experience love, I wanted it all. It wasn't love I was interested in, it was LOVE!! Printed in 40-point type. Love that could command as big a headline as the declaration of war.... What, was I going to, like, be moderate about my passions? Pas possible! I was going for the gold. Or if not the gold, the chocolate bar. Because that was the other great pleasure of my adolescence: junk food. So there I was, jamming salt and vinegar potato chips, and Oh Henry bars, and Swiss Cream Soda down my throat, while perusing the Pet of the Month. My body a bit pasty, a lot self-doubting, and I -- wee representative of the Male Pig -- exploiting the women I viewed. But what did I view myself as? Handsome? An equal? I hated myself! If someone had shown me a giant meat grinder and told me that if I jumped in, my body would come out the other end more lean, more straight-toothed, more muscular, and more prone to tan, I would've leapt.

[message truncated by GoogleCop]

Steven Augustine

Aha.... an interesting comment thread!


"Aha.... an interesting comment thread!"

Another coup for the philosopher!

Finn: being one who believes in the agon, I am certainly not averse to an excoriating satire, but, "ur post needs more auto tune."


Finn Harvor

"Another coup for the philosopher!"

Indeed! And, my dear Abelard (or, if you'll forgive me for being familiar, my dear Ahh), once you've removed the Spectacles of Terribleness from that Nietzschean mask you call a visage, you'll find that this thread is also -- good dead gods! -- a triumph for the fiction writer!

Win-win, drinks all 'round, hearty claps on the back.

p.s. What's an "auto tune"?

Frances Madeson

Can't thank you enough for "that Nietzschean mask you call a visage." Clarifying, like Blanche...the paper lantern...the harsh scrutinizing light of the bare bulb...Streetcar Named Desire.

P.S. Auto Tune is the sonic effect used to obtain Alvin and the Chipmunks.

Jacob Russell

“>Certainly the New Critics were attempting an "objective" form of reading in that they believed a poem could be approached as a work of art with discernible features that could be identified by paying close attention--"dispassionate" is perhaps the term that might justifiably be used to characterize the attitude of the New Critics' ideal reader. And they surely did not have any interest in "ongoing and fluid social struggles" (at least where the analysis of literature is concerned) and would never have accepted that "a poetics must be concerned with the process by which writing is organized politically into literature." Silliman, of course, believes they were a part of such organizing nevertheless (a retrograde part), and in the first several essays in The New Sentence he undertakes to establish that indeed poetics is finally about politics, poetry "a form of action," presumably on behalf of those "social struggles."<

Silliman here doesn’t substantiate the contingent dependence on capitalism—more is assumed here than what he has evidence for. What is missing is a critique and analysis of the presumed neutrality of the New Critics. There is no such thing. Even stronger than Zizek here, on the impossibility of being ideologically neutral—I would refer to Levi Bryant of Larval Subjects in his posts on “regimes of attraction.” Politics is about power, and the assertion of critical power is as ferociously political as any other. The very neutralization of ‘message’ is a political act—the arbitrary and philosophically undefended exemption of politics from aesthetics makes room for exactly that which is selectively ignored.

Without careful tracing of the exempted contingent relationships—one can only guess that the New Critics, given their dependence on an academic hierarchical system itself dependent on support from a capitalist system (at the time) hell bent on weeding out anything even remotely threatening to its hegemony-- that their ‘neutrality’ would likely be a mask for capitalism and the narrative and values that reified it.

A guess. But a damn strong one.

Silliman doesn’t get into the connections… but his leaps are hardly without merit.

And his comments on the comdification of language and narrative does begin the kind of analysis that might support of refute his claims.

Where I would, not so much disagree, as extend these arguments and resist some of what I see as Silliman’s implications—is in moving beyond the symbolic/linguistic/rhetorical/epistemological limitations. The poem as object… is always more than its manifest presentation—whether read as ‘message’ or aesthetic form. And certainly more than its political manifestation.

The aesthetic—as I understand it, is irreducible. It is a hint of the remainder. What remains hidden—an imperfect translation of the aesthetic object. A "trace"

Beware the claim to aesthetic neutrality. Itself, a hidden claim to usurp the un-ownable aesthetic and always hidden trace of the Real.

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The Art of Disturbance--Available as Pdf and Kindle Ebook
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