literature

Please tell me what I'm missing about Midnight's Children

So, I tried reading Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie, and I have to say I think it's quite badly written. I feel a little self-conscious saying that because it's such a highly lauded book, I worry I'm making myself look like an idiot. This is, after all, the book that won the "Booker of Bookers".

But here's an example sentence: "A few seconds later, my father broke his big toe; but his accident was a mere trifle when set beside what had befallen me in that benighted moment, because thanks to the occult tyrannies of those blandly saluting clocks I had been mysteriously handcuffed to history, my destinies indissolubly chained to those of my country."

I think Bulwer-Lytton or any number of purple pulp writers would be right at home in that nest of adjectives and adverbs. I mean, I get that it's a magical realist book about India in the 20th century and that's interesting and not something we've seen a lot of (especially when this book was written), but the Booker? And then the Booker of Bookers? Somebody please tell me what am I missing.

Scum begets scum

So Bernard-Henri Lévy has started a Free Roman petition.

This is how it reads:

Apprehended like a common terrorist Saturday evening, September 26, as he came to receive a prize for his entire body of work, Roman Polanski now sleeps in prison.

He risks extradition to the United States for an episode that happened years ago and whose principal plaintiff repeatedly and emphatically declares she has put it behind her and abandoned any wish for legal proceedings.
Seventy-six years old, a survivor of Nazism and of Stalinist persecutions in Poland, Roman Polanski risks spending the rest of his life in jail for deeds which would be beyond the statute-of-limitations in Europe.
We ask the Swiss courts to free him immediately and not to turn this ingenious filmmaker into a martyr of a politico-legal imbroglio that is unworthy of two democracies like Switzerland and the United States. Good sense, as well as honor, require it.

Read more at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/bernardhenri-levy/artist-rally-behind-polan_b_302371.html

Here are the signatories currently listed:

Bernard-Henri Lévy
Salman Rushdie
Milan Kundera
Pascal Bruckner
Neil Jordan
Isabelle Adjani
Arielle Dombasle
Isabelle Huppert
William Shawcross
Yamina Benguigui
Mike Nichols
Danièle Thompson
Diane von Furstenberg
Claude Lanzmann
Paul Auster

If anybody has contact info for these people, I'd like ask them about their thinking on why Polanski's status as a holocaust survivor and ingenious filmmaker have any bearing at all on whether or not he committed the crimes he admitted to and if you can point me in the direction of how to contact any of them, particularly the English Speakers, I'd very much appreciate it. I'm particularly disappointed that Milan Kundera is on here. As for the rest they're mostly overrated. I think some people will be disappointed that Paul Auster is on there though.

Plot Genre and the Pulp Fiction Boondoggle

Apparently yet again the mainstream critics have gotten it wrong, and not surprisingly it came out of Northeastern literary circles, whose stable of critics includes such dim luminaries as the functionally illiterate Michiko Kakutani and the it-would-be-funny-if-it-weren't-so-tragic-how-completely-wrong-she-always-is-about-everything-she's-supposed-to-be-an-expert-on Helen Vendler, and need I mention N+1?

This latest, as Matt Cheney rightly points out, is an attempt to elevation to "serious literary discourse" the old straw man that's been kicked around in genre fiction and fan fic circles for at least a generation now, namely that genre fiction is somehow superior to literary fiction because it has a plot and literary fiction is just a bunch of navel gazing character study nonsense couched in mandarin language.

WaLS: The New Literary Disease

There is a certain fragment of the literary world that drives me fucking bonkers. In my mind, it is epitomized by travel writers, freelance copywriters, Neal Pollack, Poets & Writers magazine, writerswrite.com, preditors & editors, and Nick Mamatas. This is the subculture within the literary community where the act of writing has become little more than a performative task that functions as a signifier rather than a craft that is merely a means to produce an end. In this subculture what matters is not that one has produced good writing but that one is seen to be writing productively. In this world the legitimacy of one's writing has nothing to do with its style or content or mastery, but rather that one can point to various facts that, separate from one's work, are taken to be markers of personal legitimacy in the claim to writerhood. Far from the true virtue of writing, ie the production of quality literature regardless of recognition or fiduciary recompense, this instead is a world of a different kind. Rather than the world of writing as artform, it is the world of what I have come to think of as writing as lifestyle, populated by a crowd of mental lepers suffering from Writer as Lifestyle Syndrome (WaLS). And I for one am totally sick of it.

Why I Hate Short Stories: A Short Article on Why Short Fiction is Short on Interest

I don't like short stories. I have never made this a secret. There is the occasional writer like Mark Twain, Franz Kafka, Jorge Luis Borges or Gabriel Garcia Marquez who writes short stories that I like. But these writers are few and far between.

Criticism in Our Digital Age

Rachel Cooke asks recently in an op-ed piece in The Guardian if we "amateur word spewers" would really do without Nick Hornby who Cooke feels has set the Gold Standard for criticism to which no lit blog can aspire.

I feel confident in answering that yes, I would be quite content to live in a world without Nick Hornby and his brand of insipid, uninspired prose.

Reading Versus Watching: Toward a New Aesthetic

What I really question is whole division between art and entertainment; fundamentally, I wonder why it has to be this way at all. Why can't literary novels be just as entertaining as genre novels? Why can't genre fiction have the depth and psychological sensitivity of literary fiction? Who made this division in the first place and why do so many people take its existence as gospel truth?

Ideas vs. feelings vs. genres vs. science vs. America vs. Britain vs. the world

No Reading Versus Watching today because I've been swamped and now I'm off to see Manu Chao kick ass in Prospect Park. But I have plenty for you folks to read instead.

Right now on the Internet there are two dramatically different discussions happening. On the one hand, we have an article in the Globe and Mail that argues (absurdly) that men don't read books because books are about feelings and men like ideas. In response we have an (even more absurd) response from Bookslut's Michael Schaub saying that men do too like books with feelings and further, books about ideas are lame and only read by graduate students who get stoned and read Pynchon. (Suddenly my respect for Bookslut as a critical organ plummets.)

On the other hand, SF writer Charles Stross recently said that British SF is better than American SF and further, SF/Fantasy/Horror have all gotten too trashy (this is a new development?) and his daddy can beat up your daddy or something like that. To which Chad Orzel responded with "an oh-so-scholarly 'Well, fuck you, too.'" Stross isn't entirely clear on what he thinks more SF should be like, but if his own novels are any judge, I'd hazard that he wants more pages and pages of boring, essayistic explanations of possible scientific advances espoused by two-dimensional characters.

And as for Michael Schaub? Well, if he wants to read Amy Tan, more power to him. I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that the best novels have ideas AND feelings (among other things), and I'll bring up the Wet Asphalt Favorite Example™ Moby Dick as my case and point. Further, again and again I'm disapointed at the level of discourse going on among people who should be smarter than this. I mean, seriously, everyone, grow up already.

Reading Versus Watching Additional: The Genius of Dante

Perhaps in looking for plot and character development I've given the book short shrift. What Dante has created is not a litany of tortures but a landscape of them.

Reading Versus Watching: What's Wrong with Dante?

I think there is an under-analyzed read in which Dante is a transgressive writer; before Brett Easton Ellis, before Kathy Acker, before Sade and von Sacher-Masoch, there was Dante. (Though Dante couldn't claim to be the first transgressive writer; there's always Ovid, Seneca, Catullus and God knows how many others who've vanished beneath the waters of history.) Both Dante the author and Dante the character seem alarmingly unperturbed by the horror of what is being described. On the contrary, they seem to revel in it; Dante the author is practically joyous in his ever more fanciful descriptions of torture.