What is fiction? What is it for? Hints at an answer to these imponderables turn up in the unlikeliest places. For example, in an old article on psychology's replication crisis: If it turned out that people were so variable that even very close replications threw up entirely different results, “it would mean that we could … Continue reading Manifesto, Advertisement, and Excerpt: Introducing The Class of 2000
Du Bois's Telegram: Literary Resistance and State Containment by Juliana Spahr The first thing to be said about this book is that it is brave. Poet and critic Juliana Spahr does not make her startling argument in general, nor does she make it in unreadably dense jargon that could only be followed by academic insiders. … Continue reading Juliana Spahr, Du Bois’s Telegram: Literary Resistance and State Containment
I wrote my first manifesto "Against Intellectual Biblioclasm" over a year ago. I concluded it was time for an update when I read this earlier today: Yet I am more persuaded by a former jihadi named Shahid Butt, who now spends his time deradicalising misguided souls in Birmingham. To him, another rioter from 1989, Rushdie … Continue reading Against Intellectual Biblioclasm II
Literary influence is usually amorphous, which is why an influence-obsessed critic like Harold Bloom has to bring in words like clinamen, tesserae, and apophrades as well as esoteric schools of thought like gnosticism, kabbalah, and psychoanalysis to explain it. Even when you can identify what one writer took from another, it is often a matter … Continue reading In Praise of Semicolons
Readers who perceive an esoteric subtext to my writing and who therefore keep a paranoiac tally of my cryptic allusions will recall that I have mentioned the "Q" or "Qanon" conspiracy theory twice. Both references occurred in the context of paranoiac fictions: Thomas Pynchon's The Crying of Lot 49 and Grant Morrison's The Invisibles. But … Continue reading Q, Conspiracy, and the Novel; or, Why Portraits and Ashes Should Be Your Summer Read
But let's start with movies. Ten years ago, the Scottish musician and critic Momus observed that one of the most acclaimed films of 2007, Guillermo del Toro's Spanish-Civil-War fantasy Pan's Labyrinth, was morally and politically simplistic and (or because) artistically complacent. He gave ten objections to the film; I will quote the first two: 1. The … Continue reading My Year in Books, 2017
There was a debate recently on social media over indie press Tyrant Books's tweeted proclamation that "they no longer accept agented authors." The pro-agent side argued that agents were necessary as advocates for the economic and creative interests of authors, while the anti-agent side claimed that agents were bottom-line-focused gatekeepers of the middlebrow, inescapable duller … Continue reading Buy Portraits and Ashes for Small Business Saturday!
Older generations of writers who had come up through the ranks of journalism (and who had often been to war) used to complain about the academic colonization of literature, particularly of the novel, that ostensibly most democratic of forms. In "American Plastic," for instance, his survey of postmodern fiction, Gore Vidal lamented a context so … Continue reading Back to School: Literature and Life
If American literature had been left wholly in the hands of established publishers—Ticknor and Fields, for instance—Longfellow might have remained our greatest poet. But Walt Whitman, an American, one of the roughs, a kosmos, had Leaves of Grass printed, at his own expense, in 1855—he even set most of the type himself. Likewise, if Virginia … Continue reading Literary Fiction: To Self-Publish or Not?