Links: Good-for-Nothings

A letter to the New York Times in response to its “Why Criticism Matters” package (more): “The most significant thing about the feature on ‘Why Criticism Matters’ is the title. The New York Times would never find it necessary to publish an article on why science, mathematics, medicine, music or art matters. The need to explain why criticism matters emphasizes as clearly as possible the fact that it doesn’t.” False equivalencies, reductionism, and all that. Also: Ahem.

Following up on the package, Peter Plagens points out that art critics are having as much of a “crisis” as literary critics are, though he has to ask: “[A]re literary critics an all-for-one, one-for-all band of musketeers fighting off—not to put too fine a point on it—amateurs who blog?”

And Morgan Meis defends the role of the critic in a time when the critic’s role as a cultural arbiter has been pretty much annihilated by collaborative filtering. “We need the critic, instead, to help us experience. We need the critic in the way that we need a friend or a lover. We need the critic as a companion on a journey that is a love affair with the things of the world.” Meis is halfway there. We also need the critic as the person who is going to challenge the received notions of “good” culture via collaborative filter, if not to conquer the filter then at least to point out that the eager consumer can dispute it. We need the critic in the way we need a frenemy. (via)

Noir scholar and novelist Eddie Muller: “That immediate post-World War II era is the height of American style in everything: architecture, clothes, design, movies, literature…. American literature was, I think, at its highest point.”

I don’t remember Jay McInerney‘s third novel, Story of My Life, as anything but awful (it’s one of the numerous novels that get brutally mocked in this book, which desperately deserves a reprint or, better, an update), but apparently it has its uses.

Amelia Atlas, who operates an excellent blog, registers her frustration with Gabriel Josipovici‘s What Ever Happened to Modernism?: “There’s a tension in Josipovici’s temporal logic that he never resolves: he seems to insist, paradoxically, on both the necessity of the dialectic and on the reality of its end, in the form of modernism. Is all that remains for the novel to sound, again and again, the alarm bells of its own fakery?”

A chat with photographer John Bayne, who’s published a book called Gravely Concerned: Southern Writers’ Graves. You can read the entire book as a PDF online.

Chicago Tribune‘s Julia Keller writes that Freedom is “so wildly praised and little scrutinized, a novel that inspired such fanatical devotion based on so little actual achievement that it ought to run for president.” Keller may be the only person in the United States writing about books who thinks the novel was “little scrutinized,” but the rest of the sentence, if not the column, is, yes, pretty good.

A sanitized version of Huckleberry Finn came out 20 years ago, according to a Stanford professor. Google and Nexis don’t produce any evidence that I can see, though.

When reviewing duties aren’t calling, I’m making my way through the short stories of Breece Pancake, partly because I’m fascinated by what seems to be a recent obsession over him. It may be that his entire oeuvre is easy to get a hold of (just one slim collection); that there’s a wistfulness about what could have been (he killed himself in 1979, at 26); or that his stories, which lay out relatively straightforward tug-of-wars between past and present, staying put and getting the hell out, always appeal, and are eminently teachable. At any rate, a couple of writers chronicled their trip to his gravesite.

Sick of hearing about the “Great American Novel”? There’s a specific person you can be mad at.

One response to “Links: Good-for-Nothings

  1. Amelia Atlas’ blog may be excellent but her review of What Ever Happened to Modernism? is very poor in both spirit and content. She misrepresents the book even in sentence you quote. Nowhere does it suggest a novel must sound alarm bells of its “fakery”.

    The examples provided throughout the book make it clear how the great works of European literature (such as Don Quixote and Rabelais) are soaked in ambiguity and ambivalence, and that contemporary literature does away with it at its peril. This is a call for the renewal of literature, which Atlas sees ridiculously as “an end”. This book does not present Modernism as an end of *anything* but as a living presence. Atlas’ pompous misreading appears more as an act of self-disgust projected onto a book which is miles ahead of her.

    It’s a deep shame that n+1 chose to get someone so inert to the possibilities of literature that she claims this book offers “no cultural possibilities after modernism” moments after quoting the passage where Josipovici writes that modernism is not a style or a period! But the choice n+1 made is symptomatic of the terminal dilettantism at the heart of US and UK literary culture.

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