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Over at Harpers Online, Arthur Krystal says:

The ability to respond to prose and poetry hasn’t entirely disappeared, but it has been dulled. This is a dicey business to discuss. There are many people who still depend on novels and poems for enjoyment and intellectual stimulation, and they tend to dismiss someone who feels differently. Clearly, I’m either depressed or I just don’t get it. Thing is, I’m not on meds, and since I believe that I do “get” Joyce, Pound, Beckett, Larkin, and Auden, I also believe that I’m able to appreciate what novelists and poets are doing today. And yet very little strikes my fancy. I can’t prove it, but I think the fault lies in the literary firmament and not in me.

It's an interesting comment, because, to a point, I agree with it, and feel the same way (also, I feel that way about films, too).

Krystal's problem, however, is that he spends too much time discussing genius, as if by doing this he reinforces his own intellect and position of power. Quoting Cervantes and Joyce and Shakespeare as genius' doesn't, in my mind, help his argument, because the authors he is talking about are merely canonical, and are easy marks for the 'genius' tag. Personally, I think Shakespeare is shockingly over rated, and Cervantes is more and less interesting depending on the translation, but it's neither here nor there, because about half way through the interview I linked, I began to wander and drift, even as I began to understand what bores me some times. The continual referencing to older work, to supposed genius', to how things should be, the almost condescending admittance to reading modern novels that have been well received... just, like, fuck off, you know?

I realised that, as I read the interview, that it is this very thing that bores me about art: the sameness that pervades artists in what is 'genius' and what it is that they should emulate. Don't look to anything new. Don't look to different forms, different style, different mixes, remember that there's a classic way to do it, remember the canon, remember the shiny, shiny things you can't cut up.


I need to grab some breakfast.



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Jan. 6th, 2009 10:56 pm (UTC)
He seems to be saying that there aren't any sufficiently different new forms, style, mixes, etc. remaining that would qualify a modern writer as a genre-transforming genius. That literature is formally exhausted.

Seems a pretty big call to me. Mind you, I'm the type of person who does read quite a few classics, on the basis that history is a pretty good filter.

I just finished reading Nam Le's The Boat (which is so hot right now) and occasionally I did wonder whether it would be much remembered in ten years. It's pretty good, although it is exactly the type of thing that gets a warm critical reception at the moment: moral, courageous, "morally courageous" stories that open windows onto "real life" in exotic locales.

I also recently finished The Master and Margarita, which I much enjoyed, and which was completed in around 1940 (but only published in 1965 or so). It has a charming narrative persona that drags you laughingly from scene to scene, from character to character, like the mellow voice-over from an old Disney cartoon.

I don't know that I've read enough literature to be bored by everything that is produced nowadays. If something has been done before, I probably didn't catch it the first time around.
Jan. 6th, 2009 11:23 pm (UTC)
He seems to be saying that there aren't any sufficiently different new forms, style, mixes, etc. remaining that would qualify a modern writer as a genre-transforming genius. That literature is formally exhausted.

to a degree that's what i took from it, too, but i found the way he kept connecting to the canon disturbing. sure, someone like joyce pushed a lot of boundaries, and had a fair bit of difference in his work, and that's cool, but as i kept reading, i kept thinking of work he simply wasn't referencing, from the easy marks of burgess to the less easy of shelley jackson's skin project.

i quite liked THE MASTER AND MARGARITA, it must be said.
Jan. 6th, 2009 11:45 pm (UTC)
The Master and Margarita featured that compelling mix of petty, humorous viciousness and also, in the Pilate narrative, pathos. It was also an urban fantasy that wasn't obsessed with being in gritty contrast to the high fantasy of today (since that junk mostly didn't exist at time of writing). Very refreshing book.

I've read some Burgess. I have no idea who Shelley Jackson is, but I'm happy to be educated. And I've read some Joyce (Portrait of the Artist and Ulysses) but probably not as much as I'd like.

I suspect the usefulness of the canon to someone like Krystal is that it provides him, a very traditional critic (note his offhand dismissal of even the biggest theorists from nearly fifty years ago -- this guy probably thinks of William Empson as an upstart looking for teenage kicks), with something measurable about which to make sweeping generalisations which will be understood by others of his ilk, the Harold Blooms and so forth of the literary fogey-osphere. And it makes sense: it's basically the same thing as getting out to see the film of the zeitgeist just so you can discuss it over beers at the pub. Text as matter for collaborative consumption and re-consumption amongst one's peer group.
Jan. 7th, 2009 12:01 am (UTC)
jackson is an american writer. she's probably most well known for her last novel, HALF LIFE, which i haven't read (i think it won a couple of awards, though). what's interesting about her, however, is that she has a project called SKIN, in which she is writing a story upon the skin of men and women around the world; each one of them becomes a word, and the story can only be read once all these people are bought together. it's quite a fascinating idea, really.

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