“Such are the perfections of fiction...Everything it teaches is useless insofar as structuring your life: you can’t prop up anything with fiction. It, in fact, teaches you just that. That in order to attempt to employ its specific wisdom is a sign of madness...There is more profit in an hour’s talk with Billy Graham than in a reading of Joyce. Graham might conceivably make you sick, so that you might move, go somewhere to get well. But Joyce just sends you out into the street, where the world goes on, solid as a bus. If you met Joyce and said 'Help me,' he’d hand you a copy of Finnegans Wake. You could both cry.” – Gilbert Sorrentino, Imaginative Qualities of Actual Things

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Literary Links: Worship Our Dark Lord, Jonathan Franzen!

This week I picked up two books that I’m very excited about. The first is Wayne Macauley’s Other Stories, which I’ll be reviewing next week. I loved his first two novels (Blueprints for a Barbed-Wire Canoe and Caravan Story), and this collection is even better (so far). He deserves a much wider readership, and I think he’s one of the finest writers in Australia right now. So buy it now! Yes, right now! OK, anyway, the other book is Evan Dara’s The Lost Scrapbook, a William Gaddis-esque fiction, which looks absolutely phenomenal. More on this one soon.

On another note, I’m participating in two events at the Melbourne Writers Festival this Sunday, so you should come along and hear me speak and stuff. For you cheapskates (yes, I’m talking to you), you can come to my free reading as part of the ‘Magazine’ event hosted by the lurvely folks at Harvest magazine.
When: 11.30 a.m. on Sunday, Sept. 5th
Where: Magazine, a shipping container (no, really) just near Fed. Square

For those of you willing to spend some money, I’ll also be on the panel ‘Universal Stories’ with French-Canadian Author Nicolas Dickner and Eduardo Antonio Parra, both of whose work is very interesting.
When: 4.00 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 5th
Where: ACMI Studio 1 in Fed. Square

OK, so here’s some to stuff to read while you’re busy avoiding doing actual work:

•  Do you like news stories covering totally irrelevant information that could never possibly useful? If so, this will be your favourite recurring column ever: ‘This Week’s Internet Shit-Talking in Review’, which covers flame-wars in the comments sections of literary websites. I’m mostly just sorry I didn’t think of this myself. Can someone please start doing this for Australian sites?

•  Apparently, we’re finally hearing the details of the Andrew Wylie/Random House settlement, which will result in 40% royalties for some titles that hit certain sales targets. I’ll admit, I’m surprised by this figure; it still looks low to me, and I suspect (Based on what? Who knows?), that publishers will end up paying something closer to 50% royalties for ebooks by big-name authors. We’ll see.

•  We all suspected it; Jonathan Franzen is in fact the Sith Lord known as the Emperor. For all that, he has a surprisingly genial Twitter account. I do wish this were a bit funnier than it is, but you can always check out The Incredible Franzen-Hulk, instead.

•  The Australian published a slightly cranky article about why print literary criticism still matters (although, to be honest, I think the value of criticism itself is something that we do need to assert right now, even if I’m not so keen on defending print qua print). The most interesting part for me, however, was this bullet-point list in the article:

What to keep from critical theory:
•  A healthy suspicion of fixed literary canons.
•  An appreciation of the socially mediated nature of literature.
•  The quasi-scientific rigour of theory's approach to textual analysis.
•  Greater circumspection in making broad or universalist claims.
•  An awareness of and respect for marginal, repressed, underground and countercultural traditions and communities, and the texts and voices that emerge from them.
•  A taste for the positive, spark-striking aspects of interdisciplinary research.

What to discard:
•  A lack of interest in the substance and real-world content of texts under discussion, unless it is to critique their ideological biases.
•  A disregard for literature's special status, lumping it with every other form of writing, from bus tickets to bumper stickers.
•  A refusal to permit communication of enthusiasm or value judgments about a text.
•  The outlawing of literary canons and historical traditions as a guide to merit.
•  Displacement of the author from a position of authority over the texts they create.
•  Extreme scepticism and relativism with regard to Western concepts, categories and metaphysics.’

Ultimately, I’m just impressed that the Australian would even admit that theory is useful, at all, and this isn’t such a bad list (although I would most certainly cut out the last two items on the ‘What to Discard’ list). I also have absolutely no idea what 'real world content' means, but I'm pretty sure I don't like it, either. For the record, I’m pro-literary theory, but I do think the academy hasn’t done a great job taking its message out to the public (which is, of course, one of the main reasons I have this blog), still I think it’s a good deal more complex than this, but that’s something I’ll have to write about another time.

If you’ve read this far, it’s definitely time for you to start doing something else.

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