Saturday, February 26, 2011

Sad Dogs Are Tied Afar

These inane articles exist solely to bait fucks like me:
What is literary fiction? It is not genre fiction. Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall is a historical novel. Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go was shortlisted for the Arthur C Clarke Award, the leading British prize for science fiction. Yet you only have to think about these two examples to see how they escape their genres. Mantel's novel revisits the favourite stamping ground of historical fiction – Henry VIII and his wives – in order to rethink what it might be to see events filtered through the consciousness of a person from a distant age. Ishiguro takes a dystopian hypothesis – human clones being bred for their organs – and then declines to put in place any of the sci-fi framework that would allow us to understand how this could be. Indeed, the whole interest of his story is in the limits placed upon its narrator. These are both "literary" novels because they ask us to attend to the manner of their telling. And, despite their narrative demands, they have both found hundreds of thousands of readers willing to do so.
Well doublefuck me, aren't those two of my desert island five living novelists?

The mega-Borders a mile from home is closing shop and EVERYTHING MUST GO! so we're doing a raid later today or Sunday morning. I'm not in a hurry: I'm certain the novels on the fiction wall I'd be interested to snag at 50% off will be there tomorrow, such a "literary fiction" snob am I. Still, I'm trying to crawl out of Littell's The Kindly Ones. At the suggestion of Jim I tried Canetti's Auto da Fe, and - apologies Jim - it's fuckawful: I've given it three tries, made it thirty whole pages, and no - so I won't be buying that, but any and all suggestions are welcome, including golden oldies.


Blessed serendipity, look what I had picked off my bookshelf half-an-hour before friend drip suggested I read it. And you have every right to suggest: I asked!


Heather McHugh
A book is a suicide postponed.
Too volatile, am I?  too voluble?  too much a word-person?
I blame the soup:  I'm a primordially
stirred person.

Two pronouns and a vehicle was Icarus with wings.
The apparatus of his selves made an ab-
surd person.

The sound I make is sympathy's:  sad dogs are tied afar.
But howling I become an ever more un-
heard person.

I need a hundred more of you to make a likelihood.
The mirror's not convincing-- that at-best in-
ferred person.

As time's revealing gets revolting, I start looking out.
Look in and what you see is one unholy
blurred person.

The only cure for birth one doesn't love to contemplate.
Better to be an unsung song, an unoc-
curred person.

McHugh, you'll be the death of me -- each self and second studied!
Addressing you like this, I'm halfway to the
third person.


  1. You ever read Mary Doria Russell's Child of God or The Sparrow?

    Sen. Acidfree Flux (I-Musica) is departing MSO for BWI this AM.

  2. I have no business telling you what to read. Its a bad practice in general, and with your highly developed reading skills, probably stupid of me to try. But I've been saying the same thing for a while now: if you haven't read Edith Grossman's translation of Don Quixote, please do. It is perhaps the greatest translation of any novel ever (except for the ones that are better) and the book itself is pretty good too. I'd be interested to read your reaction to it in light of all the post-modern stuff you reference. Unless it makes me look like a dunce.

  3. CFO, never heard of her. Will look at some next time I'm at work. And thanks in advance for sounds.

  4. Thanks. Didn't know about the Borders. My interests will remain as well.

  5. Maybe I should be glad you gave my favorite piece of literature to your cat to read, but I think you made me look like a dunce.

  6. Why don't you just read what's on the NYT list, you goddamn elitist? Sheesh!

  7. drip, I can assure you that wasn't my intention. Just the opposite, actually.

  8. Hubba hubba:

  9. Thanks, I'll need to reread it again, but (1) the description of Gaddis' complicity re: working for business while writing JR I did know though this reminded me of *my* complicity and (2) I had no idea about the influence of Robertson Jeffers (who I read thirty years ago but hardly since) on Gaddis and (3) I will struggle not to think of Gaddis as "Willie."

    Steven Moore, btw, is an expert on Elkin, so I know - and largely admire - his work from my work on Elkin for the thesis: it's on a review Moore wrote on a Donald Harington novel that I discovered Harington.

  10. So, it sounds like "literary" is a quality of the various genre fiction, rather than a genre of its own.

    You are right that AdF is fuckawful, but it's compelling—like an inevitable trainwreck is compelling: You can't take your eyes off the impending disaster. I wouldn't exactly—and won't—call AdF "literary", which these days too often means either girly or poetic/lyrical. It is savage satire; think Candide or the Recognitions or even Don Quixote (and yes, the Grossman is an engrossing read). It is relentless and merciless. It is ugly and bleak. It is heavy-handed and misanthropic. But, like Moby Dick, it is monumental. (Hi, Sasha) But more on that later...

    Jim H.

  11. It reads to me like a philosopher writing a novel when I think what I need now is a novelist writing a novel, which might be another side-effect of The Kindly Ones which sort of gave off the same feeling, though in Littell's case I think it was a novelist writing as if he was a philosopher writing a novel. Gah.

    As is usually the case, I'll take responsibility for my failure as a reader rather than brand the novel a failure, which makes me fuckawfuler.

  12. I discovered Moore while trying to track down a copy of Fire the Bastards!, which I ended up getting from Dalkey. And yeah, "Willie" is sorta hard to erase once it gets imprinted. I'd never read that stuff at the link before today. Interesting to read about how Looks thought Gaddis reconciled his own duality. And interesting synchronicity on Gaddis not giving Dworkin credit for influence ... just a couple days after I wrote a post about the importance of acknowledging such influences.

  13. "literary" is a genre of its own; literature not so much. Books that might be categorized as a certain "genre" may or may not be genre novels, they also may or may not be literature (but not both). Ditto literary: books that might be categorized as literary (read: sold as, awarded Bookers or Pulitzers as) may or may not be literature.

  14. I once read a few pages of something literary, by some now-dead guy. My head still hurts. Federation smart. Me, Pakled.

  15. Did it have a swastika or a hammer-and-sickle on the cover?

    Speaking of Pakleds, it's Robinson Jeffers, not Robertson.

  16. There is a neighborhood in Columbia, MD called Jeffers Hill where the street names are plucked from Jeffers' poems. As I cannot read poetry, I am always lost in the neighborhood.

  17. I branched out, I read FSF and alt history now, too. And once in a while, I punish myself with non-fiction, but mostly about 20th century American history.

  18. We'd been doing nostalgia from an era where that joke would be half-fresh, so I bit. As hopefully you expected me to.