Author Archive

A Metaphysics of Emma: Madame Bovary Today (NB: spoilers near the end)

Monday, October 18th, 2010

Frederic Jameson, reviewing Sartre’s The Family Idiot for the NYT in 1981:

Sartre had always seen literary works as responses to concrete situations, responses that become intelligible only when grasped within those situations. He now draws the unexpected consequences: Like tools, literary works outlive the situations for which they were intended, and they are passed down with a new material inertia. ‘The tradition of all the dead generations,’ Marx said, ‘weighs like a nightmare on the brain of the living.’ The artists of Flaubert’s generation had no way of understanding the practical purposes for which the older generation had invented their now inert themes: critical negativity, misanthropy, the ideal of classlessness, the defense of the autonomy of the intellectual (which will now be ‘mistranslated’ as art for art’s sake), and a quasi-religious conviction of the nothingness of the world and the emptiness of life. Crippled by the themes of their predecessors, the following generation became artists without inspiration. This was not a subjective matter, a lack of talent or vocation. Rather, Sartre’s idea of the practico-inert -the weight of so many dead artistic ideologies from an incomprehensible past – suggests a situation in which it was objectively impossible for them to have something to say.

This nothing-to-say–the trajectory of an incomprehensible past–will be our focus in the beginning. First there is the fact of time. There is its sense. Space becomes subordinated to time in Madame Bovary; space is now the reflection of time’s passage, its here-and-there deposit, its surplus. But there is another mistake of time: the time of Madame Bovary, in contrast with time in Madame Bovary.

Madame Bovary is first serialized in 1857. Lydia Davis’s translation–if not a watershed moment then an event, or a watershed of an event of some sort–appears in 2010. Davis wants to reproduce Flaubert’s style, which is his novel’s vocation and substance, in English: his quirks of tense, the intensities of his adverbs, the subtleties of his free indirect style. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that Davis’s task is to mirror the French, but faithfulness is indeed a primary concern of hers. How does Madame Bovary change through time? Moreover: how, and with what appurtenances, with what way of reading, do we understand Emma’s caresses, her infidelities and her ennui, in October 2010?

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Vargas Llosa Wins Nobel Prize in Literature

Thursday, October 7th, 2010

The author of more than 30 novels, plays and works of nonfiction, he is known for his expansive language, his alertness to the profound and the profane, and his fierce and dark disdain for tyranny. His books are not without magical touches, but he is more grounded, more a “realist” than fellow Nobel laureate and South American Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

Mario Vargas Llosa wins 2010’s Nobel Prize. Thoughts?

I’m Scared; Happy Birthday to Google

Monday, September 27th, 2010

And the fact that I’m wishing Google a happy birthday only frightens me more.

I don’t believe society understands what happens when everything is available, knowable and recorded by everyone all the time,” he says. He predicts, apparently seriously, that every young person one day will be entitled automatically to change his or her name on reaching adulthood in order to disown youthful hijinks stored on their friends’ social media sites. — Google CEO or whatever

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AH@52

Tuesday, September 21st, 2010

Please welcome my dear friend Alex Henderson to the fold by reading his first published story, “Zorion,” which is up this week at Fifty-Two Stories. Alex got me started reading and writing fiction five-or-so years ago, when we met on a video game message board and began chatting, and though I am certainly indebted to him for that, this post is about his story, which is an absolute knockout by the way, and you should read it as soon as you have the chance.

Sunday, August 15th, 2010

This very enjoyable video that Jordan Castro just now posted on Facebook reminded me, if I needed reminding, which I didn’t, that summer is more or less over–whatever summer means in our iPhone-addled times. (This last phrase I have lifted directly from Ryan Mazer’s really hilarious piece in Monkeybicycle.) To me, summer, this summer–what the hell was it? It was Baltimore, a house of twelve anarchists, sweating while sleeping (what do you do when your fan generates hot air?), reading Faulkner. In the end it seems like all that I read this summer was Witz and Faulkner, with exceptions here or there. It feels like I was lazy, and maybe I was. After I finished “The Bear,” I walked around the house doing stuff, and every couple of minutes I would think about “The Bear” and, without mediation, whisper to myself, “What the fuck?” The gumption it must have taken to write that novella!–which is at first a linear bildungsroman or whatever (even though it’s never simply that), and then once that plot ends abruptly with the bear’s death, the narrative halts and interrupts itself to become this entirely fucked history of the bind between race and religion in the south, which is at the same time a history of… the post-Fall earth, or something? Jesus. How did someone begin to think like that? Fucking Faulkner. What did everyone read this summer? What did everyone do? I want to hear about it.

Interview with Cool Famous Hot Literary Agent Erin Hosier

Tuesday, August 10th, 2010

Interview with Cool Famous Hot Literary Agent Erin Hosier

Hey. I interviewed Erin Hosier. She’s a literary agent to a couple of fiction writers (Shya Scanlon, Brad Listi) and a lot of memoirists. Okay. I have a doctor’s appointment soon. I think that there is something wrong with me. Interview.

You mostly represent non-fiction writers, but a few fiction writers too, right? What kind of fiction manuscripts catch your eye? Do you want fiction that resembles memoir?

You should ask me more glamorous questions, like what kind of shampoo I use, or who my favorite designers are. I currently represent four literary fiction writers: Paul Jaskunas, Edan Lepucki, Brad Listi, and Shya Scanlon. I represent more illustrators than fiction writers. And more rock stars. Furthermore, these four writers are very different from each other, but I expect great things from each of them. I have represented other fiction writers over the years, but fiction writers tend to switch agents when I can’t sell their work. This is why I don’t handle more of it. My strengths are in writing, editing and pitching non-fiction. That’s my comfort zone. I even prefer documentaries to other movies, and I see way more movies than read books. Also, I’m a slow reader, and fiction comes in long manuscripts. I’ve noticed too that even if a novel is brilliant in so many ways – it makes you laugh or cry or it haunts your dreams or makes you look at the world in a new way, if it entertains – but it has just ONE fatal flaw in the marketing or manuscript department, it’s not going to sell.

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Tuesday, August 3rd, 2010

So, yeah, maybe it’s nothing new (wrong), and maybe there’s too much coverage to warrant another post (wrong), but I’m not apologizing for shit. Jesus. Over at The Atlantic‘s blog, Hua Hsu gives a quick, precise, and I think very insightful response to Tao Lin’s recent Gawker article. Insightful to the extent that Hsu articulates and interrogates what I find most compelling about Tao’s work. Hsu writes:

Why is Lin so polarizing?  The comments that follow the Gawker “piece” are generally annoyed or sarcastically dismissive, which is expected given how long and gossip/link-free it is. But is Lin’s writing, as the detractors say, truly narcissistic or selfish? What does it mean to be narcissistic enough to be branded a narcissist, when we are all in the business of cultivating online followers and friends, issuing steady streams of news releases about our wavering moods? There’s something refreshing to me about Lin’s writing, the way it manages to be wholly about him, but deny our craving for interiority or motive.

Those are poignant, thoughtful and surprisingly novel questions about a writer who, by objectifying himself, becomes a cultural object in turn–and I think that’s a move whose significance we have yet to suss out. The question is obviously whether it’s worth our time, but I guess that’s up to you or whoever’s reading.

Tuesday, July 13th, 2010

So, New York City, tomorrow evening is this Bastille Day Soiree, hosted by NOON and Gigantic. Reading, you’ve got Josh Cohen (Witz), Diane Williams (It Was Like My Trying to Have a Tender-Hearted Nature), and Rebecca Curtis (Twenty Grand). A dude from !!! will be DJing–those guys have such branchy legs. Custom Witz and Twenty Grand cocktails. Wednesday, 7PM, The Library Bar at Gild Hall. Holy shit! I know. I know. I’ll just see you there. Text me.

Tao Lin Tao Lin Tao Lin Tao Lin Richard Yates Richard Yates Richard Yates Richard Yates

Monday, July 5th, 2010

I’m baffled by the back cover of my Richard Yates galley. The relationship between the book’s two main characters–one, the Tao figure, 22, and the other 16–is described three times, in three separate paragraphs, as “illicit,” a heavy-handed enforcement of theme which should hold truck with the novel itself: one would expect, going in, that the scandal which supposedly holds the weight of the novel would actually sustain itself as a scandal. Which happens to be so little the case that it’s kind of funny, this negation of the back cover, and is a fascinating, if unintentional, way of diverting expectations: by Richard Yates failing totally in self-description.

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Monday, June 28th, 2010

“But while Lish’s work can always be likened to self-pleasure, self-pleasure—mine and yours—cannot always be likened to Lish’s work. It is in this way—in its personal, private aspect—that his inky spatter is truly seminal. The first person, the ascendant voice of the past two centuries—from Dostoyevsky’s underground origins to Beckett’s authorial endgame—is today the shrillest voice of daily expression: the online overshare, the chat-window confessional. What once was literature—revelatory direct address—has become blogorrhea: the timestamped account of what happened this morning, of what our peeves and attractions are, of what we do to ourselves and one another by night. Lish was former laureate of that plaint, of its degrees of self-knowledge, its valences of tone. If Lish’s soliloquies have any counsel for today’s solipsistic culture it’s this: Every “I” will always be a fiction; every first person is the last person you were.” — Josh Cohen, from his Bookforum review of Lish’s Collected Fictions